Papua New Guinea Coffee: Sip, Savor and Experience the Richness!

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

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Is there such a thing as Papua New Guinea coffee? You may very well ask that!

Is there such a thing as Papua New Guinea coffee? You may very well ask that!

As it happens, this island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean does grow coffee, and does so very well. So well, in fact, that these flavorful coffee beans are fast making a name for themselves on the specialty coffee scene.

In this blog post, I’ll delve into the fascinating origins of Papua New Guinea’s coffee industry. Let’s unpack the secrets of this sweet, tropical, velvety brew!

A Brief History of Coffee in Papua New Guinea

The story of Papua New Guinea coffee is one of resilience, passion and continuing excellence. It all began with German settlers in 1926. They established the first plants at Ralum, using Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee seeds.

But there’s an alternative story. Some say the British beat the Germans to it by starting the first plantations in British Papua in 1890. By 1901, these estates were exporting coffee to Australia.

Regardless of the actual origins, both these early European settlers saw this island’s potential for producing exceptional coffee. And, they were right! The rich-soil and mist-covered highlands were perfect for growing Arabica coffee plants. In contrast, the lowlands of East New Britain, Sepik and Milne Bay focused on Robusta.

Then came World War II and you guessed it, coffee production ceased. The Japanese invaded the island, which saw fierce fighting for much of the conflict.

Although production waxed and waned after World War II, coffee still has a marked presence on the island. So, why is coffee so successful here despite the obvious challenges? Well, Papua New Guinea is diverse, and this diversity gives the beans unique characteristics.

Arabica Coffee Plants

Arabica varieties like Arusha, Bourbon and Typica thrive here. So do Robusta and Liberica. The result is a sweet and fruity coffee with a crisp acidity and medium body. What’s more, PNG coffee also boasts distinct notes of toffee, tobacco and raisin.

Other contributing factors to the high quality of PNG coffee include the meticulous farming and coffee processing methods. Smallholders and coffee estates combine traditional and modern techniques to yield high-quality beans.

Farmers here primarily wet-process their coffee. Like in many Coffee Belt countries, the attention to detail during fermentation and drying enhances the final cup quality. It’s part of what makes PNG coffee beans a must-have on many coffee connoisseurs’ bucket lists!

Papua New Guinea Coffee Today

Over the years, coffee production in Papua New Guinea has expanded. In 2023 alone, this island country exported over 787,000 bags of green coffee, ranking it 17th in the world. It’s also the second largest producer of washed Arabica coffees in Asia after Indonesia.

Beyond its economic impact, coffee holds deep cultural significance in Papua New Guinea. Just how big? Over three million people derive their livelihoods from this precious crop. They consist of 280,000 smallholders and just under 700 larger coffee estates.

Sadly, the industry has faced significant challenges. Chief among these are political disruption (the long and deadly rebellion in Bougainville comes to mind) and natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods. In addition, coffee leaf rust and coffee berry borer disease – the bane of the coffee industry in the tropics – continue to affect production.

There are also massive problems with full chain controls. Poor processing facilities and inadequate access to markets continue to affect the coffee value chain. These factors make it challenging for producers to realize higher-quality yields.

However, farmers here have remarkable resilience. In recent years, they have upped sustainable and ethical practices. These include shade-grown cultivation (as they do in Tanzania) and eco-friendly processing (as in Rwanda).

The commitment to preserving the environment and quality of the coffee remains steadfast. In fact, in 2021, a UK Trade Partnerships Program was launched to help specialty coffee producers boost their market access.

Thus, PNG coffee has gained international acclaim for its high-quality beans. Germany, the United States and Japan are its largest buyers, along with some of the biggest coffee companies worldwide, including Starbucks. Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Russia are also significant buyers.

Undoubtedly, Papua New Guinea will continue to attract connoisseurs seeking a truly exceptional coffee experience for years to come.

What Makes Papua New Guinea Coffee Special?

