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Hand Crafted in the Wildest Place on Earth

There is a new origin for specialty coffee. Farmer’s cooperatives high in mountains of Papua are making a flavorful Arabica coffee with heavy body for the international market.

New Guinea is the second largest island in the world. It was created 40,000 years ago, when rising sea levels flooded the narrow land bridge connecting it to Australia. The western half of New Guinea is part of Indonesia. The Indonesian half of the island was formerly called “Irian Jaya”. Today, it is known as Papua, and it is divided into two provinces – Papua and West Papua. The eastern half of New Guinea is the independent country of Papua New Guinea.

The bio-diversity of this island is incredible. New Guinea accounts for only 0.5% of the world’s landmass, but is home to more than 5% of all the species found on earth. This includes 200,000 species of insects, 20,000 species of plants and 650 species of birds, many found nowhere else. The number of species continues to rise, as unexplored areas are studied for the first time.

The human population is no less fascinating. There are more than 1,000 languages spoken in New Guinea. Many ethnic groups continue to follow traditional life-styles, combining hunting and gathering with cultivation in open patches of the forest. It is estimated that there are still about 50 ethnic groups that have never encountered western civilization. Papua is truly one of the wildest places left on earth.

High in the mountains of Papua, small-scale farmers are growing some of the rarest and most flavorful Arabica coffee in the world. These farmers live in the Baliem Valley, near the town of Wamena and in the Kamu Valley near the town of Moanemani. These towns have no road access, so everyone and everything comes by foot or air. Both areas lie at altitudes between 1,400 and 2,000 meters, creating ideal conditions for Arabica production.

The soil is volcanic, and fertilizers and pesticides are completely unknown. All of the coffee is Arabica (Linie S variety), and it is grown on very small farms, nestled under old growth tropical forest. The coffee is hand harvested between May and September and processed by farmer`s cooperatives using the unique “wet hulling” technique (also called semi-washed).

In this technique, farmers remove the outer skin from the cherries mechanically, using rustic pulping machines, called “luwak”. The coffee beans, still coated with mucilage, are then stored for up to a day. Following this waiting period, the mucilage is washed off and the coffee is dried for sale. The cooperatives then hull the coffee in a semi-wet state, which gives the beans a unique bluish green appearance. This process reduces acidity and increases body, resulting in coffee with heavy body, earth and chocolate notes and a spicy finish.

Currently, Papua`s Arabica production is only 230 tons per year, so few people have had an opportunity to taste this amazing coffee. Kornel Gartner of the AMARTA program is working with the Papuan farmers’ cooperatives to increase their production, while maintaining the quality of their product

Hand Crafted in the Wildest Place on Earth was originally published on KSU Baliem Arabica

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