A self-described “coffee idiot” answers why it’s so expensive — and so good.
When I first heard Klatch Coffee Roasters in Redondo Beach was selling a single cup of coffee for $100, I had two disparate thoughts: “Why would you pay $100 for a cup of coffee?” and “I need to try this.”
Now, there’s something important you should know about me; I am a coffee idiot. I’ve never been keen on the taste of the bean. When I have drunk coffee, I’ve done so like a child, disguised as a milkshake and with a picture of a mermaid on my cup. Does that make me the worst person to taste a C-note’s worth of coffee? Undoubtedly! But on the other hand, if this coffee is good enough to justify that price tag, then even someone like me would like it, right?
The bean in question is the Elida Geisha Natural 1029. Originally grown in Ethiopia, where it’s called Gesha, the Geisha coffee bean was brought to the Americas due to its ability to resist diseases.
Nowadays, the Geisha bean is heavily grown in Panama and the Elida Estate has made the Geisha their flagship bean. Strains of the Elida Geisha have won the Best of Panama coffee competition four times out of the last five years. The Geisha Natural 1029 won this year’s competition, scoring a 95.25 out of 100, the highest score a coffee has ever received anywhere. Klatch CEO Mike Perry was one of the judges and immediately made sure to buy some for his stores. The 1029 is only available at the Redondo Beach and San Francisco Klatch locations, but you can buy a package online. (Incidentally, the 1029 in the coffee’s name is a reference to the $1,029 price tag for a pound of unroasted beans.)
Even non-champion Geisha coffees are more expensive than the average bean.
“Right now, we’re selling a different Geisha for $12.95 a cup,” says Klatch Redondo Beach manager Daniel Teplitz. Across the board, Geisha coffee is valued for its sweet, fruit-forward flavor, which only partially explains the price. The main reason is simply availability.
“Part of the reasons it’s expensive, in general, is the Geisha plant needs a lot of room to grow,” Teplitz says. “You get two-thirds the yield for a Geisha tree that you’d get from another varietal.”
Blend a fine flavor, a low-yield plant and major demand together and you’ll have a $100-cup of coffee. If the Geisha bean is the Dom Perignon of coffees, then the 1029 is basically the private reserve.
You have to drink the Elida Geisha Natural 1029 black; no cream. No, the shop isn’t pretentiously telling you that the only way to appreciate the $100-cup is by experiencing all the intricacies and flavors straight, there’s actually a practical reason. The Geisha bean is so acidic that adding milk or cream will legitimately ruin the coffee.
“I brewed a cup of a different Geisha for a customer,” Teplitz says. “He poured some cream in and it curdled. He came back to me and said ‘I think there’s something wrong with your milk.’ We brewed him a new cup and told him to hold off this time.”
On the rare occasions I’ve had black coffee, mostly late-night college cram sessions, it felt like something died in my mouth, so I was worried about what I was about to drink. However, Teplitz promised that unlike your everyday cup of office coffee maker mud, the Geisha was not nearly as thick and wouldn’t suffer from reheating burns. Additionally, its sweet and flavorful nature meant I wouldn’t need sugar.
Of course, a $100-cup of coffee has rituals and procedures attached to it. For a Klatch barista to be allowed to pour the Geisha, they must first prove that they can accurately pour coffee by hand. When training to brew the Geisha, they can’t practice with actual Geisha beans because it would be too expensive. Instead, Klatch’s “Coffee Guru” Todd Goldsworthy comes in and shows them the brewing process exactly once. Then, the baristas practice using similar Panamanian coffee beans. It’s a 10-step process and the homebrew set comes with detailed instructions on how to properly brew a cup, as well as a separate guide on how to get the water just right using a special water packet included in the set and two gallons of distilled water (not included).
If you want to enjoy a $100-cup in the comfort of your own home, you (or more likely your servant) are going to have to work for it. Back at Klatch, Teplitz poured precisely 18 grams of coffee beans out of a sealed black envelope and began grinding the beans, placing them in a strainer. Over two and a half minutes, he poured the special blend of water in precise amounts at set intervals to keep it warm throughout the brewing process.
Finally, after finishing the brew, Teplitz poured it into a glass. At 204 degrees Fahrenheit, it was too hot for me to grab with one hand, so I picked up the $100-cup with two hands like a toddler trying his first “big boy cup” and took a sip.
It was pretty good! It was a little acidic, but for the most part, it was a mild coffee, almost closer to a tea in both taste and consistency. Teplitz told me the coffee’s flavor would change as I drank it and it cooled down. Over time it developed notes of herbs, dark cherry, chocolate, candied citrus and bizarrely, even au jus. Admittedly, the Elida Geisha Natural 1029 didn’t blow my mind, but neither did it make me do a spit take. I’d never guess it cost $100, but it was flavorful and pleasant and I could understand why coffee aficionados would be crazy about the Geisha. Without question, it was the best experience I’ve ever had with black coffee.
But that’s one idiot’s opinion, what does a connoisseur think? Dan Walsh is a longtime Klatch customer who has bought the annual Elida Geisha varietal for the past three years.
“As with wine, each season and year will bring each varietal of coffee different characteristics,” Walsh says. His recurring interest in the Elida Geisha is due to its pedigree and wide flavor profile. This year, he thinks the most prominent flavors in the cup are mango and peach. “I wanted to chug it, but knew I had to savor every last drop,” he says.
Klatch ordered the equivalent of about 200 cups of the Geisha 1029, and between online and in-store sales, they’re already halfway through. If you’re willing to spend $100 on a single cup of joe, now’s your chance.
As for me, I can no longer say I don’t like coffee. I just can’t drink anything worth less than three figures.
Klatch Coffee – Redondo Beach
306 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach, CA 90277