In May 2018 Frans and I had a very interesting trip to Papua New Guinea. The country neighbours Indonesia, but it could not be more different. As said by the Lonely Planet travel guides: Papua New Guinea is one of the few places left in the world where you can truly go off the beaten track. This also makes it a very interesting country to look for coffee, guaranteed adventure!
We visited the coastal city of Lae, which is where the coffee is usually exported from, so expect to see FOB Lae. Then we visited the two main coffee producing hubs in the mountains. Firstly Goroka, in the Eastern Highlands and then Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands.
I’ve written a short introduction to PNG coffee below, based mainly on personal communication with local PNG producers & exporters and from the PNG Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC) website.
PNG Coffee Production
PNG coffee production has been declining by an average of 2% in the last decade (2007-2016), averaging at 995,000 bags (60,000 tonnes) a year. The peak production in the period was seen in 2011 (89,000 tons) while the lowest was in 2015 (44,000 tonnes). In 2016, production soared to 1.13 million bags. However, a relatively low percentage of the 2016 production was of higher grades.
Production is dominated by village-based small farmers, who produced 85% of the annual crop. Plantations or larger estates (4%) and intermediate sized holdings or ‘blocks’ (11%) of between 10 and 20 hectares produced the remainder. The combination of coffee source and processing method gives three groups of coffee coming from PNG:
- PSC coffee (Premium Smallholder Coffee) 95%
- Bought as parchment – most coffee is purchased in small lots at farms or along the roadside. Farmers pulp, ferment (around 36 hours), wash and dry to about 20%. Exporters buy the largely varying parchment and process in their dry mills before export. This obviously results in very inconsistent coffee.
- Bought as cherries – to have more control over the quality, companies are increasingly buying cherries and processing it in wet mills. The coffee is then often referred to as ‘Estate Coffee’ even though it is not from an estate.
- Private estate coffee
Controlled processing from harvest to export, resulting in the most consistent best quality coffees. Estates give you the most control over coffee quality, but are fast becoming relics of PNG’s past and not the reality of its future.
March/April or April/May is the start of the main crop that goes on until Aug/Sept. Fly crop is from October to December. Best quality is around June/July.
There are 5 grades applicable to Arabica coffee, namely: A, B, Y, Y2 and Y3 grades, but there is the possibility of subdividing the top three grades (A, B, and Y), by screen size (see last page for grading table).
This starts with terms found elsewhere in coffee; ‘AA’ and ‘A’ are still the biggest beans. But then PNG introduces ‘X’ and ‘AX’ grades; ‘X’ replaces the conventional ‘AB’ grade whereas ‘AX’ takes out the largest and smallest, leaving you with beans that screen 14-17 (see below).
Grade – Screen Size
AA >> 18+
A >> 17
X >> 15-16
Ax >> 14-17
I have some tables available with more detail. If your interested let me know and I’ll send you a copy.
Major export grades continue to be Y1 grade 58%, followed by Premium Smallholder Coffee (PSC) grade at 12%, X grade 9% and A grade 6%.