Varietal: Typica and Bourbon
Processing: Fully Washed & dried on raised beds
Altitude: 1500-1850m above sea level
Owner: Growers of Simbu Province
Town / City: Kundiawa
Region: Chauve - Simbu
Elimbari AA - Papua New Guinea
Based in Simbu, Papua New Guinea's third-largest coffee-producing province, this special lot from Kongo coffee is made entirely from Smallholder farms; located within reach of their processing facility in the Chuave District. Elimbari began as a project to support these farmers, but with Kongo’s drive for quality, Elimbari has become one of the finest smallholder lots ever to be produced in Papua New Guinea.
Coffee was initially introduced to Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the late 19th century and is directly linked to the country’s colonial history. It is likely that coffee was first grown in PNG by Emma Coe Forsayth: a businesswoman and plantation owner of mixed American and Samoan descent. Emma set up large cocoa and coconut plantations in the Kokopo district in the East New Britain Province (ENBP). It is probable that her vast plantation also included coffee. Today, coffee is a major industry for Papua New Guinea with the country currently exporting around 1 million bags of coffee every year; involving more than 2.5 million people (nearly half of the total population).
This lot takes its name from the picturesque mountain, Mt. Elimbari, in the Chuave region of Simbu where the coffee is collected. Land in PNG is still to this day conventionally owned, with a family farm averaging just 2 hectares. Farming is still conducted in a very traditional manner via tried and tested means; with no artificial fertilisers. Coffee is inter-cropped with other produce to increase ‘soil humus’ (decaying plant matter that increases retention of moisture and nutrients) and fertility, as well as to provide shade. Crops include; plantain, bananas, yams, sweet potato, cabbage and other traditional foods. Although a large variety of other produce is grown, coffee cultivation is often the sole means of income; with all other fruits and vegetables grown for personal consumption. This makes coffee an important cash crop, as most farmers in the Simbu Province will grow coffee for income.
Around 60% of the Elimbari lot is produced by cherry supplied by local producers within a 20km radius of Kongo’s central processing facility. Trucks travel the local villages of Simbu picking up the cherry from smallholder producers daily. For coffee delivered as cherry, Kongo manages the entire process, from picking to milling. Their high standards for processing are what help to make this lot so special. The remaining 40% is purchased as parchment from growers within the district, as well as the neighbouring districts of Simbu. For these smallholders, each producer will have their own hand pulper located on the farm and will be supported by Kongo to make sure they follow their Post-Harvest Procedures. Although Kongo is independent of farming practices such as the pruning and renovation of trees, Kongo work to make sure producers are well trained in farming techniques and supported throughout the season.
Any collected cherry is delivered straight to the processing plant, where lots are categorised by day. Next, the cherry is assessed, sorting out any under/over ripe or defective beans from the quality stock. If accepted by the wet mill, cherry will be pulped the same day, before being washed and floated with clean water to remove any dirt or further defective cherry. Once the water is drained, the pulped coffee cherry is placed into concrete vats for between 24-36 hours of fermentation. Next, the coffee is washed again to remove the mucilage residue, completing the fermentation process, before being floated in washing channels to separate any underweight beans. Before being removed from the water, parchment coffee is steeped; leaving the parchment cherry in the water for 3-4 hours. Finally, the parchment is removed and taken to the drying beds.
For the smallholders that provide coffee as parchment, a similarly strict process is applied. Once hand pulped, coffee will be floated in buckets, before following similar fermentation times and finally washed. For these farmers, many will wash their coffee by filling bags and placing them in nearby creeks, allowing the running water to wash away the remaining mucilage. Once clean, parchment is similarly taken to the beds to dry.
For both methods of collection, parchment coffee is first skin dried under shade or lower perforated beds for 2-3days, with no direct sunlight. Here the parchment is continuously stirred, allowing moisture outside of the bean to be dried by the breeze. Next, the coffee is taken to the raised beds to be exposed to sunlight. The drying beds are often cared for by women of the families, who will also sort through and remove any further defects. The coffee is constantly turned for 4-5 days to allow for even drying. Once the beans reach 12% moisture, the parchment coffee is taken to specially made silos where it is stored until required: at which point it is milled into green coffee. Once milled, green beans will be graded by size into AA, A and B; ready for sale.
All in all, for the coffee to be finally ready for export, it will have had to have passed Kongo’s 7 steps of quality checks; these are:
1) The initial weighing
2) Pulping and flotation
3) Fermentation and rewashing
5) Skin Drying
6) Primary Drying
7) Storage and final milling
Coffee farming in Papua New Guinea and the region of Simbu has not been without its share of challenges in recent years. Persistent low coffee prices have been discouraging for many producing families in Simbu. This was originally what spurred the creation of the Elimbari line, as Kongo pay high premiums to their growers and suppliers, creating an incentive to maintain high-quality coffee production in the region. This, in turn, helps support farmers’ families, improving their lives and allowing them to save for benefits such as ‘their children's education’.
Suppliers of Elimbari Specialty parchment coffee are continuously supported and provided with training to make sure they meet Kongo’s high-quality processing protocols. This has proven to be a win-win for both suppliers and Kongo coffee, sustaining the Elimbari Specialty Coffee project for close to 20 years (2000). Farmers are provided with training, education and information, to ensure success is based on producer’s hard work, offering reward via their premium pricing mechanism. Kongo coffee claims to be the only coffee producer in Papua New Guinea to have paid their farmers such high premium prices for a sustained period.
Some of the greatest challenges to PNG’s coffee production have been rooted in the overwhelmingly small-scale nature of its production. Lack of basic infrastructure, such as roads and technical inputs has limited PNG’s production for many years. The Coffee Industry Corporation Limited (CIC), PNG’s coffee board, has worked to regulate the industry, to facilitate sustainability and quality measures, and provide research and extension services to the coffee farming community. This has resulted in an overall increase in quality of PNG coffees in recent years and PNG’s increasing participating in speciality markets. Although with support from producers such as Kongo coffee and the CIC, speciality coffee looks to thrive in PNG for the foreseeable future, new challenges such as the effect of climate change also threaten to have disastrous effects. Due to changes created by the changing climate, PNG’s coffee season is now spread over a longer period, with a smaller total harvest being collected.