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The Rare Coffee That Came (And Went) In Milwaukee

Julian Hayda
One of the approximately 400 bags of La Esmeralda Geisha coffee from Colectivo

Coffee drinkers around the country got a rare taste of a Panamanian coffee thanks to a deal that Milwaukee, Wisc., roaster Colectivo struck with the Hacienda La Esmeralda plantation.

This particular bean is called “Geisha,” and it’s usually sold in specialty auctions once a year.

The coffee's reputation took off in 2004, when the Peterson family that owns the plantation submitted Geisha beans into an international coffee competition.

"Nobody had ever tasted anything like it before," says Al Liu, vice president of coffee at Colectivo. 

It’s not unusual for a pound of raw, green geisha beans to fetch a $100 or more per pound. But, through some good negotiating and some chance encounters here in Milwaukee more than a decade ago, Colectivo managed to buy three 139-pound sacks directly from the plantation.

Credit Julian Hayda / WUWM
Colectivo's Vice President of Coffee, Al Liu, with a small bag of his company's limited roast of Geisha beans. Colectivo only bought three 139 pound burlap sacks of raw green Geisha beans, such as those in the background.

Their limited-run roast sold out entirely during online pre-sales. Only 400 12-ounce sacks were put on the market at $34.95 each.

Even though you can’t get the coffee anymore, it’s signaling a direction that local roasters might be taking soon: bringing more specialty coffee to the area.

"The success we've seen with this coffee is very encouraging for us ... to look for coffees of this caliber," notes Liu.