Papua New Guinea coffee encompasses the vast world of the Coffee Belt in a single cup. It’s like this coffee went around and picked up the best-tasting notes of all other coffees!

For starters, PNG coffee has the bright (but moderate) acidity, floral aroma and fruity notes of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Ethiopian Sidamo and Kenyan AA. That’s not all; it has the balanced acidity, medium body and crisp, clean finish of Colombian and Costa Rican coffees. And not surprisingly, it also features the chocolate goodness and earthy notes of some Sumatra coffees.

Not many coffees around the world can boast all these attributes in one cup!

Where Does Coffee Grow in Papua New Guinea?

New Guinea Indonesian Coffee Regions

Before we look at where coffee grows on this island, we must first understand its topography.

Papua New Guinea covers the eastern half of New Guinea and its offshore islands. Lying north of Australia, it’s an independent nation with a diverse population of over 800 indigenous tribes. Incidentally, Western New Guinea is a part of Indonesia.

Arabica coffee in Papua New Guinea primarily grows in the central highland regions. Robusta, on the other hand, thrives in the sun-kissed lowland valleys and coastal areas.

Although 18 out of 22 provinces in Papua New Guinea grow coffee, the bulk of it comes from six regions.

Eastern Highlands

The Eastern Highlands region borders Gulf Province to the south, Morobe Province to the east and Madang Province to the north.

This area is well-known for high-altitude coffee farms of over 7,000 feet (2,100 meters) above sea level in places like Goroka and Kainantu. The chilly temperatures and fertile volcanic soils heavily influence the sublime flavor profiles of the coffee beans cultivated here.

Western Highlands

Papua New Guinea’s Western Highlands region boasts a rich cultural legacy, a plethora of rivers and a verdant, varied terrain. As the largest coffee-producing region, it borders the provinces of Madang, Simbu, Enga and the Southern Highlands.

Mount Hagen, its capital, is famous for producing the highest-quality Papua New Guinea coffee. The variety of elevations averaging 5,500 feet (1,600 meters) and diverse microclimates add to the unique flavor profiles of coffee from this area.

Southern Highlands

Although not as famous as the Western and Eastern Highlands, Southern Highlands produces some excellent coffee. This wild, shade-grown coffee grows slap bang in the middle of ancient indigenous forest at elevations of 5,500 feet (1,600 meters).

It’s full-bodied and earthy, with a well-balanced acidity and sweetness. Producers here protect the environment fiercely, as together with coffee it offers them a sustainable livelihood.

Morobe

Morobe Province, on the northern coast, is famous for producing both Arabica and Robusta coffee. The diverse terrain, which includes both hilly and coastal regions, adds to the variety of flavors in this region’s coffee. Elevations range from 500 to a dramatic 3,280 feet (150 to 1,000 meters) above sea level.

The Morobe Coffee Festival, an annual event, highlights the country’s rich coffee culture and heritage. Organic A/X Arabica coffee from this region can fetch as much as $15 per pound at market, one of the most expensive coffees worldwide!

Simbu

Another important coffee production area in PNG is Simbu Province, in the central highlands. It’s the smallest province in terms of land mass but one of the most densely populated. The elevations of over 5,500 feet (1,600 meters) and rich soils create an ideal environment for high-quality Arabica cultivation.

This area is also famous for its beautiful natural landscapes. Notably, Simbu features one of Papua’s most stunning constructions, the Great Owen Stanley Road, built during World War II.

Enga

At an impressive 10,500 feet (3,200 meters), Enga Province is another well-known coffee-producing region in PNG. Chilly mountains and sun-rich valleys create a diverse terrain, ideal for growing a wide range of Arabica coffee varieties.

Aside from being the country’s second-largest coffee producer after the Western Highlands, this province is truly stunning, featuring amazing waterfalls and breathtaking mountain passes. Coffee from this area, like much of Papua New Guinea, is smooth and well-balanced with a sweet, fruity profile.

