Would you pay $10 for a cup of coffee? How about $15?
Downtown Fresno coffee shop Little Bean Café has been selling both. This is no Starbucks on steroids, but a Fulton Mall coffee shop selling extra-special coffee.
The $10-a-cup Jurutungo Gesha Natural from Panama is expensive because it’s rare. It’s essentially an heirloom variety of coffee grown “on one of the most intriguing farms in the world,” according to Santa Cruz-based Verve Coffee Roasters, where Little Bean buys its coffee. The trees are more than 50 years old and were cut down and allowed to grow back from stumps. The farm’s name means “a place very far away and hard to get to,” according to the roaster.
The coffee is “definitely one of the most expensive in the world, but it’s not the most expensive,” says Little Bean owner Guillermo Moreno.
Little Bean still sells its regularly priced coffee, too.
Until recently, Little Bean was selling a $15 cup of coffee, the Green-Tip Gesha. That coffee came from the highlands of Panama on a farm bordering a protected rainforest. Only plants where the youngest leaves on the tip of each branch were tipped with green, not gold, are harvested for this “far superior” cup of coffee, says the roaster. You can see a video of a cup being made and me taste-testing it at www.fresnobee.com/life.
Little Bean sold about 20 cups of that coffee, and when it ran out, switched to the $10 Jurutungo Gesha. The beans aren’t ground until a customer orders a cup. Each cup is made with a three-and-a-half-minute process that involves manually pouring steaming hot water over a filter and grounds placed right on top of the cup.
Let’s stop right here for a minute.
A $10 cup of coffee is pretty shocking on its own. A $10 cup of coffee on the Fulton Mall — not at Champlain Drive and Perrin Avenue or some other ritzy part of town — is a bit mind-blowing.
I asked Moreno whether he thought people would think he was crazy for selling a $10 cup of coffee on the Fulton Mall.
“Oh yeah, absolutely. They thought I was crazy enough to open on the mall. Now... ” he trails off with a smile.
The coffee is a bit of a gimmick, even he admits. Customers get to wear the “bling,” a fake gold dollar sign necklace, while they drink their coffee. It’s listed on the menu under the heading “coffee baller.”
But there’s more going on here.
Little Bean just celebrated its one-year anniversary. The little coffee shop sits where Fulton Mall crosses Mariposa Mall in the shadow of the clock tower. Even in its short tenure, it has seen nearby restaurants come and go.
Most of its customers are downtown workers and people who want to see downtown succeed. But about 20% are what Moreno calls “coffee savants,” people who seek out quality and can taste the difference between a fresh-made cup and a cup that’s 20 minutes old.
The expensive coffee was a way to celebrate having made it a year on the mall, but also to get the attention of those coffee connoisseurs. They kicked it off with a party last month.
“We definitely want to stand out. At one year, we’re here. We’ve made it,” Moreno says. “We’ve been really blessed.”
And they want more coffee savants from other parts of town to seek them out, he says. (And if you’re one of them who wants to try it, note that Little Bean is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, closed on weekends.)
So right about now, you’re probably mentally screaming, “But how does it taste?! Is it worth the price?”
The $15 Green-Tip Gesha I tried was good, for sure. But anything beyond that and I’m the wrong person to ask. Compared to some experts out there, my taste buds are kindergartners. I don’t even drink my coffee black normally, but I did in this instance because it seemed sacrilegious to muddy up something so revered with cream and sugar.
So I asked Jaime Blanco, Little Bean’s head barista. He’s essentially a sommelier of coffee with more sophisticated taste buds than most of us. Granted, he might be a tad biased, but here’s his verdict: “It just blew my mind coffee can taste this way.”
The coffee, he and Moreno say, has a consistent flavor, from start to finish. No aftertaste, but smooth throughout.
Even when the Gesha coffees run out, Little Bean plans to keep rotating high-end coffees on its menus.
“As long as they keep having the rare beans, we’ll keep buying them,” he says.