Papua New Guinea Green Coffee Beans at Maniac Roasting
We were fortunate enough to have a cupping at Maniac Roasting last week of the Papua New Guinea: Premium Smallholder (PSC). I found the aroma of the coffee to be a rich earthy chocolate mixed with a faint pine. A subtle deep rose floral hovered over the finish. The acidity was soft, not too bright, that gave the coffee a rounded smoothness in the mouth. Sweet notes hinted at vanilla, sweet pinto bean, hint of honey. As the cup cooled, it became more structured as the sugars emerged more predominate.
I spoke with Alexarc Mastema about the particulars of this roast. He told me that because of the lower acidities of the PNG, he likes to roast it a little darker to push up some of the flavors. The result is a coffee that brews as a “classic cup” – smooth, medium acidity, with a well-rounded sweet floral finish.
From the group’s tasting notes:
John: “roasted almonds, subtle, buttery, very smooth, pleasant finish.”
Stephanie: “Liked the low-acidity and sugar notes, reminds me of darkly baked peach or apricot pie, toast with marmelade.”
Katy: “Light bodied, juicy, wet-honey, butter, orange, grape popsicles.”
Jonathan: “Bittersweet cocoa, vanilla, red wine, fruity, tastes of pear as it cools.”
Steven: “Chocolate, rich caramel, like a puppy in your mouth.”
Sean: “Woody, herbal, light smoke, toasty vanilla, mellow.”
Alexarc and I also talked a bit about the problems of coffee production in Papua New Guinea. I have excerpted and linked a variety of resources below for further reference, if you are so inclined.
Essentially, the story is that Papua New Guinea is filled with an amazing diversity of cultures – over 850 indigenous languages alone * – most of them living in intensely rural conditions with deep affiliations with native clans and tribes. They are, for the most part, subsistence farmers, living off the land, and they grow coffee as a primary source of income. Western commercial efforts to coerce them into “more productive” cooperatives have generally met with little or no success. A few like Kongo Coffee – who exports to our supplier, Atlas – have, through integration with the local community, been able to assist the small producers get their product to market and receive a fair price. Also, it is worth emphasizing, as indicated in the Roast Magazine article below, “these small growers own the land that their farms sit on and do not use artificial fertilizer or chemical sprays.”
So when you are drinking your cup of PNG from Maniac Roasting, consider that those beans were, most likely, grown by a small family on their own farm in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea intent on producing the best coffee bean possible – naturally and by hand.
After posting to The Black Drop Facebook, I discovered this on the Maniac Page from Alexarc:
I just got a sweet bag of Papua New Guinea micromill coffee! However, on the side is stamped ‘KONGO COFFEE’…and all I can think of is El Donkey Kongo coffee, and then I imagine a tiny 8-bit Donkey Kong in the bag throwing one bean out at a time. Good thing I can easily jump those flaming beans…
Location: Papua New Guinea, Western Highlands
Predominant Varietals: Typica, Arusha, Blue Mountain, Mundo Novo, Catimor, Caturra
Elevation: 4,500 to 6,500 ft.
Climate: “Tropical, with monsoons in the northwest from December–March and in the southwest from May–October.” – From Roast Magazine “Averaging daytime max 89 degrees to as low as 54 degrees in the night” – from Kongo Coffee
Soil conditions: “Naturally fertile soil. Intercropping and shade-grown for timely maturity of berries and other food security concerns.” – from Kongo Coffee
Processing method: Wet Milled
Drying method: Sun and Dry Mill
Harvest period: April to September
Screen Size/Grade:: SCR 17/18, GR A PSC
From PNG Coffee Sector Strategy [pdf]:
Small Producers: 397,772
Blocks (ca. 20 ha): 250
Wet Mills: 47
Dry Mills: 57
From Roast Magazine: Navigating Origins: Papua New Guinea:
About 95 percent of coffee grown in Papua New Guinea, or PNG, is high-grown washed Arabica from the highlands area of the country. The rest is Robusta, typically grown along the coastal regions and on the plains. “Most of the Arabica coffee is grown at altitudes of 2,500–5,500 feet,” says Brian Stevenson, owner of Nuigini Coffee, Tea and Spice Company, Ltd. “Production ranges between 950,000 and 1.2 million bags annually with the main season’s flush being between May and September, although coffee is produced in the different areas nearly 12 months of the year.” Contrary to popular belief, the majority of PNG coffee doesn’t come from estates or large farms. Instead, more than 90 percent of the coffee is grown on smallholder farms or small village coffee gardens that boast anywhere from 20 to 600 trees. Together, these family-owned farms produce about one million bags of exportable coffee each year. Typically, these small growers own the land that their farms sit on and do not use artificial fertilizer or chemical sprays.
From Atlas Coffee Importers:
Premium Smallholder (PSC): PNG stands out from other Indonesian coffees for its potential for light body, medium to high acidity and delicate fruit and floral qualities, which can make them excellent substitutes for fine Central American coffees. Add to this the fact that coffees ship from PNG on the opposite side of the calendar from Centrals (Aug – Dec, vs. Feb – June,) and a roaster has a relatively underutilized origin ripe for discovery. Most coffee farmers in PNG are small-holders, meaning they only own a small area of land, and produce a small quantity of coffee each year. Atlas works with cooperatives who purchase and bulk these small lots based on specific flavor profiles and quality grades that we determine in advance. The result is a very consistent, clean, light and bright coffee that is arriving fresh just as many Centrals are beginning to fade.
