Papua New Guinea Tambul-Nebilyer Korgua Honey Crown Jewel

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Mid-season deliveries from Papua New Guinea continue to impress this year. We’re tapping two more arrivals for analysis, including this limited offering of a Honey Process and a Red Cherry selection as well.

This might be the first honey processed PNG I’ve ever come across. The standard juicy red fruits, which are present in this selection, but not overpowering, are accompanied by a prominent fresh fig flavor and some herbal notes like eucalyptus or coriander. It’s a unique offering, for sure, and we’re pleased to offer it exclusively as a Crown Jewel.

We’ve been sourcing coffee from the Nebilyer Valley for years. Coffees cultivated here are typically heirloom stock grown on 1-2 hectares of land by indigenous smallholder farmers, but this lot is grown on Korgua estate, among the first established on the island in the early parts of the 20th century by immigrants and colonizers. Prior to the twentieth century, coffee was not an important crop on the island, despite its proximity to other coffee growing Pacific islands.

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.

Korgua, and the local Kuta mill, are managed by Brian Leahy, the son of the farm’s 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 farm and 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.

Much like its companion lots, this Korgua honey is relatively low density, somewhat spread out in screen size. Its seeds are identifiably long, even more so than the characteristic PNGs we often see. They also retain a little of the discoloration typical of the honey process, wherein a bit of mucilage is allowed to stick to the seed as it dries.

Korgua is cultivating classic heirloom varieties Bourbon and Typica. Both trace their origins back to Yemen, but Typica was the very first to leave the Arabian Peninsula. By the end of the 17th century, the Dutch were successfully cultivating their first coffees on the western coast of India, using coffee lifted from Yemen – either by the Sufi Baba Budan or merchant Pieter van der Broocke. From there, they sent cuttings that would sprout in Java around the turn of the 18th century, and would thereafter spread throughout the cultivating world. Not long after, the French would also secure Yemeni coffee, and plant trees on the island of Bourbon, now called Reunion. Bourbon would be used to replace much of the Western Hemisphere’s Typica stock beginning around the middle of the 19th century, and would also be used to populate much of East Africa’s fields by the beginning of the 20th century. Typica tends to have long, narrow seeds and the tree’s shape is conical; Bourbon, by contrast, has more rounded leaves, berries, and overall tree shape.

With nearly identical green coffee metrics as CJ1248 PNG red cherry project, I expected that this honey processed PNG would roast similarly. The water activity is just slightly higher by one point so I wanted to make sure that I give this coffee enough time in the roaster to fully develop and bring out the acidity and used the same profile as CJ1248.

Often times coffees with higher water activities will reach first crack at a higher temperature or later in the roast, so I wanted to make sure I would have plenty of time for post crack development. First crack occurred much later at 5:02 and at a higher temperature 408F allowing for only 28 seconds of post crack development time. On the cupping table this coffee had a lot of sugar browning notes  with a mild dried fruit acidity. Having tasted roasts of this coffee before, I knew that there was more fruit acidity available. Decreasing the overall Maillard time and reducing the roast would most likely pull more of that fruit into the cup.

In the midst of a technological crisis this week, Jen suggested I take a computer break and roast some coffee. I gratefully accepted, and took the helm of the Quest, setting out for adventure without so much as a map or compass, as both Evan and Jen promptly left the office and me to my own devices.

My previous roast of CJ1248 went pretty quickly, so I took my first crack at CJ1249 (see what I did there?) a little slower, using a more gradual slope through the Maillard reactions and finishing at about 11 minutes. The second roast was much quicker, more or less repeating the roast for CJ1248, just shy of eight minutes.

The team had a slight average preference for the second, faster roast, noting peach tea, honey, and mandarin – though it was a little bready after just a few hours post roast and could have used a little extra time to rest. The slower roast rounded off the fruit flavor towards grape and plum, but presented a little dryness as well. It was well balanced, but without any real stand-out flavor to take dominance it felt a little subdued.

Given a third try, I might taper off the RoR at the end of the roast, and let the sugar browning develop a little more gently after first crack.

This week I drove to San Rafael to roast coffee with my friend Marcus Young at Boot Coffee. Marcus was kind enough to demonstrate how to roast on the Geisen for me. In all my years at Roasters Guild events, I never had the opportunity to roast on one until now. We roasted a small sample on the 2.5 kilo machine and Marcus began to walk me through all of the different controls on the roaster. Besides heat manipulation, I was delighted to also see drum speed and air pressure on the screen.

Since we walked through a couple of roasts with CJ1248, we decided to do a fun experiment with the air pressure settings on the Geisen. Maybe I don’t fully understand the science behind it yet, but I sure can taste if there is a difference in flavor. Marcus told me that the range that he usually uses is 120-180 Pa, so we decided to roast to two extremes. The first roast is extremely low Pa set at 100 Pa and the second roast if with extremely high Pa set at 200 Pa. Marcus did an amazing job giving us two roast curves that are as close to identical as we could hope for and if you look at our gas adjustments you will literally see chaos on the page.

In order to maintain a constant air pressure environment, a lot of gas manipulation was needed, particularly with the low pressure roast. The second roast was a bit easier to manage with less drastic heat adjustments.

On the cupping table, these coffees were night and day in flavor and in texture. The Low Pa roast was very rich in sugar browning flavors and condensed fruits and the mouthfeel was smooth and flat. The High Pa roast was much more inline with what you might expect to taste from a specialty coffee with a much more dynamic fruit acidity that still held some tartness with a nice caramel base. While we all preferred the High Pa cup over the Low Pa cup as a single origin roast. There was something sweet and syrupy about the Low Pa cup. Perhaps there is a future for low Pa roasting for blend components for sweetness. This PNG Honey was a really good sport for my fun experiments with Marcus and is truly a lovely coffee that can shine at any profile.

This unique honey-processed coffee from Nebilyer valley is a real stunner. I brewed it as a V60, hoping that the clean juicy fruit notes would come through on this brew device. Starting with a 1:16 ratio with 30g of coffee and 480g of water. Since Jen roasted a on the slightly larger Giesen, I felt emboldened to brew a lager pot of coffee for everyone to enjoy. I used bigger pulse pours too – three pours of 150g each. Brew time was normal, as was TDS. in the cup there were some intensely juicy notes of bubble gum, strawberry, pineapple, and mango. However there were some campari and kettle corn notes in the background that threw off the balance and which I was sure I could dial out with the right techniques.

Since there was some astringency, I wondered what a more concentrated brew might taste like. Was it possible that condensing everything together and packing in the acidity would make a more cohesive cup? At a 1;15 ratio, there was a lot of dark chocolate and tootsie roll, whiskey, and raw sugarcane. It was sweet, but lacked clarity and acidity. I had made the wrong choice!

Going back to my 1:16 ratio, I tightened the grind up by a half notch on the EK. Higher extraction rates and extended brew rates might well bring out the sweetness and balance I was hoping for. Sure enough, this cup was just scrumptious – peach, star fruit, berries, vanilla, chamomile, and sweet lemon sang through in perfect harmony.

Due to user error, I was unable to get TDS reading for the second brew, but raising extraction in the third brew was a resounding success, and made for a truly delicious of this mid-season PNG.