Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an immense and sparsely populated country northeast of Australia. It’s still quite wild. Mountainous and verdant, the island’s stunningly fertile soil tends to produce coffees with a crisp citrus acidity and rich with flavours of chocolate and tropical fruit.

It’s a flavour profile that’s in sharp contrast to the spicy, earthy coffees grown just across the border in Indonesia. The reason is because most PNG coffee derives from arabica plants, especially the Blue Mountain variety that hails from Jamaica, rather than the robusta plants found all over Asia and the Pacific.

Life is fairly basic in PNG. Subsistence farmers grow bananas, plantains and other food alongside their coffee, which is often the only cash crop. An astounding 450,000 households across 18 of the country’s 22 provinces grow coffee, which adds up to just half a percentage point of world production. Almost half of PNG’s population is connected in some way to the coffee industry.

Papua New Guinea Coffee

Coffee farming in PNG hasn’t changed significantly since the 19th Century. Farms are located in highland communities deep in the rainforest, cloud forest & on the sides of mountains, most of it accessible only by plane or (more commonly) by days of foot travel. Farmers belong to tribal groups (there are over 800 tribal languages in PNG), with lots of rivalry among tribes.

Blue Mountain arabica is the species most grown country-wide, between 700 and 2,000 meters above sea level. In these highlands, coffee is shade-grown under the canopy of first- and second-growth forests, including rain and cloud forest. Harvested coffee is often packed out by coffee farmers on multi-day hikes.

History not a Mystery
So. About that Blue Mountain arabica bean. While Indonesia was colonized in the 17th Century,  what’s now known as Papua New Guinea wasn’t ‘discovered’ until two centuries later, by the Germans in the north and the British in the south. It’s these groups that brought arabica plants like Blue Mountain, favourites that yielded (and still yield) a preferred flavour profile.

Since then, other arabica beans have risen in popularity, especially Catimor, Caturra, Mundo Novo, and Arusha.  While coffee was introduce to PNG in the 1880s, production didn’t really take off until the 1930s when an Aussie prospector found that the island’s interior was both fertile and (surprise, surprise!) inhabited. By the 1950s, the PNG government was encouraging previously unknown inland tribes to create coffee ‘gardens’ on family plots.   

Specialty Coffee to the Rescue
A major lack of infrastructure and over 800 tribal languages (only 10 per cent of citizens have Internet access; roads are few) have caused turmoil and bottlenecks in the PNG coffee industry, as did plummeting prices in the early 2000s. But there’s a silver lining. The slow pace of modernization means that PNG coffee is largely grown without chemicals of any kind, including pesticides. There’s quite a bit of Certified Organic coffee in PNG, while almost all the rest is organic but simply hasn’t been certified.

Papua New Guinea Coffee Production

Certified or not, organic is a really good thing, since the demand for specialty coffee is skyrocketing worldwide. ‘Relationship coffee’—the kind that meets sustainability and ethical standards, and typically has a cool story behind it—is what the newest generation of coffee drinkers want from their java. And THAT means a higher-priced product.

The fact is, coffee is so well suited to the PNG climate, and the soils are so rich, that coffee grown here combines body, balance and flavour in a way that few other origins do. It also has an exceptional story to tell.

The Future Tastes Bright
In May 2019, the first PNG National Coffee Symposium and Expo took place. Goals included reducing poverty, increasing environmental sustainability and promoting the varieties grown. It was a big deal, involving the highest levels of government, coffee growers and cooperative representatives, as well as people representing the entire coffee value chain.

One of the big conclusions was that the PNG coffee trade is set to grow quickly, as long as producers harness strong market trends and produce certified specialty coffee. With their small plots and difficulty in getting coffee to market, PNG producers really need to gravitate to specialty coffee anyhow, since they can’t compete on price with bulk growers like Vietnam and Colombia.

There is some funding likely to help with coffee revitalization, thanks to the World Bank-funded Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project. The idea is to improve coffee growers’ livelihoods, which will encourage people to take up coffee growing again, or to expand their plantations.

Papua New Guinea Enorga - Coast to Coast Coffee
Coast to Coast Coffee’s own PNG coffee is grown in the Enorga Valley of the Purosa region, Okapa district in PNG’s eastern highlands. Fair Trade and Organic-certified, Enorga is grown by Highlands Organic Agriculture Co-op (HOAC)  farmers. It’s a unique coffee that has a natural brightness but is still surprisingly full bodied, with bold earthy tones and lingering notes of citrus and mango. 

The northeastern end of PNG is largely uninhabited, so this coffee grows completely without human influence until harvest. HOAC farmers de-pulp the beans on site, with the offcasts left to nourish the soil. This coop supports about 12,000 family members and hopes to add another 5,000 members in the next few years.



Date 11/25/2022

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