Papua New Guinea Coffee
Located in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Tairora sits roughly 25 kilometres southeast of the missionary station Ukarumpa; near to the Aiyura valley. Tairora AX is processed at the Baroida Plantation, founded by Ben Colbran in the early 1960s. Having been handed down three generations, the Baroida Plantation is still managed by the Colbran family to this day.
Coffee was initially introduced to Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the late 19th century and is directly linked to thecountry’s colonial history. It is thought that coffee was first grown in PNG by Emma Coe Forsayth: a businesswoman and plantation owner of mixed American and Samoan descent. Emma set up large cocoa and coconut plantations in the Kokopo district in the East New Britain Province (ENBP). It is probable that her vast plantation also included coffee. Today, coffee is a major industry for Papua New Guinea with the country currently exporting around 1 million bags of coffee every year; involving more than 2.5 million people (nearly half of the total population).
Ben Colbran first set his sights on Papua New Guinea in 1965, after been incentivised by the local government to grow coffee as a long-term sustainable crop. Having purchased the land from a local man named Taro, The Colbran family set out planting their coffee trees, making them one of the first coffee producers in the region. Almost immediately, Ben realised they were on to a winner. Due to the regions micro-climate and fertile soil, his plantation was able to produce a superb and unique cup. Over 60 years later, the Colbran family continue to farm the land; withBen’s son Nickel and grandson Chris running the plantation today.
This particular lot was created by Chris Colbran via the partnership between the Baroida Estate and its surrounding smallholder communities. Following PNG’s successful bid for independence in 1975, many plantations were divided into smaller coffee farms as part of the wider land reforms. This means today, many producer’s farms are small scale, with most totalling less than one hectare. As well as coffee, many producers grow other crops such as plantain, bananas, yams, sweet potato, cabbage and other traditional foods. Although a large variety of other produce is grown, coffee cultivation is often the sole means of income. All other fruits and vegetables are grown for personal consumption. This makes coffee for many farmers in PNG an important cash crop. Because of this, in 2005 Chris formed the Tairora and Lamari coffee supply networks. This network is crucial in supporting local farmers by improving infrastructure, pricing and traceability in the local coffee trade. After a successful first five years helping small-hold farmers supplytheir coffee to exporters, in 2010, the Colbran’s decided to begin processing and exporting their own coffee. They turned the Baroida Plantation into a central washing station.
Coffee producers located in the Aiyura valley, close to the town of Tairora, sell their cherries to the Baroida mill for processing. The coffee cherry is pre-sorted by pickers at the producer’s farms, before being reassessed and verified bybuyers. Once purchased, lots are separated by day, before being cupped and sorted by quality. Once the quality has been determined, lots are washed and machine pulped. Next, coffee beans are placed into fermentation tanks for 36 hours; removing the final layer of mucilage as well as helping to add to the unique cup profile. Once the mucilage is removed, the beans are washed, before being taken to the beds to dry. Here the beans are turned regularly to ensure even drying and only removed once moisture is recorded at 12% or less. On occasion, the producers also turn to machine dryers in order help meet the Baroida Plantations heavy demand.
Once the coffee has been processed, the coffee is graded using PNG’s unique and unfortunately ever-changing system for defects and screen size. The Tairora AX lot is still graded using the last system: which was since updated in September (2019).
The Tairora coffee is an AX coffee – meaning it is a coffee that comes from a large plantation (in this case the Baroida washing station) with 10 defects or less per kg, with a screen size of 15-16.
Coffee in Papua New Guinea
Some of the greatest challenges to PNG’s coffee output have been rooted in the overwhelmingly small-scale nature of its production. Lack of basic infrastructure, such as reliable roads and technical inputs has limited PNG’s production for many years. The Coffee Industry Corporation Limited (CIC), PNG’s coffee board, has worked to regulate the industry,to facilitate sustainability and quality measures, and provide research and extension services to the coffee farmingcommunity. This has resulted in an overall increase in quality of PNG coffees in recent years and PNG’s increasingpresence in speciality markets. In this instance, the Colbran family also offer extensive support, providing: outreach, pre-finance, and technical help to their networks, to help produce and secure the best cherry in the region. Without the resources to organise all the smallholders into a cooperative, the Tairora lot proves it is possible to join forces to increase quality and obtain better prices in an unfair market.
Although with support from producers and bodies speciality coffee looks to thrive in PNG for the foreseeable future, new challenges such as the effect of climate change also threaten to have disastrous effects. Due to changes created bythe changing climate, PNG’s coffee season is now spread over a longer period, with a smaller total harvest beingcollected. Weather continues to disrupt production often meaning the poorly kept roads can become impassable; often delaying and possibly damaging shipments.