Around $250 might seem like a lot of money to pay for a kilo of green coffee, but Andy Gelman says the beans were worth it.
Gelman, co-owner of cafe Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird in Gardenvale, recently paid that much for a tiny microlot of gesha variety beans from US company Ninety Plus's farm in the Vulcan region of Panama.
"It's the best coffee I've ever tasted," says Gelman, a roaster with seven years' experience.
Panama gesha coffee (so-called because the variety originated in the Gesha region of Ethiopia) is one of the world's most prized, known for its floral aromas and clear, sweet flavours.
The five-kilo lot Gelman bought, which Ninety Plus dubbed "Sillvia" due to its intense fruit flavours, was hand-picked and sorted and dried on a single raised bed in a temperature and humidity-controlled drying shed.
He sells the coffee at $9 for a filter-brew cup or $40 for a 100-gram bag – enough to make six cups at home. "Everyone who's tasted it has said, 'Oh my God, I never knew coffee was a fruit'," says Gelman.
Is it worth $250 a kilo? "This is some of the best coffee in the world, but it is hard to justify the price. I was happy to buy just five kilos."
But Gelman's gesha is not Melbourne's most expensive brew – that honour belongs to a batch of Colombian beans know prosaically as HR61.
HR stands for Hacienda el Roble, the farm in Colombia where it was grown; 61 is the lot number given to the seeds of the still-uncertain coffee variety when they were originally planted.
Nolan Hirte, of Proud Mary in Collingwood, bought the first lot of HR61 ever offered for sale in an auction at the farm in February this year. Bidding started at $US100 a pound – Hirte's limit – and finished at $US130. He bought all 18 kilos, and says it cost $340 a kilo by the time it landed in Melbourne.
"We're the first roasters in the world to get our hands on it," says Hirte. "We outbid some of the coffee world's biggest names, including US coffee guru George Howell."
The price made it the most expensive Colombian coffee ever sold.
The coffee is of an unknown variety – "probably an Ethiopian heirloom," says Hirte, noting the beans' gesha-like long canoe shape.
He sold about fifty 150-gram jars for $100 each at the recent Melbourne International Coffee Expo, and is offering the coffee for $30 a cup at Proud Mary.
Josh Benbrook, a Sydney coffee roaster who had just finished a cup at Proud Mary, said: "It's very interesting coffee. It's worth $30 because of the story: the fact it's a new variety, there's only 18 kilos. It's a good coffee and I love the story."
The coffee, which Hirte roasts in 650-gram lots, has a strong aroma of rose and bergamot, very clean flavour and a creamy mouth.
Says Hirte: "I thought, why should it be released in Boston? Why not Melbourne? I can roast it and brew it, and we have an educated public, customers who are ready for it."
Melbourne's other pricey green beans ...
$120 a kilo – Esmeralda gesha lot #2 from the Best of Panama auction 2012
Campos Coffee, Carlton
$100 a kilo – Gonzalo Rojas gesha, Boquete, Panama
Auction Rooms, North Melbourne
$60 a kilo – Panama Esmeralda gesha
Seven Seeds, Carlton
$35 a kilo – Rwanda Cup of Excellence lot #3
Market Lane Coffee, South Yarra
... and the world's most expensive
$486 a kilo – El Injerto 2013 Pantaleon Mocca (Guatemala)
Sweet Maria's, Oakland, California
$1155 a kilo – El Injerto 2012 Pantaleon Mocca (Guatemala)
YT Infinite, Korea
The Age Good Cafe Guide 2013 will be sold for $5 with The Saturday Age this weekend. It's also available in bookshops and online at theageshop.com.au for $9.99.