Introduction by Chris Kornman
A few weeks ago we launched a Crown Jewel from Papua New Guinea’s celebrated Kimel Estate. Now, it’s the smallholders’ turn. We loved this Nebilyer Valley coffee’s bright lemony vibrance and smooth body; it’s a great example of a clean and classic PNG.
We’ve been sourcing coffee from the Nebilyer Valley, just west of Kimel’s Wahgi Valley on the other side of Mount Hagan, for years. Coffees cultivated here are typically heirloom stock grown on 1-2 hectares of land by indigenous smallholder farmers.
The local Kuta mill is managed by Brian Leahy, the son of its founder and an early Australian explorer, Dan Leahy, who (with his adventurous brother, Mick) chronicled in photos and on film Europeans’ first interactions with the indigenous highland population in the early 1930s. The mill, built on a “neutral zone” has the distinction of creating a common ground for the Ulga and Kolga tribes, whose relationships have not always been amicable.
The country of Papua New Guinea comprises the eastern half of the New Guinea island (the western half is part of the country of Indonesia) that rests like a disjoined puzzle piece off the northern coast of Australia. Commercial coffee production began in earnest in the region in the late 1920s, and is now the country’s second most important agricultural export after palm oil.
The scarcity of Papua New Guinean coffees this season is no secret, and the causes will sound familiar to those paying attention: low market prices, climate change, farmer attrition, exaggerated biannual up & down cycle. As such, we feel lucky to be able to share such a nice example of great coffee from a longstanding partner on the unique Pacific island.
Green Analysis by Chris Kornman
Coffees like this Nebilyer Valley Papua New Guinea more closely resemble the physical characteristics of East African Arabica than other Pacific island coffee. This is because they tend to be fully washed with some or all of the silver skin in tact, and because of the exclusion of Catimor hybrids commonly found throughout Indonesia. This peaberry is no exception, long and round with fairly high density and small screen size. Fairly normal looking moisture content is accompanied by a slightly elevated water activity.
The peaberry is generally recognized to be a developmental anomaly that results in the presence of a single seed inside the cherry, rather than two. Our affection for the funny round little seeds might simply be visual appeal – they’re adorable and often pleasantly uniform both before and after roasting. It’s possible that peaberries may have more concentrated flavor, but this is disputed. They most definitely present challenges in drying and roasting, as their shape, size, and density don’t absorb heat in the same manner as a flat bean.
In terms of genetic makeup, this PNG is comprised of local Bourbon and Typica varieties, Arabica’s two divergent heirloom strains. Typica, the older of the two siblings, was the first to make the leap from Ethiopia to Yemen for commercial cultivation. Thereafter, Dutch traders circumvented Yemen’s live seed export ban by bringing whole trees to India and Indonesia. Typica has thin leaves, narrow berries, and cone-shaped branch structure. Bourbon, the other modern ancestor to much of the world’s Arabica coffee, is itself a naturally occurring mutation of Typica that occurred on Reunion Island (formerly known as Bourbon, hence the name). Bourbon is more productive than Typica and has broader leaves and more spherical fruit.
Ikawa Analysis by Jen Apodaca
This coffee was difficult to manage on the Ikawa and it took me several roasts before I found one that I liked. I had certain expectations, I knew that I would need time in the drying stage to drive off moisture and I knew that once I was in the Maillard stage I would need to watch my momentum so I did not rush through Maillard because of the high water activity reading. For a water logged peaberry, this one read as quite dense and the peaberries were quite long and thin.
This week on the Ikawa I experimented with different airflow profiles. I roasted four batches with the same roast profile and only changed the fan speed. Roast one was Lateral, or no change. I left the airflow at 75% for the entire duration of the roast and through the cooling stage. Roast two had an ascending fan speed; the roast began at 65% and increased to 75% by the end of the roast. Roast three was a descending fan speed that started at 75% and decreased to 65% by the finish of the roast. Roast four I called the “V” pattern because it starts at 75% and decreases to 65% just after yellowing and then increases back to 75% by the end of the roast. All roasts were set at 75% fan speed for 2:30 minutes for the cooling cycle.
The most successful roast on the table was Roast two with the ascending fan speed. The high fan speed at the end of the roast pushed hotter air over the coffee at a faster pace than the other roast. This delayed first crack quite a bit and gave me a nearly non existent post crack development time. Roast one, which had a high fan speed for the duration of the roast did not enter first crack at all. While it did have a nice mango acidity it was very underdeveloped. Roast four was also nice, but had a baked flavor that I do not want to replicate.
Probatino Analysis by Jen Apodaca
Learning from our roasts on the Ikawa, I knew that this coffee has an extremely late first crack and has a tendency to put out vegetal flavor if not developed properly. Because my Ikawa roasts differed by adjusting airflow, I could not directly correlate my findings to my 1 kilo Probatino that cannot adjust for airflow. Instead I used time in the roaster for my primary development because I knew that with a late first crack, I would have little to no time for a long post crack development without creating a medium dark roast.
Sometimes it is best to meet a coffee where it is and not force it to be something that it is not. In the probatino first crack happened at 389.0 °F, which is extremely late. Under normal circumstances this would leave me with only +6°F of maneuverability for post crack development and I am a big believer in a minimum of +10°F from first crack for a light roast. Another difficulty was the amount of moisture in this coffee. It took a lot of heat to push this coffee through the Maillard stage and I had to quickly reduce temperature after first crack so I would not overshoot my goal.
Brew Analysis by Sandra Elisa Loofbourow
As usual, the Crown team cupped this coffee from the Nebilyer Valley multiple times, and through repetition we found a pattern: this coffee tastes more and more delicious the longer it extracts. While it might present some cooked vegetable and cedar notes at around 15:00 minutes on the cupping table, by 30:00 minutes it had transformed into a syrupy sweet tropical delight. My challenge then was to mimic this aggressive extraction while not allowing the coffee to over extract.
My solution was the Clever Dripper, which would allow for a full immersion brew and had the added benefit of a paper filter. I allowed for long brew times, and added 10 seconds of agitation halfway through the brew to accelerate extraction.
While my first brew was sweet and syrupy, it also retained a hint of heavy raisin and fudge sweetness that I was sure could be brightened up with a higher extraction. I decided to tighten the grind significantly on the EK43 and increase the brew ratio to almost 1:17. Suddenly, there were clean notes of pineapple and banana balanced by hints of mulled wine and cinnamon. This is the kind of coffee that allows the barista play around and explore–its complexity and depth of flavor means we can choose which characteristics to highlight in the brew.