Two weeks ago, Washington practically spit up its collective mug of Pike Place Roast when it heard that select Starbucks shops in the Pacific Northwest were asking $7 for a medium-size cup of the rare heritage Geisha varietal. I suspect some Hill staffers were forced to catch red-eyes to Seattle to bring the boss back a gallon of the exclusive joe. (Attention Investigative Unit: Might want to check congressional receipts.)
Well, future flights west should be put on hold. Through December, Peregrine Espresso will be selling cups of Geisha for $7.50 each at its three locations. Better yet, the beans are coming from the Panama farm, Hacienda la Esmeralda, that essentially started the Geisha craze in the early 2000s when farmers discovered the rare Ethiopian varietal there among the Central American trees.
Peregrine owner Ryan Jensen says he pays about $35 for eight ounces of the Geisha Esmeralda from Counter Culture Coffee, the North Carolina-based wholesaler. When he plugs that number into his “margin calculator,” he tells All We Can Eat, “we probably should be charging $9 or $10 for it.”
Despite the price, the coffee has been selling well, Jensen says. The Union Market location ran through its allocation over the weekend. (The shop will be resupplied and selling Geisha again on Wednesday.) He had not checked sales figures at the other two stores but heard from one barista that a store had sold two cups today.
“Selling two cups of that per day is pretty good,” Jensen says. Few people are willing to pay triple their normal price for a cup of coffee, he adds. Jensen would know; this is the third time Peregrine has put Geisha on its coffee menu, so you can’t exactly accuse the local chain of slavishly following in Starbucks’s footsteps.
I was one of the few willing to cough up the cash for the coffee. I sampled the Geisha Esmeralda this past weekend at Union Market. It was a total impulse purchase based on media hype, a reckless disregard for my retirement and a simple human curiosity about a $7.50 cup of coffee. I knew it would be impossible to gauge the value of such a coffee on taste alone, but that didn’t stop me from trying.
Jensen says his staff tested various approaches on how best to steep the perfect cup of Geisha. It turns out that barista Judith Mandel, fresh off her sixth-place finish at the Southeast Regional Brewers Cup, had been experimenting with Geisha beans. Jensen and the crew liked her approach: 22 grams of ground Geisha, placed in a bamboo filter (itself fitted into a Bonmac Pro Cone) and steeped with 400 grams of hot water for about 2 1/2 minutes.
Let me tell you, the method produces one complex, full-bodied cup of coffee. I let the liquid spread out over my palate. I tasted bright, slightly acidic plum, hazelnut and even an aftertaste of honey. It was a cup in which you could detect new flavors with virtually every sip, particularly as the coffee cooled. I ordered my joe to go, in a paper cup, which Jensen hinted was something of a faux pas.
“Some places, when they have a coffee like this, they don’t let you have it to go,” he says. “Some people want to force you to sit and drink it out of a ceramic cup and sort of contemplate it.”
“If I was going to order it,” Jensen says, “I guess that’s what I would do with it.”