Despite me listing Monrovia, California as the home base, the Trader Joe’s chain of markets can be found all over the United States, in 41 states and in the District of Columbia. It’s a place I enjoy shopping for groceries, as they have products available no place else, and I’ve appreciated their range of items and their quality, especially in the cheese, wine, and gluten-free categories. I used to buy coffee in their signature store brand canisters, because the price was low compared to other stores, but eventually started buying directly from roasters since there’s no real way to tell exactly how fresh Trader Joe’s coffee is (no roast dates are printed on the packaging). I’ve also heard anecdotal evidence of rocks being found in the beans and ruining grinders, so keep an eye on your coffee beans, kids!
Anyway, when I recently popped into a Trader Joe’s in Dallas, I had no intention of buying coffee, but I happened to catch sight of the display that held these canisters of Geisha coffee. Geisha coffee? At a TJ’s? I was skeptical about the quality. Past purchases of Geisha coffee for me have run anywhere from $30-40 per 8 oz, and Trader Joe’s was selling theirs for $20 per 8 oz. Much cheaper, but there was no roast date (just a “best by” date of March 22, 2018)… Ordinarily I would have walked away, but I was curious enough to try it (call it professional curiosity), to see if it was worth the chance. Plus, the “limited edition” packaging was a little hard to resist, as they numbered their cans and made it feel like an accomplishment to get one of the 48 cans allotted to this particular store location. Naturally, I searched until I got can #1. Felt almost as good as getting copy #1 of a piece of limited edition vinyl!
Geisha coffee, while originating in the village of Gesha in Ethiopia, can now be sourced from various places around the world. It produces a comparatively small amount of crop relative to other coffee plants, and the flavors are remarkably complex and floral. I’ve reviewed several varieties of Geisha coffees (three from Panama, one from Ethiopia) and all have been different but all have been markedly more layered than a standard coffee.
Trader Joe’s packaging didn’t make it clear what country this Geisha originated from, and it was only after reading the small print down the side of the can that I found out it came from Colombia. With the lack of roast date (just a “best by” date), I was seriously concerned that any complex/floral notes might be completely absent from the coffee… these things are best experienced when the coffee is extremely fresh (less than 3 weeks old at the max!). Was this a case of a money grab just off the back of the Geisha name?
Whole bean: hint of rainier cherry, but not much else. Mild. Not a bad start but not much character yet.
French press: Oh, this was a disappointment. My notes read:
“So bland. WTF?”
This tasted like a really weak cold brew. The flavor was that of marshmallow fluff, but without the sugar. Rich texture to this cup but no real flavor.
Chemex: Minimal bloom in the brewing, which just confirmed to me that this coffee was way past its peak of freshness. The extraction was quite fast and unbelievably, there was even less flavor in this cup vs. the French press cup. There was a bit of acidity on the finish but overall this coffee just made me mad because of its wasted potential.
AeroPress: Best of the lot. Fudgy texture and a flavor that had a hint of rose and nuts. This is only tolerable as a concentrate; as soon as you add even a little bit of water, it becomes bland.
V60: I purposely ground this quite fine to give the coffee as much extraction time as I dared. After 3:40, I tasted the brew. Nothing. It tasted like water!
Summary: If you want to splurge on a Geisha coffee, get a Geisha from a roaster that does it right, in small batches roasted to order. Cut-rate, stale Geisha is a waste of time and money. I love many things about you, Trader Joe’s, but this to me is a clear attempt to jump on the specialty coffee bandwagon and get people to part with their hard-earned cash on a product that is not worthy. Given the large reach of TJ locations around the country, there’s no real way to source enough of one crop of Geisha for all of your stores (even with limited cans) or to do proper quality control on a product that has such a short shelf life. Perhaps these beans were more delicious when fresh, but that time passed long ago, and I can’t recommend that anyone interested in coffee purchase these.
From the roaster: Full body with citrus notes
Trader Joe’s homepage
Review conducted at ????? days post-roast (who the hell knows?)