again, mesmeralda hog-ties CI‘s brain

June 22, 2009 – 12:00 am

… and so here we have a thought that won’t dislodge from the gizzard meeting a blog in need of more thought randomization …

is panama’s famed esmeralda — now the subject of frenzied annual auctions and ever-escalating price records — the andy warhol of coffee? it’s a stellar, genre-bending, tell-your-neighbors kind of revelation, a cup this blog once offered to foldgers-only co-workers in full confidence that it would, in a sip, change their view of coffee. true.

but it’s also not 40 times as tasty as the ever-popular ethiopia idido misty valley, as the staggering price tag might indicate. in fact, this blog’s totally randomized aggregator of online esmeralda chatter (poaching mostly from twitter!) reports that tuned-in coffee drinkers overwhelmingly thought this year’s crop less amazing than past versions. (these people would be knowing and perceptive, but not *professional* cuppers. the point here being what serious coffee drinkers thought, as a proxy for specialty consumers, not what the credentialed cuppers said they should think.)

and so what’s to account for this year’s record-shattering price of $117 per pound — the same year most well-known western specialty buyers appears to have pulled back in the bidding? (for reference: 2008 prices)

to a dull and obvious blog like this one, ‘twould seem to be the marketing of esmeralda, as the world’s most expensive coffee, that confers this value. the name, the price, the growing notoriety, at some point, add to what pure taste is worth. the ever-higher auction prices could be spawning ever-higher auction prices!

which may not be bad for specialty coffee in the short term — we’re pretty sure this blog has previously argued somewhere on these interwoven nets that the notoriety and rising prices will surely benefit high-end coffee in general. but what if the Brand — the esmeralda cachet — is the herald of numerous future estate coffee niches … in which value is increasingly divorced from taste? in which marketability IS value?

warhol was, of course, a shape-shifter and cultural wizard with the acuity to pierce the consciousness of even magazine readers and soup-can buyers. but what he left in his wake is undeniably the commercialization of art — or even commercialization AS art.

it’s hard to not to be happy about sky-high esmeralda prices. it is, after all, an extraordinarily subtle and delicious coffee. but this blog wonders if the phenomenon doesn’t end up kick-starting an uneasy trend, at least for those devoted to taste as a measuring stick.

p.s. this blog is fully aware that pieces of this idea bubbled up on twitter WEEKS ago, and even on the slow-plodding blogs. so what? sometimes it takes us YEARS to come up with the right analogy!

p.p.s. yes, this blog was able to dip its amateur schnoz into this year’s top lots. our faves: the $27.50-per-lb caballeriza and $29 san jose, though the reserva DID offer some of the most delicate little twists of lily and lime we can remember detecting on our own …

UPDATE: further evidence that the esmeralda’s price can’t possibly be all taste-based: sweet maria’s is now selling one of last year’s top mesmeralda lots at less than half the original price — while claiming the beans “are fresh as they day they came in!” given the scrupulous storage method, this is probably true. so, what has changed from a year ago?