New Guinea Papua A Grade Coffee
Gourmet coffee from Papua New Guinea is known for its bright acidity and full body. It has a complex, balanced flavor of sweetness mixed with pungent citrus notes; as well as mango, orange, and papaya aromas.
Papua New Guinea is an island nation that lies just south of the Equator and a few hundred miles north of the coast of Australia. Most of the coffee is grown in the incredibly fertile, but uncommonly rugged and remote, Western and Eastern Highlands, at 1400-1800 miles above sea level. Unlike their Indonesian neighbors to the west, coffee from Papua New Guinea (often abbreviated PNG in the gourmet coffee world) is wet-processed rather than wet-hulled, which produces more regularity in the shape of the beans.
Since the dissolution of the colonial plantation-based system, much of the production is done by small farmers with land holdings that grow as little as 20 trees per plot. These “coffee gardens” are grown around the farmers’ houses, alongside subsistence crops. Because of PNG’s excellent climate and the high fertility of the soil, growing coffee there is a relatively easy affair compared to other sourcing regions. This has led to a style of coffee farming that has been called “informal” or “casual.”
A Brief History of Coffee in Papua New Guinea
The Germans and the British colonized Papua New Guinea in the late 19th century, with the Germans settling in the north and the British in the south, where they planted coffee in and around Port Moresby in order to sell it to the Australian market.
One of the most famous of the early planters was Emma Coe Forsayth. Born in Samoa in 1850 to an American father and a Samoan mother, Emma was educated in Australia and the United States before returning, against her father’s will to Samoa. In 1878, after the death of her first husband at sea, she and Thomas Farrel began a trading business in Mioko on the Duke of York Islands just off the coast of PNG. She became the first real planter in (British) PNG when she established a plantation on the site at Ralum. She was a smart, shrewd business woman who expanded her empire to trade stores, other plantations, and shipping. She enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and threw expensive parties for the rich colonials and, in the gossip pages of the day, was associated romantically with many high-profile men of the region. For her elegance and power, she became known as “Queen Emma of the South Seas.”
In 1928, the coffee industry in Papua New Guinea gained international acclaim with the introduction of Typica coffee from Jamaica, a varietal called Blue Mountain. The experimental plot of Jamaican Arabica was planted at the colonial government’s Department of Agriculture station at Wau in the district of Morobe, east of the Owen Stanley mountain range. This plantation was sold in 1931 to the German entrepreneur, Carl Leopold Bruno Wilde. He re-named the plantation Blue Mountain Coffee and began to develop production further, eventually roasting and grinding the coffee to sell domestically and overseas. It is from this plantation that much the coffee currently produced in the Highlands of PNG derives.
After WWII, commercial coffee production in PNG ramped up. The old plantations were sold off, and a more decentralized system of smallholders and coffee gardens developed in its place. PNG punched above its weight class for many decades, and achieved a lot of international success in the 60s and 70s. PNG coffee was one of two original specialty coffees sold at Alfred Peet’s famous store in Berkley, California, one of the founding businesses of the gourmet coffee trade in the United States. The peak of PNG coffee production occurred in the late nineties, and has been in a steady decline ever since. What is the reason for this decline?
Great Coffee, Poor Infrastructure
Despite growing some of the finest coffee on some of the most fertile soil in the world, PNG only has a tiny share of the global market, accounting for less than 1% of all wholesale coffee exports.
There are many social and economic factors that prevent Papua New Guinea from reaching its full potential today. First, there are the infrastructure problems. The rural highlands are rugged and hard to get to, and the country roads have deteriorated over the decades because the government, strapped for cash, has not invested in maintenance. The bad distribution network leads to unsold coffee remaining on the farms, which they cannot consume, and a consequent loss of revenue. Furthermore, less than 10 percent of the population is connected to or uses the Internet for communications, and there are roughly 50 to 55 telephones for every 100 people—another impediment when operating within a global coffee business that relies by and large on digital communication.
Another problem facing the farmer in PNG is old-fashioned banditry. The IMF estimates that around 20% of all coffee production in the country is stolen in highway hold-ups!
There is also the problem of miscommunication and conflict between the local ethnic groups in the highland regions. Many of the local populations are distinct culturally from each other, and speak different languages. Over 800 languages are spoken in PNG, and most of these are spoken by communities of only a few hundred people, making it tough to do business even between small, neighboring areas. Beyond communication issues, many of the local groups simply don’t get along, either for historical regions or due to competition for access to gold mines, oil, and natural gas. There are still frequent inter-tribal skirmishes, which make it difficult for farmers to organize and cooperate.
When you add these factors in with the aging tree populations; the large debt of the industry to the Rural Development Bank; and the occasional outbreak of Coffee Berry Disease, it’s not hard to see why PNG has such a small industry, and has not achieved the international exposure it deserves.
PNG coffees are revered for their interesting acidity and high variety. Notable for the mountainous topography of the island and the incredible cultural diversity of thousands of indigenous groups, historical changes in infrastructure have reduced the number of centralized coffee plantations typical of most coffee regions. Thus, many New Guinea plantations are actually collections of traditional “coffee gardens,” small plots of as little as 20 plants grown alongside subsistence crops. With increased introduction of modern processing methods, these already incredible coffees continue to grow in quality and consistency.
Mile High is the A grade offering from the Arokara Co-op. It is grown in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea on the outskirts of the town of Kainantu at an altitude of 1 mile above sea level.
Arokara is a co-operative of Plantations (Largest being Tairora and Gadsup) in the surrounding valley. The plantations are surrounded by mountains, two of the closest ones are Yonki Dome(7500 feet) and Elendora(9200 feet). With over 20 years experience in coffee growing and processing in PNG, Arokara has always delivered a quality bean. These plantations were originally set up by the Rural Development Bank with modern farming methods. In the last 10-15 years the plantations have been returned to the ownership and management of the landowner clans who now do not use any chemicals or fertilizers in the production process.
The cherry is hand picked by the whole clan and then pulped on the same day and fermented in cement vats for 36 hours. After the fermentation process the coffee is washed with fresh mountain stream water from the nearby Aru River. The coffee is then sun dried to give it a nice even bluish color, which can take 7-12 days.
The labor in the processing operation is also from the surrounding villages and ranges through the year from 20 up to 60 people in the peak season (this does not include the clan cherry pickers). The total community in the area who rely on the coffee exports is around 10000 to 12000 people.
smooth body, berry, clean, consistent, pleasant aftertaste, cedar, malt and tea-like notes