Papua New Guinea Coffee - Vibrant Island with Outstanding Coffee
Coffee lovers are not that familiar with coffee, or the seriously cool people, from Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea’s Geography
Located on the Eastern half of New Guinea, which is the world’s second largest island, and close to Australia. In fact, New Guinea used to be attached to modern-day Australia as part of a super continent called Sahul. New Guinea became an island as the Torres Strait flooded about 10,000 years ago.
Because of its location next to the Australian Plate and the Pacific Plate, Papua New Guinea has an interesting geography. The north is composed of jagged limestone with extremely thick rainforest, a swampy south coast, and the middle of the country is covered in high mountains called the Highlands. Despite being tropical and situated near the equator, the highest points of the Highlands still get snow.
A View of the Highlands. Photo by Stephen Gollan
Papua New Guinea is tropical year-round, but because of its location, is subject to monsoons in the north as well as earthquakes and tsunamis from erupting volcanoes and being situated between two tectonic plates. The Highlands, however, has its own weather patterns. Unlike the rest of the country, the Highlands receives about 100 to 160 inches of rain throughout the year.
Papua New Guinea Culture
Despite not being that large of a country, there are over 800 native languages spoken throughout Papua New Guinea. Most of the languages are spoken by less than 7,000 people, as many indigenous groups live in rural areas isolated from main urban areas and still rely on trading with other tribes instead of adopting a monetary trading system.
Even though it was connected to Australia for a long time, Papua New Guinea has vastly different animals and does not have any large mammals. Its largest animals are flightless cassowaries and crocodiles.
Instead, the country is known for its extreme variety in birds and reptiles that have evolved in isolation. Papua New Guinea has over 30 different species of birds-of-paradise, and the bird is even on their country’s flag. You will also find the hooded pitohi, one of the world’s few poisonous birds.
A Red Bird-of-Paradise. Photo by Australian Geographic.
Despite being a newly independent country, the country was not heavily developed by its colonizers, and many land developers have a hard time making it here because of the rugged terrain, high cost of infrastructure, and lack of Western education in indigenous tribes.
Papua New Guinea’s gold, copper, and oil deposits account for over 72% of its export earnings. The country is also a heavy producer of palm oil, and the largest crops exported are coffee, cocoa, and coconut oil.
The Boom (and Bust) of Coffee
Coffee production in Papua New Guinea can be traced back to the 1920s when 18 commercial coffee production sites were established.
The first coffee planted on the island was actually Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, which is usually known as some of the most expensive coffee in today’s market due to its extremely high quality and the small number of farms in Jamaica that can produce it.
Between the initial establishment of coffee producing sites to now, major infrastructure has been put in place to help ease the exportation of coffee, which employs more than 2.5 million people and is 1% of the world’s coffee production. Coffee production took off in the 70s, and became internationally noticed in the 80s when frost in many Brazilian farms allowed Papua New Guinea to take the limelight.
However, the boom of coffee had major effects as quickly as it did success. When farmers began to get noticed, they took on debts from Western investors that they were not able to actually pay off. Farms also quickly became decentralized, and many farmers became independent estates instead of being a part of one mega-farm. Coffee rust, a fungal disease that is present in soil and will kill the plant, also forced many of the farms to shut down during the 90s. In 1998, coffee accounted for 42% of PNG’s total agricultural exports compared to 2009 where it decreased to only 19% of the agricultural exports.
Frequent hijackings are also a major hurdle for Papua New Guinea. Some of the larger coffee producers report losing up to 50% of their produce due to theft each year. As a result, coffee production and coffee exports have been declining.
However, current movements by the private and public sectors have helped moved Papua New Guinea towards greater sustainability, better soil quality, and improved education of coffee farmers. This has resulted in some notable coffees coming out of Papua New Guinea that are well worth seeking out (provided the thieving bandits don't beat you to it).
Sigri Coffee Estate in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea is located 5,200 feet above sea level and is considered to be one of the more renowned coffee plantations. The cool climate, high altitude and bountiful rainfall create an ideal environment for growing coffee.
The farmers still live very traditional lives and these ancient tribal cultures still thrive in the mountains and valleys of the highlands. Agriculture was invented independently here, and many farmers now include coffee among the crops they grow.
Fully washed, sun-dried and hand sorted, this coffee goes through a three-day fermentation process broken up every 24 hours for washing. The Sigri process, unlike those of other estates, follows this up by totally immersing the bean in water for one more day, producing a superior coffee. The peaberry coffee bean is a rare form of the coffee bean where the coffee cherry yields only a single, oval-shaped seed. Because of their unique shape, these coffee beans require both special handling and roasting.At Weaver’s Coffee & Tea, we have two very special coffees from this fabulous country.
Our Papua New Guinea single origin coffee has subtle wine overtones and complex, date-like fruit flavors ending with a long, syrup finish.
Our Papua New Guinea Reserve Coffee has a full, rich body with hints of spice and fruitiness, with a clean refreshing finish.
The next time you are enjoying a cup of coffee, try to image where it came from, the people who grow the coffee and the long road from their farm to your kitchen and coffee cup.
Photo by Josh Griggs for Fairtrade Australia New Zealand.
Coffee Production in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea by William Standish for Britannica. October 13, 2019.
New Guinea Highlands