August 09, 2023
A week in PNG — Chapter 1: Bumpy start
Our Barista Trainer, Caz Orr was given the opportunity to travel to Papua New Guinea with Fairtrade in June. Every Kōkako member that's travelled to origin has described it as life-changing, and Caz was no exception. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” she said on her return, not the least bit phased about arriving home without her luggage.
This series is an account of the trip from Caz’s perspective. We’re lucky that she’s a diligent note-taker, sketcher and voice note-maker, so there was plenty of material to paint a picture!
Every origin is different and their processes will vary, but we've got a real soft spot for PNG. It’s our hope that by seeing this very special place through her eyes, you’ll gain a new appreciation — not just for the coffee, but for the people and the impact that Fairtrade has on them. Enjoy the ride.
A few questions before you leave...
Why did you put your name forward for the PNG trip?
Going to origin is a dream for people in coffee. I know for me, I just thought it would be so amazing to go to the farms to see where it’s grown and meet the people. One of the main reasons I wanted to go was for research, so that I can pass that knowledge on with confidence in my trainings. There's only so much you can learn by reading and watching videos, so I wanted to go out there and learn through my own experience, and see all the things that are unique to Papua New Guinea.
I also wanted to give them a little insight into our world – to be able to show them coffee through a roaster's eyes and coffee through a cafe's eyes.
What does it mean to you to be chosen?
It's incredible – almost too good to be true! To be able to fulfil a dream that seems unrealistic to achieve. I wanted to share with others in the coffee industry that you can make hospo a career. There is so much to learn and get out of it.
I think I’m a good story because I was a late bloomer in coffee – I only started drinking it when I was 25. I’ve only been in the industry for 8 years and now I’m heading off to PNG! It just shows, if you’re really passionate about something and you love it, you can do it. You just have to graft at it, keep your head down and be nice. Follow the passion.
You’re heading off soon – what have you been doing to prepare?
I had the privilege of going to John Burton Limited, who imports green beans – I met Alice who gave me a tour. It’s brilliant! I got to go into this big warehouse and see thousands and thousands of big bags of green beans – like 60kg per bag – it’s absolutely massive! I was able to get some videos and snaps to take with me. I’ve also been to a couple of cafes that use the Aotea blend to get videos of the baristas making coffee. And I got a timelapse of the roastery.
The days are blending into one. I’m feeling so overwhelmed and worried that I’ve forgotten something. There’s so much to do and I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to get it all done before I leave because I don’t want to seclude myself trying to finish things off when I get there. I just want to be able to take in the moment.
I still have to go to the shops and get loads of things, like Werther’s Originals. I have to have my Werther’s Originals!
One more sleep – how are you feeling?
Overwhelmed. I’ve been so focused on getting organised that I haven’t had a chance to let it sink in and get excited. That really upsets me because this is something I’ve wanted to do for such a long time and I don’t feel like I’ve given myself time to enjoy the build up. In saying that, I’ve been learning so much this week and that has been amazing. I’ve learned a lot from the roastery team; I got to go to John Burton; I’m meeting all these like-minded people that I’m going away with, so I’m feeling grateful for that.
We have this WhatsApp group and yesterday we got a message from Norman Nayak (Fairtrade Liaison Officer) – he sent a photo of him and two other fellas in PNG and I recognised one of them from photos in the roastery! As soon as I saw him, I was just BUZZING. What I’m looking forward to the most is meeting the people. I just cannot wait to meet the people. That’s the top thing for me. I’m just buzzing to get to the Highlands.
So yeah… I guess there have been highs and lows this week but I’m feeling positive. Just reflecting on the week in this voice note has made me feel better. I feel like I’m going back-packing again – I’m going into the unknown and that’s really exciting!
Auckland > Brisbane > Port Moresby
Port Moresby: Holiday Inn > Airport > Holiday Inn > Airport > Lamana Hotel
Waiting, waiting – one of our many trips to the airport.
An unplanned extra night in Port Moresby. We stayed at the beautiful Lamana Hotel, the only hotel I've ever seen with a barber, dentist and bowling alley!
PNG Crew 2023 – from left: Nadia (Fairtrade), Matt (Good Fortune), Nick (Nomad), Caz (Kōkako), Alice (John Burton Limited), Josh (Photographer), Lee (Prima).
Port Moresby > Goroka
After 4 flight changes and cancellations, a failed attempt to get on another airline, lots of bums on airport floors, many trips to and from the hotel, 1 trip with an unexpected visitor who thought he would try his luck and have lunch with us (paid by us!), a game of bowling, and a few SPs (a local beer), we finally made it to Goroka – 2 days after initially planned.
Visiting coffee exporters, Monpi and Coffee Connections
We dropped our luggage off at the hotel and headed to Monpi, one of the big green bean coffee exporters in Goroka. Most of the coffee Monpi gets isn’t certified Fairtrade, so Kōkako doesn’t receive any green beans from this exporter but learning about their operation was amazing.
