As we approach our fifth successive year working with the Divino Niño producer group in Suaza, Colombia, we are very proud to see an increasingly broad representation of coffees produced by this community on our menus. Since 2018, Passenger’s Foundational Divino Niño offering has become a well-established menu staple, making it possible for us to buy the vast majority of the 86+ community blend that this group, which is growing and now counts approximately 50 farming families as members, produces each year. With the founding of our sister company, Necessary Coffee, in 2019, we created a home for the 84 and 85 point coffees produced by the group, roasting them in a more developed style to attract a broader group of coffee lovers to the beautiful coffees of this region. And also in 2019, Passenger participated in the inaugural Copa Suaceña, a rigorously judged cupping competition organized by our friends and sourcing partners at Osito Coffee to identify and recognize the finest single-producer microlots produced by members of the Divino Niño community each year. The second Copa Suaceña competition was held at the start of this year, and at time of writing, a portion of all of the top 10 winning lots are presented on Passenger’s Reserve Lot menu.
This particular release, a community lot highlighting the gesha variety, joins our previously released Divino Niño Pink Bourbon selection on Passenger’s Education Lot menu. It represents another application of the general approach we continue to pursue: striving to develop a deeper sourcing partnership by presenting a diverse spectrum of beautiful coffees, across all areas of our menu, that offer our customers and guests an increasingly nuanced portrait of this remarkable coffee farming community.
Among the many known varieties of coffea Arabica, gesha has enjoyed unique notoriety since its “discovery” at the 2004 Best of Panama competition, where an intensely floral gesha from Hacienda la Esmeralda shattered the previous record for the highest price paid for a coffee at auction. It is now known that the gesha variety was originally selected and transported from the forests of southwestern Ethiopia by an expedition that had been commissioned by British colonialists in the 1930’s. Gesha trees were initially selected by the expedition because they were thought to be hardy and resistant to disease, not because of their flavor profile. The variety made its way from Ethiopia to Tanzania and, through an international network of genetic variety gardens, eventually arrived at the CATIE agricultural research center in Costa Rica. Much later on, the Peterson family of Hacienda la Esmeralda acquired gesha seeds from CATIE, but again, the seeds were acquired primarily for disease resistance rather than cup quality. It wasn’t until gesha plants were cultivated on a higher elevation plot on the Petersons’ farm and after the decision was made to keep lots from different parts of the farm separate and taste each of these separations individually that the family realized that the high elevation gesha trees were producing remarkable coffee unlike anything they had tasted before.
The unprecedented success that the Esmeralda gesha enjoyed at auction in 2004 triggered a “gesha boom” throughout Latin America and beyond. Many coffee farmers planted, and continue to plant, the gesha variety with the understandable aim of securing similarly attractive prices. In some cases, this strategy has worked out very well. Geshas of excellent quality, offering contrasting expressions of the variety due to the diverse microclimates they represent, are produced in a wide spectrum of coffee producing countries today. However it is also undeniable that, due to the fact that gesha is quite low-yielding and tends to thrive in very specific conditions, it can certainly be a high-risk proposition for small coffee farmers.
This community blend, composed of small amounts of gesha that individual members of the Divino Niño producer group separated and delivered to the Osito purchasing point, offers a unique opportunity to taste a Divino Niño variety separation alongside our Divino Niño Foundational lot (an example of a “field blend” or mix of different varieties). Enjoying both of these community lots side by side affords a comparative exploration of plant genetics that is core to the vision of Passenger’s Education Lot menu.