Even before Esmeralda became the most famous coffee in the world, it was a pretty famous coffee.
The geisha coffee from Hacienda la Esmeralda in Panama was well-known in the specialty coffee world well before it got a jaw-dropping $130/pound (that's green coffee) in the 2007 Best of Panama internet auction. In fact, it had been winning that annual competition every year, and even setting price records. To those who had been paying attention, it was no surprise that Esmeralda was tops in Panama in 2007. The only surprise was the price.
I remember the first time I had Esmeralda. I was working at Victrola Coffee Roasters in Seattle, and the staff held a cupping with samples from all of the winning coffees. This was 2005. I think there were about 22 lots that year. For some reason we decided to cup all 22 coffees at once, so I was working quickly to get through the line.
Anyone who has done professional cupping can tell you, commenting during the cupping is a big no-no. In fact, it's a bad idea to even make little noises or faces. Your reaction to a given coffee can heavily influence the way your fellow cuppers will approach it. If you shout out "Lemon!" everyone is going to taste lemon. If you even mutter "gross" to yourself and make a little face, you are liable to bring down the score of the cupper next in line.
Well, the Esmeralda caused me to violate rules. I was going down the line, tasting, evaluating, and enjoying. Keep in mind these were the 22 best coffees from Panama that year. It's not like we had 21 bad coffees and then the Esmeralda. We had 21 outstanding, unique coffees, and then the Esmeralda. As I zipped down the line, slurping away, suddenly I stopped in my tracks and literally did a trible take. I think I made a little, inarticulate, "Hahh?" noise. Then I stood there and took about five sips in a row.
I've had the Esmeralda Reserve a few times since, plus several other outstanding Panama geishas. It's hard for me to know now how much of my memory is tainted by knowledge I got later. And since I don't still have my notes from that session lo these 4 and a half years ago, I have to rely on my memory. One thing I know for sure, because I remember telling friends about it later that day over beers, is that the Esmeralda tasted just like really sweet, fresh orange juice. I don't mean the stuff from a frozen artillery shell. I mean if you've every had an orange in its native tropical environment, still warm from the sun when you cut it open. So sweet! That was the Esmeralda geisha.
After the cupping, incidentally, there was no liquid left in those particular cups. Everyone had drunk it all down. We enjoyed it so much that it was after that cupping session that I started hosting public cuppings at Victrola with my friend Tonx. And people thought we were crazy... [And look what kind of nonsense came out of that, speaking of the Esmeralda.]
Most of the geisha I have had belongs in my Top 20 Coffees of All Time, but I'm just gonna put it in there once. The first time I had it will always be the strongest memory I have of it. Isn't that always the way life goes?