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Novo Coffee gets the Geisha: How much would you pay for the world's best beans?

Boutique roaster Novo Coffee recently got a batch of Esmeralda Geisha, one of the most lauded coffees in the world and the subject of the Westword feature "Pot of Gold."

If you stop by Novo's retail location at the Museum Residences, 1200 Acoma Street, you can grab a cup for yourself for $4.50 -- that's eight ounces of joe. But if you want to take home some Geisha beans, an eight-ounce bag will set you back a cool $25.

Is it worth it?

If you're the type of person who sees coffee as fuel, plain and simple, and have never considered (or cared about) things like bean origins or brewing methods or even how coffee really tastes, the question's a no-brainer: Leave the Geisha to other, pickier customers who would lynch you if you asked the ba\rista to throw in some creamer.

But if you enjoy a good cup of coffee, don't be quick to turn up your nose at these beans. The Esmeralda Geisha, grown on just a single farm in Boquete, Panama, took first place when it was introduced at the 2004 Best of Panama coffee competition, and has won every Best of Panama since then. The coffee's distinctive hints of citrus, its super-clean body and the way its taste seems to shift dramatically as it cools have all wowed some of the world's most jaded experts. And the coffee is unique and bright enough that even folks with undeveloped coffee palates can tell that they're tasting something special.

Price still seem high? Well, consider this: Last year, Geisha green beans sold at auction for $170.20 a pound, surpassing the Geisha's own world record for the most ever paid for a bag of beans. In other words, high-end roasters like Novo have to pay a pretty penny to get the stuff, and they're going to pass that cost on to you.

Then there's the social dimension of high-priced coffee. Many coffee leaders are moving beyond the concept of Fair Trade and its arbitrary pricing to a new model called Direct Trade, in which small farmers in the struggling nations where most coffee is grown are rewarded for growing exceptional coffees with extremely generous bean prices. While the flourishing Panamanian farm that grows Geisha clearly doesn't need the help of Fair Trade, high-profile coffees like the Geisha -- and people's willingness to pay a premium for them -- help hammer home the concept that coffee can be a boutique food item like cheese and wine, a concept that could help struggling farmers halfway around the world.

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Finally, there's one last selling point to the Geisha: It's got a hell of a back story. While it's now grown in Panama, its origins lie somewhere in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. Finding the Geisha's original home -- and possibly other coffees just as spectacular -- was the impetus behind a 2006 expedition to the jungles of southwestern Ethiopia that included some of the greatest coffee explorers around, among them Joseph Brodsky, one of the founders of Novo Coffee.

To make a long story short, the trek never found the Geisha -- it broke down several dozen miles short of its goal due to impassable muddy roads, caffeinated bickering and reports of man-eating lions. And since then, Brodsky's moved on to found his own company, Ninety Plus Coffee, leaving Novo in the more-than capable hands of his brother Jake and father, Herb, who have now brought the Geisha to Denver.

So here's what you get for your $4.50 cup of the stuff: a truly unique-tasting coffee that's broken world records and is associated with new, more sustainable models of coffee farming, not to mention one that comes with a history straight out of Indiana Jones. And if that's still not enough to coax those greenbacks out of your wallet, how about this: How much did you pay for that abomination of a cocktail the other night in LoDo? Whatever it was, it was surely more than what you'd spend on a taste of the Geisha.

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