I cannot recommend more highly the excellent Five Senses’ Blog. His account of Kongo Coffee and his excellent photographs are well worth your time to click through to and explore: A Look at Kongo Coffee:
Kongo Coffee is a company that owns a few small plots of coffee trees, runs a wet mill, a hulling plant, an export arm, a coffee transportation company and a roastery.
I’m full of praise for Kongo Coffee. It is an excellent example of a business that has grown despite the odds (really bad communications infrastructure, bad roads etc). It has grown because it is a business by the people, for the people. Jerry understands how important he has become to the local community and, in many ways, has become more important to the local people in providing services than the inept government administration.
He’s been able to do this by finding a market for coffee that he and his people grow. He knows the coffee is good, he knows he can help his people make it better.
Wikipedia: Coffee production in Papua New Guinea:
Coffee production in the country dates back to 1926/1927 when the first Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee seeds were planted. However, the Coffee Research Institute claims that coffee was introduced to British Papua in 1890, although it is widely accepted that commercial production only took off in the country in the late 1920s. In Sangara, Papua New Guinea in the foothills in the southeast of the country, 18 commercial coffee plantations were established in 1926, paving the way for commercial production from 1928. Louis Austen, a retired sea-captain, once managed a government coffee plantation near Sangara.
In the 1960s, the infrastructure developed significantly in Papua New Guinea which facilitated a marked growth in the industry, easing the transportation of coffee beans from the plantations to the mills to be processed and exported. The coffee industry in Papua New Guinea thrived in the 1970s, benefiting from a slump in the production in Brazil on the international market because of problems with frosts. However in the 1980s, coffee plantation production has declined in Papua New Guinea and has decentralized towards localised small coffee farmers who are now accountable for over 85% of total national production. The coffee boom in the 1980s profoundly affected many of the coffee plantation owners and amounted debts they could not pay off, with the result that many were made redundant. From 1986, a number of cases of coffee rust, caused by Hemileia vastatrix, also affected some parts of Papua New Guinea which had previously been free of the disease.
The coffee industry in Papua New Guinea reached a peak in 1998 when it was responsible for some 38% of the country’s non-mineral exports and 13% of total exports. Between 1995 and 1998 coffee production contributed to 42 per cent of the revenue of country’s total agricultural exports. Since then the industry has rapidly declined, affected by a world depression in coffee prices with prices falling up to 60%. As a result, production slumped by 23% in 2000 and remained stagnant in 2001.
In 2009, coffee was reported to be responsible for 18.5% of the country’s agricultural exports and just 4.7% of total export revenue, a dramatic fall since the 1990s. In recent years, coordination between the private and public sectors have increased as has a movement towards a greater sustainability with improved soil nutrition management and retention and education of farmers in prolonging the agricultural productivity of their land.
The World Bank: Improving rural incomes and livelihoods in Papua New Guinea:
The majority of Papua New Guinea’s population lives in rural areas, largely dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Coffee and cocoa are the main cash crops, with half of the country’s total workforce involved in their production, processing and sale. Despite its importance, the quality and productivity of Papua New Guinea’s coffee has been declining, due in large part to a lack of replanting, limited incentives for smallholder farmers, and poor access to markets. The cocoa industry has been experiencing similar issues, in addition to the threat posed by the Cocoa Pod Borer. The Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project (PPAP) aims to combat these problems in order to improve the livelihoods of smallholder cocoa and coffee producers, and promote rural development and poverty reduction more broadly.
Papua New Guinea: Coffee farmers face challenges, as demand for crop continues:
In my first trip outside of capital city Port Moresby after my arrival here in April, I visited Kongo Coffee, one of the country’s three largest exporters. Managed by a native Highlander and grown from a small effort gathering and selling coffee from his ancestral community-held land, Kongo works with small farmers to improve their techniques. Despite considerable attention to improved coffee quality in recent years there is little evidence that government attempts to improve smallholder processing have been effective, most importantly because individual households do not receive appropriate price signals for their efforts to improve their processing and post-harvest handling techniques. Kongo changed that, by publicly signaling the price differential for the better quality product and communicating clear information about what to do to get that price. This means that even on PNG’s aging tree stock, some of Kongo’s family suppliers deliver the premium quality arabica that earns the highest export prices to Japan, Europe, USA … and approx 70 percent of the shipping cost comes back to the smallholder farming families.
From Fair Trade Coffee Supply Chains in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea: Do They Give Higher Returns to Smallholders? By Wayne Ismael Powae [pdf] [emphasis mine]:
The research found that smallholders in the FT chains and conventional chains receive very similar prices for their coffee (parchment price equivalent). Hence, there was no evidence that smallholders in the FT chains received higher prices or returns from their coffee production than smallholders in conventional chains. This study also found that there was no evidence of FLO certification improving returns to smallholders in the FT chains over those returns received in the conventional chains, but the community that the FT smallholder producers come from did benefit. The sources of these community benefits lies in the shorter FT chains and the distributions of the margin that would have been otherwise made by processors to producers, exporters and the community. In addition, this study found that constraints associated with value creation are similar in all the four chains studied. However, there are some added hurdles for the FT chains in adhering to FT and organic coffee standards. Moreover, FT co-operatives lacked capacity to trade and their only functions were to help with FLO certification and distribute the FT premium to the community.