What Does Papua New Guinea Coffee Taste Like?

Breville Barista Touch Impress Pulling Espresso Shot

Papua New Guinea coffee is famous for its distinctive and complex flavor profiles. 

Generally, Papua New Guinea coffee boasts a lively and vibrant sensation on the palate. This acidity is also well-balanced with a clean finish, adding a refreshing quality to the final cup.

Coffee from Papua New Guinea tends to have a medium body, resulting in a satisfying and robust mouthfeel. This characteristic makes it well-suited for those looking for a substantial but transparent coffee.

Many Papua New Guinea coffees also boast floral aromas and a range of sweet, fruity notes. Hints of citrus, berry and tropical fruit shine, adding complexity and depth. Some PNG coffees also have subtle chocolaty, earthy or vegetal undertones with hints of tobacco, raisin and caramel. Interestingly, there are surprisingly savory tones, similar to some Sumatran coffees (which makes sense as both islands are in the same region).

Brewing this sublime coffee in the drip or pour-over style brings out its best characteristics. However, some beans are best for espresso or cold brew, especially those with distinct chocolate or earthy undertones.

As with any coffee origin, individual preferences may vary. But oh boy, does exploring Papua New Guinea coffee provide a delightful journey through a wide spectrum of flavors and aromas!

How to Buy Papua New Guinea Coffee

Buying PNG coffee should be straightforward. Still, as with anything of quality, there are questionable offerings on the market. So, how do you know you’re getting the real deal? 

Here’s a short but handy guide on how to buy Papua New Guinea coffee on your next run:

  • Form direct trade or fair trade relationships with PNG farmers: If you’re a roaster, this is the way to go! Choose producers who value transparency, labor equity and sustainability.

  • Specialty coffee retailers: Search for coffee retailers or roasters online that rank single-origin and top-notch Arabica coffee blends. They should carry Papua New Guinea coffee. The origin, flavor profile, coffee processing method and roast date are key when buying coffee this way.

  • Join a coffee subscription: These services feature rotating selections of single-origin coffees. They’ll likely feature Papua New Guinean beans as a part of their selections.

  • Attend specialty coffee events: Here, you’re likely to meet vendors showcasing Southeast Asian specialty coffees.

Final Thoughts: Papua New Guinea Coffee Is A Toast to Flavor, Tradition and Enduring Excellence

In closing, Papua New Guinea offers exciting possibilities for the specialty coffee world. The exquisite symphony of flavors in these Oceanic beans, coupled with the rich coffee culture of the island, shine in every cup.

Each sip of this enchanting Melanesian brew is a celebration of tradition and craftsmanship. No wonder some coffee enthusiasts would give the shirt off their back for these beans!

So, here’s to the one-of-a-kind heritage of this exceptional coffee culture. Here’s to this brew’s enticing aromas and exquisite flavors. Like this island’s unique fauna and flora, there’s nothing quite like it!

If you’re ready to elevate your coffee experience, take a bold step into the world of Papua New Guinea coffee! If you’ve tried these beans, I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!

Coffee in Papua New Guinea FAQ

Absolutely! Papua New Guinea is famous for producing high-quality coffee beans. The diverse microclimates, fertile soils and traditional farming techniques yield a sweet and fruity coffee with a medium body and bright, crisp acidity.

German and British settlers introduced coffee to Papua New Guinea in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Papua New Guinea’s coffee has a bright but low acidity. If you prefer a coffee with moderate acidity that is still well-rounded with complex flavor profiles, Papua New Guinea coffee is a great choice.

Papua New Guinea’s coffee is similar in many ways to Sumatran, Central American and East African coffees. It has the balanced acidity and body of Costa Rican and Colombian coffee, the complex, earthy but nuanced flavors of Sumatran coffee and the distinct aroma and fruity notes of Kenyan and Ethiopian coffees.

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Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

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