Source Trip To Papua New Guinea: Land Of The Unexpected

Specialty Green Coffee Importer, Andrew Vournas with Papua New Guinea school children receiving supplies and support from Vournas Coffee Trading

Last week I had the privilege to embark on a source trip to Papua New Guinea for the second time. It was a fantastic trip seeing first hand just how hard it is to bring Papua New Guinea coffee from farms to market. My first day there was actually a bit elusive; having traveled 20 hours by plane to Goroka and in the process losing a day crossing time zones, it actually ended up requiring TWO days of travel to get there—this makes Papua New Guinea the most remote coffee growing region in the world.

Day One: Zzzzzzz

Having survived the 14 hour flight Qantas flight and the two separate Air Niugini flights, I ended up in Goroka. After a few SP beers and some dinner I called it a night.

Day Two: PNG vs Australia

I woke up early and Craig and Henry, our exporters from Coffee Connections met me at the office. We cupped our next two shipments and were all very pleased. These fantastic Papua New Guinea coffees will ship at the end of the month. Then I was treated to something special. We visited Henry Ame’s village Kefamo. Henry, who is the Village Chief or “Big Man”, drove me down the long road to Kefamo Village and the school where over 100 kids attend. I caused quite a scene, as the kids were excited to see us (or maybe it was because they got a break from school work). Having met all the teachers, I presented them with a bunch of school supplies such as paper, pencils and pens. They should be well stocked for quite awhile now! What a fantastic job these teachers are doing. The next generation of Papua New Guinea depends on these kids and a better education will help them move forward. Later in the evening I was able to witness firsthand the Rugby spectacle called State of Origin. It was Queensland vs. New South Wales. Think Super Bowl hype, but for a Rugby match. What fun! All of Papua New Guinea and Australia came to a standstill for this one and for good reason—imagine watching it with a bunch of PNG coffee guys with SP beer and marvelous meat pies. Suffice to say, there was enough yelling and cursing—just my kind of fun!!!

Day Three: Expect The Unexpected

There is an old saying in Papua New Guinea and it came about for good reason. “Expect the unexpected.” This proved to be true this time. Having only partially recovered from the State of Origin Rugby Match and too many SP beers, I pulled my boots on and made my way over to the Coffee Connections Headquarters in Goroka. After a quick cup of Purosa coffee and a meeting to plan our buying strategy for the coming year, we quickly realized the coffee would be a bit short in supply for the year due to the coffee cycle.

After loading supplies into the trusty Land Cruiser we snaked our way a few hours up to Okapa. We were soon surrounded by coffee—my kind of place. Six years ago when I made my first source trip to Papua New Guinea and mud infested trek up here into the Eastern Highlands, it took three times as long to traverse this terrain. Now the road is sealed. This was great to see as finally some progress, although very slow, is starting to occur.

We finally reached our guys in Okapa and HOAC (Highlands Organic Agricultural Cooperative) which is the COOP that supports thousands of Papua New Guinea coffee farmers with a buying station, fair prices, coffee pulpers and a new storage shed to hold all the coffee parchment. The HOAC boys, Daniel, Ricky and Robert are really doing a fantastic job distributing over 250 hand pulpers and providing the structure for the farmers to sell their coffee. They pay premium prices which, in the end helps all of the villages in Purosa, Invengoi and Okapa areas. In addition to new government buildings in Okapa, the old wet mill in Purosa, which was built 25 years ago is back up and functioning. This is great news as the coffee can get processed better and quicker, which leads to improved cup quality and better consistency.

After having a smoke with the police chief and a few words on how much safer Okapa is (I always feel comfortable when the M-16’s are on my side), we decided to make our way back down the mountain. Indeed it was timely and with our entourage of police vehicles in tow, we made a few village stops to say hello and check out coffee conditions. The markets on the side of the road were in full swing and the fruit and veggies were so colorful they almost looked fake. They were probably picked a few hours before and what flavor the mandarins and bananas had.

We finally reached Goroka late in the day and took it easy at the hotel for awhile. With an early dinner, we decided to call it a night. Next stop: Derim by plane.

Day Four: Derim Village, Morbe Provence

Indeed when one flies around Papua New Guinea it is not in a 747, but by small six seater. These planes are the PNG workhorses, flying men and material around areas that are accessible only by plane. In all there were six of us, including Craig and myself and several organic inspectors that would remain in Derim for days. It is always great to get airborne in Papua New Guinea to see just how big the island is and how many mountains, waterfalls and remote villages exist. As I said at the outset, Papua New Guinea is the most remote area in the world for coffee, and its ages-old village and tribal life remain largely intact. All are subsistence farmers that grow coffee for extra income mainly for goods and for school fees for children.

The 45 minute flight to Durim was largely uneventful which is a good thing for sure, but the landing was a bit precarious. Picture a fully loaded airplane landing on a short grass airstrip that is at an upward angle with jungle on both sides. You only get one shot. The pilot told us there are no aborted landings here just safe landings or crashes.

The villagers were ready to welcome us; a plane landing in the village is like spotting a movie star in a restaurant. It’s a big deal! Throughout the valley it in fact causes a stir. After Craig introduced us in Pidgin we witnessed coffee buying in the village and the certification process for Organic and Fair Trade. What we saw was a dedicated woman who turned her hard work growing coffee into cash. She walked for about an hour with around 40 kilos of coffee on her back to get here. I for one will never complain about my oversized backpack ever again. That’s for sure!

On the ground in Derim we inspected the village truck (provided by HOAC), unloaded tires from the plane, shook some hands and had a few laughs. This year we are bringing in coffee from this area, and it certainly has a different taste having a bit less acid and more of a creamy body in the cup. Seeing the clouds starting to form, we decided it was time to take off. As we were shooting down the grass runway and airborne in seconds, I was amazed at how these villages work so hard to produce great coffee with so little. One can only imagine what the production would be like if they had the resources of say, Costa Rica or Honduras. Then again maybe too much change would screw it all up. For now I am the lucky one who gets to make the long source trip to Papua New Guinea and experience the people and the coffee at the village level.

All good things come to those who wait. Next trip: Oaxaca Mexico in November with Growers First. Stay tuned!

 
Yours In Coffee,

Andrew


What We’ve Got To Offer

We are huge fans of Papua New Guinea coffee over here and we offer several excellent green options for you including our Fair Trade Organic Papua New Guinea Purosa, our Papua New Guinea Kamarl, our Papua New Guinea Organic Purosa and our Fair Trade Organic Papua New Guinea Purosa Decaf SWP. To view a full listing of our coffees please visit our coffee offerings page.

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Feel free to email us anytime or call to speak with our friendly staff M-F, 8AM – 4:30PM PST about our source trip to Papua New Guinea, or our current stock of excellent Papua New Guinea coffee and how we can help improve your roasting business. 800.761.JAVA