This variety was originally collected from coffee forests in Ethiopia in the 1930s. From there, it was sent to the Lyamungu research station in Tanzania, and then brought to Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) in Central America in the 1953, where it was logged as accession T2722. It was distributed throughout Panama via CATIE in the 1960s after it had been recognized for tolerance to coffee leaf rust. However, the plant's branches were brittle and not favored by farmers so it was not widely planted. The coffee came to prominence in 2005 when the Peterson family of Boquete, Panama, entered it into the "Best of Panama" competition and auction. It received exceptionally high marks and broke the then-record for green coffee auction prices, selling for over $20/pound.
There is significant confusion about Geisha because there are multiple genetically distinct plant types that have been referred to as Geisha, many of which share similar geographic origins in Ethiopia. Recent genetic diversity analyses conducted by World Coffee Research confirm that Panamanian Geisha descendent from T2722 is distinct and uniform. It is associated with extremely high cup quality when the plants are managed well at high altitude, and is known for its delicate floral, jasmine, and peach-like aromas.
The spellings Geisha and Gesha are often used interchangeably, relating to the fact that there is no set translation from the dialects of Ethiopia to English. The coffee was first recorded in germplasm records with the spelling “Geisha,” and coffee researchers and germplasm banks have mostly maintained that spelling over many decades, leading that spelling to be promoted and used first in the coffee industry. The coffee was originally collected in Ethiopia in a region close to a mountain whose name is most commonly rendered in English as Gesha. Consequently, many in the coffee industry have preferred to rescue that spelling.