Episode 592: Costa Rica Finca Licho Yellow Honey Geisha

Licho's is a coffee that I feel shows our development as a roaster over the years. We first bought this coffee in the Cup of Excellence program (a great way to meet a grower). Back then we bought it from an import broker; they helped us bring this coffee in because we were a small buyer. Now we buy directly from the farm!

Four years ago I went out to the farm and did the deal then and there with the brothers. I love the fact that I simply walked onto the farm after cupping a particular lot in the exporter's office, asked how much they wanted, and there was a short conference. They came back and told me how much they wanted, and we shook hands. Then we got back into the 4x4 and drove away. That year we agreed to a European-exclusive deal with them for this coffee, and this year we continue the close work we have been doing with them.

Grown by the Aguilera family in the province of Naranjo, in the volcanic Northern Cordiles corridor of the Western Valley, this coffee is cultivated at an altitude of 1,500 metres above sea level. Most of their coffee is either Villa Sarchi or Bourbon, but in recent years we've started to see other varietals from the farm.

The brothers work the mill and farms themselves. They have basically no hired labour, except for pickers during the harvest. With the help of the third generation, they work the mill and drying patios, prune the coffee fields, fertilise, and so on; and they do it all year round.

The Aguilera brothers understand quality at the farm and mill level, and this is why we are excited about working with them. Most of the siblings own farmland as well as co-managing the micro mill they installed eight years ago, which they built with the earnings from their fourth-place Cup of Excellence win in 2007. That's the year I first found the farm!

This coffee is yellow honey processed, which is just like the Pulped Natural method. The fruit is removed from the seed of the coffee bush and left to dry. The main difference is that there is no water involved when the cherry is removed, so mucilage sticks to the bean. This can be dangerous, but it's necessary in these parts of Costa Rica where water is limited: water is a precious commodity in this area of Naranjo, so this method suits the location very well.

The coffee ends up clustering whilst drying because there is so much mucilage. So the coffee either needs to be turned regularly to stop this happening, or it has to be broken up. Over-fermentation can happen at this stage and you can end up with a not-so-good cup, but the Aguilera brothers are well-versed in this method and are some of the most skilled in Costa Rica.

Geisha is a varietal that has attracted lots of attention among coffee buyers and farmers, with some super high prices being paid for tiny lots. The name comes from the Gesha village in Ethiopia, where it’s said to have come from. I say 'said to' because it’s believed that coffee stock from this region made its way to Costa Rica (and then on to Panama) in the 1950s, but didn’t find much favour in its new home.

As with other experimental varietals that didn’t do particularly well, the plants were largely ignored or forgotten. Some grew wild or mixed into difficult-to-reach corners of farms. That means it’s difficult to be sure how close what we now call 'Geisha' is to those seeds from Ethiopia many years ago. Regardless, Geisha’s reputation suddenly hit the big time around 2004 as it attracted praise (and high prices) in the Taste of Panama competition, and it became a must-try for all you coffee geeks out there.

There has been talk of the name – Geisha vs Gesha – and we like to listen to the people that grew the coffee. It says 'Geisha' on our bags from the farm, so we're going with 'Geisha'.

It’s a spindly plant that needs quite a lot of space and care, but the distinctive floral flavours it delivers have seen it being planted more and more throughout Panama and Costa Rica. It's also slowly appearing in other countries where producers are looking to experiment with new varietals.

The Aguileras are a family of twelve brothers and sisters who are second-generation coffee producers in the West Valley. (Hermanos is used to describe mixed male and female siblings in Spanish, but literally translates to 'brothers' in English.) Their father was one of the first coffee growers in the area, and planted his farm 70 years ago. Neighbouring farmers warned him that coffee wouldn't grow there, but now the area is rich with coffee lands and his children work together to produce coffee.

Expect the classic floral notes of Geisha, but backed up by a silky body and big fruit sweetness and acidity. There's crisp green apple alongside juicy yellow plum before apricot takes over for the finish, and there's a squeeze of lemon in there too.

  • Country: Costa Rica
  • Region: Western Valley
  • Province: Alajuela
  • Nearest city: Naranjo de Alajuela
  • Farm: Finca Licho
  • Producers: Aguilera family
  • Farm size: 28 hectares
  • Coffee growing area: 9.10 hectares
  • Altitude: 1,500 m.a.s.l.
  • Varietal: Geisha
  • Processing system: Yellow Honey

Cupping notes: Green apple, yellow plum, apricot, lemon

  • Clean cup: (1–8): 6.5
  • Sweetness: (1–8): 7
  • Acidity: (1–8): 7
  • Mouthfeel: (1–8): 7
  • Flavour: (1–8): 8
  • Aftertaste: (1–8): 6
  • Balance: (1–8): 6
  • Overall: (1–8): 7
  • Correction:(+36): +36

  • Total: (max. 100): 90.5

Roasting Information: Medium-light – slow this down as it comes to the end of first to develop those big fruit flavours, but don't let it get too far into the gap and definitely nowhere near second.

Leave a comment