Papua New Guinea “Peaberry”
On the eastern half of New Guinea Island lies the unspoiled republic of Papua New Guinea; Former British colony and UN Trust administered by Australia. Although granted independence in 1974, the economy of PNG remains firmly in the hands of Anglo-Australians. We last featured them in June 1994, though PNG is a regular on the Coffee Works varietals menu.
Slightly larger than California, and endowed with natural resources, Papua New Guinea has one of the most rugged and spectacular topographies on earth; Mountain peaks close to 4,000 meters (12,000 ft), active volcanoes, frequent earthquakes, annual rainfall exceeding six feet, and one of the world’s largest swamps.
A peaberry occurs naturally when one of the two halves of the coffee seed fails to develop. Instead of two seeds, flat-sided from pressing against their twins, a peaberry produces only a solitary round seed. Peaberries are observed to develop most often at the tip of a branch—where they are thought to benefit both from the principle of apical development (the plant grows from the branch tips first), and from receiving the nutrient share intended for both halves.Botanical speculation aside, some roasters preferred the rounder peaberries because they roasted evenly in a mechanically spinning drum roaster.We are not botanists, and don’t drum roast, so we can’t say for sure what it is we generally like about Peaberries. Perhaps it’s just the added care in processing.
The official language of the 4 million inhabitants is English but most speak one of 715 indigenous languages, and Pidgin is common. Unfortunately, there is little arable land on which to grow food for the exploding population. Per capita income in 1991 was $800, more for the 14,000 small coffee farmers. PNG ranks 6th among Asian/Oceana and 19th in the world for total coffee production. As the chief agricultural product of the island, coffee represents 40% of total exports.
While the economy may lack luster, the coffee is decidedly stellar. 94% is high-grown Arabica species. Of this, only a third receives the quality designation “plantation”, based on size, color, and absence of defects. The hand-picked fully-ripened cherries are processed by the wet method, which is preferred in warm, wet climates because it prevents spoiling of the cherries. Most of the crop is sun-dried by the growers. Unfortunately, not much of this tasty coffee finds its way to the US. Between them, Germany and Australia take 70% of the annual crop.
Papua New Guinea coffee is described as balanced, richly flavored, and fragrant: ”one of the world’s ‘Grand Crus’”. We love it for the smooth, full bodied cup it brews, and its rich, nutty coffee flavor. We found all these traits and more in the peaberry sample. When it is abundant we use it to add body and flavor to our light roasted, American style blends.
Unfortunately, this particular offering is decidedly limited. After reviewing and cupping our shipment we liked it so much we immediately went back to the broker to buy more, only to find it was all gone for the year.