December 13, 2021

A guide to Papua New Guinea’s coffee sector


Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an island state off the coast of northeastern Australia. It covers around half of the island of New Guinea, with the other half made up of the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Nearly nine million Papua New Guineans (87% of the population) live in rural communities in the country, and as many as a third rely on coffee for at least part of their livelihood.

Like many other island nations in the Pacific, Papua New Guinea faces a number of economic challenges. However, despite these barriers, coffee from the country is starting to receive more recognition. 

To learn more, I spoke with several regional coffee experts to get an inside view of the country’s coffee industry. They told me how it may hold the key to farmers forging a path out of poverty. Read on to learn more.

You might also like our article on staging a coffee comeback in Papua New Guinea.

A landscape in rural Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea’s coffee growing regions 

Most coffee farmers in Papua New Guinea live in isolated highland communities deep in rainforests, valleys, or on mountain slopes only accessible by foot or plane. Life expectancy is 64 years, and some 38% of Papuans live below the poverty line

Coffee is grown in 18 of the country’s 22 provinces by over 450,000 households (3.3 million people), producing some 752,000 bags in 2019. The country ranks 17th in global coffee production, contributing around 0.45% of all coffee in the world.

Arabica is the predominant species here, grown between 700 and 2,050 m.a.s.l. across the country. This encompasses a spectacular and dramatic landscape, with steep, towering mountains, plummeting gorges and valleys, and clear, fast-flowing rivers. 

The country also grows robusta in smaller quantities, usually below 550 m.a.s.l. in the coastal areas of Sepik, Milne Bay, and East New Britain.

In the highlands, coffee grows in wild forests, which provide natural shade. These are some of the world’s most diverse tropical forests, ranging from mountain forests to perennially wet cloud forests. 

Once harvested, coffee is often carried for days by barefooted coffee farmers along the Bismarck Forest Corridor. 

A coffee farmer's home in New Guinea.

Production in Western Highlands

The province of Western Highlands is densely populated and landlocked. It is mountainous and features fertile, interlocking valleys, including the Baiyer, Lai, Kaugel, Nebilyer, and Waghi.

Coffee is the backbone of the Western Highlands’ economy, with the province growing some 18% of the country’s coffee. At 1,400 to 2,200 m.a.s.l., it’s also Papua New Guinea’s highest coffee region.

Catherine Pianga is a specialty coffee grower and the owner of Papua New Guinea Aromatic Coffee in Western Highlands. The company specialises in single origin, shade-grown coffee, which it sources directly from women growers. 

She says: “This region has grown coffee in small-scale coffee gardens for decades, side by side with subsistence crops. Farmers use simple, traditional farming techniques, like shade growing.

“Our coffee is grown under Casuarina and Albizia trees. Shade ensures ideal conditions for coffee, land, and wildlife.” 

Catherine grows several arabica varieties, including Bourbon, Caturra, Jamaica Blue Mountain, Mundo Novo, and Typica on a 3ha family farm in Nebilyer Valley. 

“We grow coffee alongside red pandanus and shade trees, which give it a clean cup with sweet flavours of nuts, toffee, spices, cocoa, chocolate, and caramel and a finely balanced acidity,” she adds. “Our coffee consistently cups at 80 plus points.”

A jungle landscape in New Guinea.

Production in Eastern Highlands

Eastern Highlands is the second largest coffee-producing province in PNG, located in the centre of the country. 

Here, coffee is the main cash crop, alongside sweet potato, potato, banana, broccoli, and cabbage. 

The Eastern Highlands’ northern valleys are home to many smallholder coffee farmers, and they have good road access to markets in Goroka, the province’s capital, and Lae, Papua New Guinea’s largest port city. 

Elijah Harro is the owner of Alpha Coffee, a farmers collective with members in Eastern Highlands’ Goroka Valley. Alpha sells single origin organic arabica, comprising a mix of the Arusha, Typica, and Blue Mountain varieties. These typically score between 85 and 89 points. 

Coffee farmers here live in extremely remote communities deep within the forests, according to Elijah. Many cannot read and write and have never left the province. 

These farmers travel by foot, carrying their harvested cherries over mountains, rivers, valleys, and through tropical forests to sell them at washing stations. 

“Our 400 farmers have a long tradition of coffee growing,” he explains. “Their coffee income helps with daily expenses, while a portion is used to support the community. In this part of the world, coffee supports everyone.”

Alpha Coffee also directly supports the coffee growing community in Papua New Guinea. In 2020, Elijah arranged for shoes to be donated to the farmers. He also trains people on best agricultural practices, literacy, and social issues such as domestic violence and HIV. 

Georgina Benson is the founder of Mohoné Coffee, a company that produces and sells organic, Fairtrade-certified Bourbon, Mondo Nova, Caturra, and Typica. 

Around 17 years ago, Georgina left a job in Lae to start her own specialty coffee business. Today, Mohoné works with tribal village farmers high in the mountains, where coffee farms are surrounded by thick, lush rainforests teeming with wild birds.

“The subtle differences in climate provide an extended range of harvesting, flavours and aromas,” says Georgina. “Our flavour profile is citrusy and orangey, with a smooth, medium body and a quick, enjoyable finish.”

The farmers here are part of the Highland Organic Agriculture Co-operative. Mohoné pays farmers above market rates for their coffee, and a portion of their sales is invested back into these communities. This brings fresh drinking water to the villages, and has also paid for the construction of schools and a health clinic.

Papuan hunter-gatherers prepare coffee.

