The island of New Guinea was first colonized in 1885, with Germany claiming the north and the UK taking over the south. At that time, the rugged and mountainous interior was left un-mapped and was thought to be too inhospitable to be populated. It wasn’t until 1930 that an Australian prospector ventured into the Eastern Highlands in search of gold and discovered huge and fertile valleys with a million people belonging to over 400 different tribes. Missionaries soon flooded into the area, and with them the first coffee seedlings were introduced. In the 1950s an active policy of encouraging the establishment of village coffee gardens was initiated. Bourbon and Blue Mountain were among the original varieties used, and by the 1970’s over 25,000 hectares of Arabica had been planted throughout the PNG highlands.
Today, coffee is the backbone of the rural economy and is the major source of income for more than 40% of the population. Roughly 95% of producers are small holders, often with small coffee gardens containing a few dozen to a few hundred trees which they grow alongside other subsistence crops like bananas, papaya and legumes.
The diversity of Papua New Guinea is truly mind boggling. Villages in the fertile coffee growing regions of the highlands can number from a few dozen individuals to tens of thousands. With over 800 languages spoken, these villages were historically cut off from one another linguistically. Violent conflict among tribes was not uncommon and continues to be an ongoing issue today. This, combined with undeveloped infrastructure, outdated machinery and inconsistent processing methods means that finding those high quality lots and getting them to the outside world can be a challenge. Papua New Guinea produces only about 1% of the world’s Arabica coffee.
Cup profiles vary, by grade and region, but generally have flavors of chocolate, tropical fruit and citrus.