January 2012's pick
Malawi Geisha AB Msese District
An exemplary East African coffee with a sweet lemony kick
This Geisha varietal is a direct descendant of wild coffee trees that have grown in Ethiopia for centuries. Some say it's the most beautiful coffee in the world.
Fewer than 200 specialist smallholder farms in mountainous Malawi.
Smells wonderful on brewing, just before pouring; moreishly malty with the lightest hint of fresh jasmine. Once in the mouth, it's straight in there, peaking in a sweet sharp lemon-iness that softens into a honeyed finish and elegant lavender notes.
Selected by Kopi because...
It has a pronounced zinginess; crisp, clean and refreshing. Perfect perkiness - or acidity in industry language - is the hallmark of Geisha coffee and in this month's must-try selection it's outstanding. Slurp it black - no sugar, swoosh it around your mouth and see...
Nice in the morning, it gives a sweet citrus kick that doesn't make you pucker up, but rather go 'wow! Yes, please. I'll have another.'
Msese in southern Malawi is home to a concentration of 4,000 or so specialist smallholder coffee growers, all members of a national not-for-profit, non-political coffee union formed of six primary coffee co-operatives.
- Misuku Coffee Cooperative in Chitipa District
- Phoka Coffee Cooperative in Rumphi District
- Viphya North Coffee Cooperative in Rumphi District
- Nkhata-Bay Highlands Coffee Cooperative in Nkhata-Bay District
- South East Mzimba Coffee Cooperative in Mzimba District
- Ntchisi East Coffee Cooperative in Ntchisi District
Msese is in the south of no.5, South East Mzimba, and home to around 170 coffee farmers. They're all specialist because Geisha coffee trees are rare and particularly demanding to farm.
What's a Geisha coffee tree?
The Geisha coffee tree is a true rarity, grown commercially in only two other spots in the world: Panama and Costa Rica. It takes its name from the ancient Geisha Forest in SW Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) where it's been thriving at altitudes of up to 2,000m for centuries.
It's also very low yielding: approximately 2kg of processed coffee beans - or 240 cups of coffee - per tree versus an average of 5kg.
Another point of difference is that Geisha trees are allowed to grow to near full height at 12 to 15 feet, where most commercially grown coffee tree varieties are pruned to make easy work of harvesting the cherries. Ladders and painstaking picking are required to get the best from a Geisha tree.
One reason why Msese's farmers choose to grow this demanding tree is that it's resistant to rust disease, making it a natural fit to their very rainy homeland.
Location and cultivation
Almost 80% of Msese's coffee is grown on man-made river valley terraces at an average altitude of 1200m to 1300m where it gets up to 2m of rainfall a year (compared to 25.5 inches in London).
The temperature here ranges between 10 and 25 degrees Celsius - surprisingly cool for the equator where in summer it rarely dips beyond 35 degrees at ground level.
Top grade Arabica coffee typically thrives in such temperate conditions, too fine-tuned as it is for intense sun and frost. Flowering starts in October, the coffee cherries start ripening in April, and harvesting takes place May to October.
Careful harvesting and grading
Harvesting starts at dawn. Red cherries are selectively hand picked and transported in baskets the same day to the nearest pulpery for washing, quality checks and grading.
The bigger and heavier the beans, the higher the premium. This Kopi coffee is among Malawi's top density beans.
Do say: Msese is pronounced mh-say-zee.
Don’t say: The Geisha tree comes from Japan, stupid!
At a glance
- Depth of Roast