The New King of Gourmet Coffee - Hacienda La Esmeralda

Steve GJune 4th, 2008
By: Steve G

Esmeralda is a character from the Victor Hugo novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. However, in the coffee world, it means something more than that.

In the coffee world, Esmeralda means money-a lot of money.

Esmeralda Special is the name of the hottest coffee on the market right now. Yes, it is even more popular right now than Kopi Luwak. Ever since it hit the coffee market in 2004, Esmeralda has set an astonishing price at the wholesale coffee auctions at around $150 per pound.

If you're still not amazed by the price, let's look at the second most expensive coffee in the market: Mama Cata MCGC. It ended its bidding at a measly $11.80 per pound.

All the professionals in the coffee field are giving rave reviews about the Esmeralda bean. It is described as a mixture of intense jasmine flavor with high notes of orange-citrus and blueberry. What's even more amazing is the bean's unique and unpredictable nature, because every batch seems to have a different flavor.

Like many people, I found myself asking the same questions. What makes this bean so special that people are fighting over it?

The bean comes from a rare plant, the geisha tree. It originated in Ethiopia, and made its way to Panama in the 1950s via Costa Rican growers. They brought the tree over because of its disease-resistant qualities. Unfortunately, it yielded few beans and was eventually removed to make room for higher yielding beans.

Since then, the geisha tree's popularity has been renewed with the rise of boutique coffee amongst consumers.

The owner of the plantation, Hacienda La Esmeralda, is Rudolph Peterson (also the former chief executive of Bank of America). Before Peterson purchased the property, Hacienda La Esmeralda was a beef and dairy farm, very different from its current use.

Prior to the re-popularization of the geisha tree, its only function was to serve as a windbreak to protect land from erosion. In the end, this was how the plant was rediscovered. The Hacienda property owners expanded holdings in 1996 by buying a small parcel of land, which had a few coffee trees on the outskirts of the property line.

Curious about the trees, the owners harvested a few of the coffee beans and brewed them to see what they would taste like. Upon the first tasting, the owners immediately knew that they had something extraordinary.

After they relocated the geisha tree to a higher elevation, the coffee really began to show its true flavor. Hacienda La Esmeralda produces only around 150 bags of coffee each year, from which only the best is chosen to compete in cupping competitions.

The coffee world really took notice of the Esmeralda Special in 2004, when it won the Best of Panama and the Rainforest Alliance Cupping competitions.

Of course, that wasn't the end of its accolades-it also won first place in the Specialty Coffee Association of America Roasters Guild Cupping Pavilion in 2005-2007, and first place in the Rainforest Alliance Cupping for 2006 and 2007.

It will definitely be interesting to see how the Esmeralda Special holds up in the 2008 competitions.

The newest coffee taking the throne, Esmeralda
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