One of the most amazing facts about Papua New Guinea (commonly referred to as PNG) is that it is one of the least explored islands on earth.
There are some who claim that there are entire communities of peoples completely uncontactable and that PNG is home to plants and animal species still undiscovered, which I think is extraordinary.
This I suppose is what creates this exotic mysticism along with it being the world’s most diverse country linguistically, with more than 850 languages known to exist – amongst a population of only around 7 million.
LOCATION, GEOGRAPHY, HISTORY AND CULTURE
Settlements on the islands that constitute Papua New Guinea took place over a period of 40,000 years with the island inhabitants being a huge mixture of peoples called the Melanesians.
You can imagine the feat Papua New Guinea’s government had, since their independence in 1975, to oversee so many diverse cultures; particularly ones that were once isolated societies and functioned as a single nation. It all makes sense when you know that 80% of Papua New Guinea’s people still live in rural areas with few or no facilities of modern life. Many tribes living in the isolated mountainous interior have extraordinarily little contact with each other and the outside world, dependent on subsistence agriculture.
The island is victim to volcanic activity, earthquakes, and tidal waves. Papua New Guinea is basically tropical; however, it has various climatic regions, and these are incredibly varied with each variation in elevation creating new ecological environments for plant and animal life. Geographically, I would like to focus on a mountainous zone of the country called, yes, The Highlands. These extend from the West to the Southeast and occupy the central part of the island of New Guinea. On the Papua side the same mountains reach elevations in excess of 4,000 metres – that is 13,000 feet!!!! I believe the highest point is 4,509 metres – 14,793 feet - at the point of Mount Wilhelm which is part of the Central range. What is more, the Highlands include upland basins containing lake deposits which are extremely fertile.
The weather systems and the altitude in the Highlands, provide the perfect conditions for growing coffee. The coffee growing regions that occupy the Highlands are split into the ‘Eastern Highland’ coffees and ‘Western Highland’ coffees with the Eastern region concentrated around the town of Kainantu and the Western region around Mount Hagen.
COFFEE IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Papua New Guinea is often grouped with Indonesian coffees. But it is far from that in nearly every way.
As I mentioned above, Papua New Guinea is still tribal in many ways and people are driven mainly by values and traditions rather than economic gain. The existence of inter-tribal conflicts definitely reinforces this. These cultural differences and the conflict that exists is what makes sourcing from PNG problematic in terms of logistics. Individual communities may contain only a few hundred people and add to this the huge variety of languages and customs it makes it extremely difficult to organise farmers and build trust. The cultural sensitivity, therefore, needed to do business in PNG is trickier than in other coffee growing countries.
So, this is why there are mostly small-holder farmers who sell their coffee cherry to a centralised wet-mill. The coffee coming from these small-holder farms I think would be much better described as ‘garden coffee’ – where a farmer may have around 100 coffee trees planted around the close vicinity of their dwelling – hence the term ‘garden coffee’. Most of the processing mills use old British type equipment such as those found in Kenya and although old, they can still produce great coffee. Although most are small-holder farmers, Papua New Guinea also has some larger plantations. From 1975 onwards, small-holders progressively took over the majority of the export crop, replacing foreign-owned plantations.
It is interesting to note that some of the seedstock from PNG comes from the Jamaican Blue Mountain variety Typica and the Arusha varietal from Tanzania. Some are more modern hybrids or the Indian ‘Kent’ varietal with the classic Bourbon coffee too.
OUR PNG COFFEE
Our coffee comes from the Western Highlands, specifically the Kindeng region. All the coffees in the area are processed in a centralised plantation mill, Kindeng and Kunjin is the name given to all the coffees processed there. The mill purchases the cherry from the smallholder farmers of the area who each have about 1.5 hectares of land, equating to around 2,500 tress per hectare.
The centralised milling and drying enables quality control at the processing level where day lots are cupped and separated to ‘build’ containers to be shipped. The coffee is processed in a leased vintage mill of an old plantation which was left over from colonial times. The cherries are washed and dried in tarpaulins for three to six days.
An interesting parenthesis, that owning mills (and even property in Papua New Guinea) is risky and, as mentioned above, it takes years to establish a reputation of trust with the local tribes and there is always a risk of losing a deal or relationship over the perception of division of wealth.
Our Kunjin coffee comes from an altitude of 1500 – 1800 masl and the varietal is Typica, Arusha and Bourbon. It has clean and smooth citric notes with caramel and sugar cane flavours.
Why not give it a try! Grab yourself a bag
Main blog photograph courtesy of Trevor Cole photographer check his images out on Instagram @trevcole