Production in Jiwaka 

Jiwaka is located in Papua New Guinea’s central highlands. The Waghi River slices through Jiwaka’s main valley, which is flanked by steep volcanic mountains and ridges. 

Jiwaka is Papua New Guinea’s third largest coffee-growing region, contributing 12% of the national harvest. 

In Jiwaka, farmers grow their coffee at between 1,400 to 2,000 m.a.s.l. in the Anglimp-South Waghi, Jimi, and North Waghi districts. 

Jiwaka Coffee, founded by Emma Wakpi, is a social enterprise producing shade-grown specialty coffee. Emma and her team grow the Typica, Bourbon, Mundo Nova, Arusha, Catimor, and Caturra varieties. 

Jiwaka Coffee works with over 900 farmers from 11 villages, as well as five mountain tribes in Waghi Valley. 

However, Emma says she is also an advocate for sustainability and minimising waste. As a result, during harvest in mid-February to June, Jiwaka’s coffee cherries undergo “Proceso Puro”: a patented zero-waste coffee cherry processing system. 

This creates their signature honey processed coffee, which scores 86 points or higher. Emma explains that the process is quite labour-intensive; the coffee is dried on stretched tarpaulin beds and covered at night to protect it from dew, before being milled on-site. 

The result is a smooth coffee with orange, melon, and berry flavours, medium acidity, and a honey aftertaste. 

Coffee logistics in Papua New Guinea.

Other provinces involved in coffee production

Also known as Simbu, Chimbu is a mountainous, landlocked province with six districts, responsible for just 7.47% of Papua New Guinea’s coffee. 

Samuel Raffana is the operations manager at Sirigine Coffee Producers, which sources coffee in the remote Bomai region of Chimbu. Farmers here grow the Blue Mountain, Catimor, Caturra, Mundo Novo, and Arusha varieties. 

Chimbu coffee is harvested between February and September. It’s known for its dark chocolate, red apple, and stone fruit flavours, with a rich aroma and soft, musky finish. Samuel says Sirigine’s coffee scores around 85 points.  

“Up here, the air is cool with the perfect mix of rainfall and sunshine,” Samuel says. “The climate and volcanic soils make a perfect environment for growing specialty coffee.”

Central Province is smaller still, producing just 0.05% of PNG’s coffee. However, the government plans to expand production in the hopes that the industry can provide much-needed infrastructure. 

In Central Province, coffee is grown on the mountains and in the valleys along the Owen Stanley Range plateau at the southern tip of the island. Coffee farms here grow the Typica, Arusha, and Bourbon varieties. Other popular crops include vanilla, cocoa, copra, and sweet potato. 

Nellie Varmari is the owner of Central Mamina, a company that sources specialty coffee from multiple districts in the region. 

Nellie proudly traces her single origin specialty arabica back to Papua New Guinea’s first coffee grower, Emma Coe Forsayth. Known as “Queen Emma”, Forsayth was a businesswoman who brought coffee to Papua New Guinea in the 1890s.

“I also source coffee from the Ijivitari and Sohe districts in Oro Province at the northern end of the Kokoda Track,” Nellie says. “Our coffee is rich and full bodied with floral aromas and smooth, fresh flavours. It scores around 85 points.”

Coffee workers on a farm in New Guinea.

Specialty coffee: A way forward?

In Papua New Guinea, many coffee farmers whose lots routinely score above 80 points have started to form direct trade relationships to move away from subsistence-level agriculture. This is slowly but surely growing the origin’s profile in the specialty coffee sector.

However, it’s only recently that larger initiatives have started to democratise specialty coffee production, as it still represents a small percentage of the country’s coffee growers.

In 2021, a project with the UK Trade Partnerships Programme (UKTP) was implemented by the International Trade Centre (ITC) in Papua New Guinea. The project’s team is working with specialty coffee farms and co-operatives on marketing and branding to boost market access.

In just a few months, over 85% of these organisations have received new direct sales contacts through enhanced social media engagement. 

The secondary effects of this success stretch further than one might think. This economic growth creates local employment, putting more children through school and improving quality of life for everyone in the wider coffee community. 

Better income means better housing and sanitation, which leads to less malnutrition, fewer maternal deaths, and lower disease incidence rates.

Discussing Papua New Guinean coffee.

Looking ahead

In Papua New Guinea, coffee production continues to thrive in the areas mentioned above. However, farms are also developing in the Enga, Hela, and East New Britain provinces.

As for the wider supply chain, there are a few long-time Papua New Guinea coffee traders with a deep knowledge of local coffee and its regions and farmers. However, in spite of this, the PNG coffee industry is still a fledgling market with plenty of room for enterprising traders.

The next step for farmers and businesses is to find new customers and promote themselves in the international market. Today, coffee from Papua New Guinea is mostly exported to Germany and the US, followed by Australia, Japan, Belgium, New Zealand, and Russia.

Coffee workers in Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea speciality coffee offers exceptional quality and flavour, and is economically significant to countless smallholder farmers and their communities.

By connecting with the country’s specialty coffee SMEs on social media and seeking out their coffee, consumers can help boost the origin’s profile on an international stage – if they enjoy how it tastes.

With consistent growth and more support from large organisations, the country’s specialty coffee sector could drive social change in the future. At the same time, more and more people around the world will be able to enjoy the island nation’s high-quality coffee.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on emerging coffee origins to pay attention to.

Photo credits: Rachel Gunn and Joseph Cyubahiro

Written by Nicole Motteux, with critical input from Lilani Goonesena.

Perfect Daily Grind

Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our newsletter!