History of Coffee in Papua New Guinea

As a country, Papua New Guinea is a bit of a wild frontier, where tribes exist who've had little contact with the modern world, if at all. Meanwhile, the political system seems to perpetually border on melt-down. Still, this small neighbour of Indonesia manages to maintain a fairly reputable, albeit small, coffee industry becoming increasingly well known for its quality.

Papua New Guinea's first coffee plants were recorded in the 1800s, but it wasn't until the 1920s that commercial production really took off. Since then, its been a series of highs and lows for the Papua New Guinea's coffee trade. The 1960s were boom time, with improvements in infrastructure making it easier to transport coffee. In the 1970s, a slump in the Brazillian coffee market due to frost offered a further boost to Papua New Guinea's economy. Since then, the coffee industry has faced numerous hurdles. The 1980s coffee boom saw many plantation owners incur debts that they later couldn't pay off. After a peak in the 1990s, a depression in coffee prices in the late 1990s dealt Papua New Guinea yet another blow.

Today, the country's poor infrastructure and frequent hijackings are 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, production and exports have been declining. 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 (compared to 38% and 13% in the 1990s). 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 farmers, which has resulted in some notable coffees coming out of this country and are well worth seeking out (provided the thieving bandits don't beat you to it).

Characteristics of Papua New Guinea Coffee

Papua New Guinea's coffee quality has improved in recent years thanks to better quality assurance and testing processes at the country's wet processing factories. More than 90% of the coffee grown in Papua New Guinea is on smallholder farms or small village "coffee gardens", while the rest are grown on large plantations, and there's a distinct difference in their taste profiles, largely due to the way the beans are processed.

Estate coffees (graded A, X, C and PB) are weighed and pulped at a central facility on the farm, then are washed and fermented for 24 hours before being dried in the sun. The result is a clean, mild flavour with balanced acidity - Sigri is one of the more famous estate coffees, famously smooth and well rounded, considered by some to be among the best estate coffees from Papua New Guinea.

Smallholder coffees, by contrast, live a bit more on the country's wild side. The coffee is typically Y grade or Premium Smallholder Coffee (PSC) grade, grown in the wilderness of the Western and Eastern Highlands, picked by hand and processed in a central processing plant - it's here where the coffee takes on its characteristic flavours, which often results in something quite wild and fruity.

Papua New Guinea Coffee: Interesting Facts and News Bites

  • Most of Papua New Guinea's seeds are the Arabica variety Jamaican Blue Mountain.
  • About 95% of the coffee is high-grown washed Arabica, which thrives in favourable weather conditions of the highland areas.
  • About 75% of the coffee is grown in the western and easter highlands; other areas include Chimbu, Morobe and Enga
  • Coffee is Papua New Guinea's most valuable agricultural export, with approximately one million bags per year being shipped to Germany, Australia, Japan, the United States and the UK. 
  • More than two million people in Papua New Guinea depend on coffee either directly or indirectly for their livelihood.
  • Papua New Guinea accounts for approximately 1% of world production of coffee.


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