Papua New Guinea

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Papua New Guinea (PNG) is NOT part of Indonesia, nor is its coffee similar in almost any regard. The country is half of the larger island of Papua, whose other half does belong to Indonesia, but which produces scant amounts of coffee of any kind. PNG’s modern colonial history begins with both Germany and the United Kingdom arriving simultaneously in 1884, and dividing the region into northern and southern occupied territories. The British-occupied half, in the south, was held for 20 years and then granted to the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia in 1905. The separate colonies would remain side by side until World War I, when the southern Australian forces overtook the northern German territory and occupied it until Germany’s defeat in Europe, after which the League of Nations authorized Australia to administer both territories. The northern “New Guinea” and southern “Territory of Papua” remained separate administrations until World War II, after which the regions were combined as “The Territory of Papua and New Guinea”, and finally, “Papua New Guinea”.

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Papua New Guinea Coffee Beans

It is likely that coffee was introduced as early as 1890, but it wasn’t commercialized until the 1920s, when typica cultivar transplants from Jamaica began to populate the coastal, more tropical lowland areas under colonial rule. Between World Wars I and II Australian settlers would establish more and more large coffee estates in the Eastern Highlands. As they ramped up commercial exports, rural indigenous Papuans would adopt coffee as a cash crop alongside local subsistence products and regional trade, in most cases processing at home and selling humid parchment to traveling collectors. For hundreds of thousands of rural farmers coffee would be, and continues to be, the very first and only source of currency. To this day expert cultivation knowledge largely remains in the possession and experience of PNG’s plantation owners, and remote smallholder coffee tends to fall short of its potential, receiving scarce quality interventions from ambitious millers and exporters. Certain smallholder groups have managed to make a name for themselves, however, by fetching higher prices with better-prepared lots, and keeping communication strong with their exporters despite the geographical and cultural distances. 

PNG coffees can be some of the most ornate in the world when they’re done well. Roasters buying lower grades would typify PNG’s coffee as heavy-bodied, herbal, bright and chocolatey. Those of us fortunate enough to work with top grades and estate or coop microlots, on the other hand, would describe its coffees as effusively floral and perfumed, pronounced berry-like acids, light creamy textures, and often mistakable for richer-bodied Ethiopias or Ecuadors. As anywhere there is a broad spectrum of flavor in PNG, but one thing every buyer can agree on is that when they’re clean and fresh, they’re easily some of the most memorably complex in the world grade for grade.

PNG’s coffee is largely produced in its central highlands–a dense, indescribably lush and fertile mountainscape containing a blend of rainforest climates, tall granite peaks, and alpine grasslands. The main producing provinces here are the Eastern Highlands, which contains Kainantu and Goroka towns, both important and historical consolidation points for rural coffee, Chimbu province, Jiwaka province, and the Western Highlands, which contains the Waghi Valley, Banz, and Mt. Hagen, all of which are part of an extremely productive high-elevation agricultural basin with legacy plantation properties.


Coffee export grades in PNG were, until 2021, some of the world’s most confounding. The old and longstanding system included at least 10 different quality grades, each of which had a unique standard for defect count, bean color, aroma and cup quality, and, most importantly, whether the coffee was produced by smallholders or a large plantation–something not distinguished anywhere else in the world. Notably, the original rubric had limited quality grades for smallholder coffee compared to plantation coffee, effectively confining smallholder coffee to lower prices. This was considered a reflection of PNG’s reality, namely that small farmers couldn’t achieve the same cleanliness as formal plantations. But that stereotype has evolved, culminating in the new grading system we have now, which includes simply A, B, Y, Y2, and Y3, in descending quality. Buyers can still designate screen size within each category. Royal tends to buy A grades with minimum screen sizes (e.g. 16+) or a range (e.g. A/X), and of 85+ quality.

From its earliest introduction to present day, the arabica gene stock here is considered to be one of PNG’s strongest natural assets, not to mention one of the best-preserved typica lineage variety sets in the world. And these delicate genetics clearly thrive in the country’s highlands, which are some of the most virgin and fertile on the planet. PNG’s coffee genestock is a globally-sourced mix of 100-year old typica lineage plants (often still referred to as “Blue Mountain”), as well as younger bourbons, catimors, and Mundo Novo, a typica-bourbon natural cross first discovered in Brazil which, unlike almost anywhere in the Americas, thrives in PNG’s soils and climate despite the minimal inputs available to smallholders here.

PNG harvests coffee between May and September, typically tracking with other islands in the eastern Indonesian archipelago, as well as most coffee producing countries south of the Equator. And Royal typically oversees shipments beginning in May, and arriving through January of the following year.

Outside the occasional experimental lot of coffee all coffee in PNG is fully-washed, although because centralized processing is largely lacking among remote smallholder communities, home-processed coffee is the norm for small farmers, and the result is a varying degree of cleanliness or processing influence in the cup, as home techniques can vary widely.

It is often lumped in with Indonesia and can seem similar, being smallholder coffee, generally earthy at its lower grades, and harvested at the same time as Eastern Indonesia and Timor-Leste. In the cup, however, PNG’s coffee is often cleaner, jammier, and more floral than anything readily available in Indonesia. It is after all produced by different varieties than Indonesia, at higher elevations, and fully washed instead of wet-hulled. We recommend PNG as a substitute for blenders from Central America, Ethiopia, Peru, and, as if there was ever a shortage of fresh crop Colombia, Colombia. PNG’s coffee, when well made, has aspects of all these regions in its flavor balance, and in our view is too often overlooked by roasters.