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Friday, August 9, 2013

Getting to Know You: Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is a country in the Pacific Islands just North of Australia.  The soil is a rich volcanic soil and the weather is some of the best for the cultivation of coffee.  The central region of the country is the Highlands which is at an altitude of  1,500 meters to 2,100 meters.  Coffee production in Paupa New Guinea dates back to the late 1920's when the Highlands were first explored. The original seedlings were the Jamaican Blue Mountain which were planted in 1927.  

There are two versions of Papua New Guinea coffee defined scale for the most part.  There is the large scale, estate coffees that are carefully wet-processed in large facilities.  Then there is the peasant coffees of small-holder farms that are wet-processed on farm using the simplest, backyard methods.  (And by backyard, I mean that they literally grow the coffee in their back yards.)  Most of the Papua New Guinea coffee in the U.S. is from the large estates.  

The large estate coffees are typically more consistent, having a pungent, mango and papaya fruitiness in the aroma with a clean full-bodied flavor.  The use of large dedicated processing facilities make this possible.  The smaller farms, while more likely to be certified organic, tend to be much more erratic in flavor.  Many of these small farm coffees will have musty, earthy, or fermented flavors due to the lack of proper processing facilities.  However, when they are clean tasting they will have the low-key, vibrant, and luxuriously deep body common to quality Pacific coffee.

Even though Papua New Guinea has an amazing environment to produce coffee, they are not without their problems.  The trees are getting old.  The estimated range of the trees is somewhere around 30-50 years old.  Even with proper pruning this is stretching the normal productive range of 7 to 20 years.  They have also had problems with pests and diseases.

The farmers have just as many problems as the plants it would seem.  The infrastructure is very poor.  Roads are all but non-existent.  Lack of access to good roads often leads to farmers not being able to get their crop to buyers.  When this happens the coffee goes bad because they certainly have more than they can consume.  They lose their revenue or have to sell last minute for low prices just to make something off of their crop.

There is also the loss of farm land to more profitable crops.  There are labor shortages, and limited holdings which restrict growth of the industry as a whole.  There is also loss of interest as the youth move from the poor and struggling rural regions to the bigger cities where they can make a living.  The only real benefit of the small backyard farm, ironically, is that they are too poor to afford pesticides making organic certifications much easier.

There is a ray of hope.  There are several incentive programs in the works.  There are freight subsidy programs.  There are subsidized plants from nurseries.  And there are programs to modify minimum standards where there are standards and establishing standards where there are none.  These processes continue to increase the quality of coffee for Papua New Guinea.  Most notably by support for a set of checks and assurances in wet processing factories through the use of laboratories and appropriate training for the tasting panel to assure better exposure to Papua New Guinea coffee internationally.

Papua New Guinea coffee can be a beautiful thing.  As in most coffee producing countries, they would greatly benefit with better infrastructure, support, and awareness, and none of these are easy fixes.

Do you have a story about Papua New Guinea?  I'd love to share it here for you.  You can leave a comment below or email it to me at  Don't forget to subscribe to this blog, follow me on twitter at @fpcoffee, like me on facebook and google+ and instagram as freshpresscoffee.

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