We tried what is officially the world’s most expensive coffee, which costs $601 per pound, and it tasted like we’ll never be able to buy a house now. That, and fruit. We even got a whiff of mango. Brewer Todd Goldsworthy told us that, when he smells it, the coffee opens up with aromas of strawberry and sweet cherry. (He’s a U.S. Brewers Cup Champion, and his business card literally says “Coffee Guru.”) Take a sip, and there are notes of peach; as the coffee cools, notes of bergamot and grapefruit emerge, and the coffee takes on an almost creamy mouthfeel.
While our palate wasn't so subtle as to perceive all the ingredients of a smoothie, the coffee was unmistakably fruity, almost floral. It was almost closer to a tea in its lightness of color and delicateness of flavor. Many light roasts pride themselves on doing justice to the flavor of the coffee cherry, but oftentimes, they just end up sour. This coffee–the official name of which is the Esmeralda Geisha 601–tasted almost like the mango black tea at Trader Joe’s, for a very basic (and probably insulting) comparison. It was almost as if you watered down a cup of your average third-wave coffee and added a few drops of fruit essence. The fruity aromas weren’t overpowering or synthetically fake, but somehow subtle yet strongly perfumed throughout. It was also almost chocolate-like, with notes of caramel: there was absolutely no bitterness.
Starting November 18th, you’ll be able to try it for yourself if you’re in Rancho Cucamonga near L.A., where it’s being sold at Klatch Coffee. It’s the only place in the U.S. to buy it; the coffee is also being sold in China and Dubai, among a few other locations.
Each cup rings in at $55, which means that the stain on our shirt cost about $7 alone. (A note on price: there have been more expensive cups of coffee sold at coffee shops, but Esmeralda Geisha 601 is the most expensive to date per pound, as sold from farmer to roaster at international auction.)
You can’t just walk into Klatch and order it though; you’ll have to buy tickets online. $55 is the baseline ticket for one cup; for $95, however, you can taste the coffee that won second place at auction, as well as another type of the Geisha variety. These tickets, however, are currently all sold out.
Part of what enables the complexity of Geisha’s flavors is the fact that it’s an unwashed coffee, so it’s not soaked in the process of extracting the coffee bean. Unwashed coffees are usually more fruit-forward than their washed counterparts.
Geisha 601 comes from a collection of farms in Panama called Hacienda La Esmeralda. There, it’s grown at a higher altitude than most coffees, which helps contribute to its distinctive flavor profile. Mike Perry, Klatch Coffee’s founder and head roaster, says they’ve been buying the Geisha variety from this farm for years, but this year the perfect storm assembled to make the crop the best it’s ever been. Ironically, the Geisha was originally planted as a perimeter crop to protect the others from disease; they never thought it would be such a luxury product.
Several years ago, it sold for $13 at online auction and blew everyone’s minds. Fast-forward a few years, and the auction website actually crashed when people tried to bid more than $99.99; the website’s code didn’t allow for it.
Still, the terroir of the bean only does so much work; you have to know how to roast it and brew it to get your money’s worth. Perry left a career as a biochemical engineer to open a coffee business, and this informs his approach. “I measure everything, and write down every single taste variable and try to figure out what contributed to that,” he says.
Brewing is also key. If you somehow managed to get your hands on these beans, you’d want to use a pour-over, not a French press. A pour-over allows for more of the subtle flavors to release, according to Goldsworthy.
At the end of the day, taste is subjective, but subjectivity doesn’t mean that there can’t be standards. Perry describes an experiment he does with his brewers and people who come into his coffee shops for cuppings: at the count of three, he’ll ask everyone to point to their favorite coffee. “Almost every single time, almost everybody points to the same cup.”
There’s something to it. At the end of the day, we’re not sure that the Geisha 601 would be an everyday type of coffee: sometimes we just want something dark and rich in the morning that can take a good hit of almond milk. But, for what it’s worth, we can say that it is, without a doubt, the most complex cup of coffee we’ve ever had.
This article originally appeared on Foodandwine.com.