Fast facts about Monpi
— It’s one of the largest green bean exporters in Goroka
— They have 5 warehouses across Papua New Guinea
— There are around 500 employees at the warehouse in Goroka and around 2,000 in total
— They export to USA, Japan, Europe, Australia and New Zealand
We met Alsandro who manages Monpi; he took us into a massive warehouse where the green beans were being sorted with a huge machine, called a Colour Sorter. Despite the name, the machine actually sorts the beans by size – the bigger the size, the higher the grade. This is because bigger beans are normally grown at higher altitudes, where they develop slower, making them denser with better flavours. The Colour Sorter sorts the beans into different bags, which are then sewn up and put on pallets to be graded before being exported.
As soon as we walked into the warehouse, we could see piles and piles of coffee bags and the smell of green beans – all musty and earthy – hit us in the face. I got a rush of emotion; after all the travelling, this was my first contact with coffee in PNG and my first contact with a different part of the supply chain. Later on, I ran down the aisle swinging my arms about and hugged a coffee sack! I couldn’t help myself.
Alsandro told us that business is slower than they’d like. Receiving 1 tonne of green beans per hectare is good, but they were receiving 500kg. He said that with land being divided between families, ageing coffee trees and coffee prices going up and down, a lot of people didn’t want to farm coffee anymore and were turning to cocoa and vanilla instead. That’s why the Fairtrade Minimum Price guarantee is so important – it protects farmers when prices are so volatile.
Outside, there were drivers waiting to be paid. The drivers meet farmers on the roadside to pick up the coffee beans, before taking them to a mill to remove the parchment (a dry, crumbly skin) and polish the green beans. Then they sell them to an exporter. While some coffee farmers will drive or airlift their beans to the roadside, many of them will walk, carrying bags that weigh around 30kg! This can take hours or even days.
The green beans need to be sorted, graded and QC’d before a price is decided. This can take most of the day, but the drivers wait. They get paid by weight, so it’s better to have bigger, denser beans. Beans are also graded on their shape, the number of defects, the moisture content (if they haven’t been dried out enough, they're sent back to be redried), and the cup quality (the flavour when roasted).
We met Conchitta in the quality control room – she’s worked for Monpi for 17 years. She takes samples of the green beans, then roasts and tastes them. She does this with about 100 coffees every day! She was so sweet and shy but made a little joke about it being hard to sleep at night!
Once the coffee is graded, the coffee sacks are put into storage to be shipped out when needed. They can be stored for up to 1.5 years, but are usually shipped out at the end of the working year.
A typical year for an exporter:
Dec—Jan: Preparing for the year ahead
Feb—June: Receiving green beans (they also send some out during this time)
July—Nov: Sending out green beans across the globe (shipments are pre-booked by this point)
After Monpi, we went to a smaller exporter called Coffee Connections who is connected to the Highland Organic Agriculture Cooperative (HOAC). The beans from HOAC are a key component of our Aotea Blend and both Everybird blends – Kōkako goes way back with these guys. In comparison to the huge operation at Monpi, Coffee Connections felt more homely to me.
Fast facts about Coffee Connections & HOAC
— Coffee Connections only purchase green beans from the Highland Organic Agriculture Cooperative (HOAC)
— HOAC have around 2,000 farmers
— All their beans are 100% Fairtrade and organic
— They’ve been Fairtrade certified for 13 years
— They export to New Zealand, Australia, Germany, USA, UK and Japan
Caz and Mitchell Ricky who visited us at Kōkako 2019. Read about it here.
Henry and Mitchell greeted us outside, then took us into a smaller room for a chat. Henry explained that they had been certified Fairtrade for 13 years and were paid more because of it. To be certified organic, the farms get inspected annually. Each inspection lasts 7–10 days and Coffee Connections can inspect any grower at any time.
Later we saw where they dry out the green beans. When they come back from the mill after having the parchment removed, they can be a little wet. To get the moisture content down to 10-12%, Coffee Connections lay the beans out on a plastic sheet and turn them over manually.
To sort the beans, they use a machine called a Metric Table, which separates the low density beans from the high. The machine was so loud, shaking the coffee until the dense bean fell from the top. The light beans are hand-sorted from the dark and any black beans are discarded.
I had a great chat with Winston and James from Coffee Connections, and showed them a bag of our Aotea blend. They told me they work 8am–10pm Monday–Friday, but said they enjoyed it. Something I’m learning more and more is just how labour intensive everything is here. People in coffee work so hard and yet they’re still so lovely and engaged and are happy to talk to you.
A big highlight for me was seeing the stencil they use for green beans they ship to Kōkako.
After our visit to Coffee Connections, we went to the Aero Club for a few SPs. It looked like a rural Kiwi pub with a darts board and pool table. I was chatting to a man who I later found out was one of the top gold miners in PNG. He was lovely, and just seemed like a regular guy to me but apparently he had a gun in his pocket for protection! Tomorrow we’re heading to Purosa. So far I’ve felt perfectly safe in Papua New Guinea, but a few people have been asking questions about how safe the ride will be, which is making me a little nervous. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.
Images in this blog were taken by Josh Griggs and Caz Orr.
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