November 13, 2013 by beanerbar
Early Harvest – Day Lots
Our coffees from the Tairora Project are small lots that are meticulously separated and selected for quality from a few villages and producers in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. This system was developed by third-generation coffee grower Chris Colbran to improve the quality, transparency, and sustainability within the local coffee trade around the Baroida Estate. Look for savory-sweet notes of stone fruit and ginger snap.
In 2010, after years of successful partnerships with quality-focused coffee producers in the Western Highlands, we found ourselves having to search high and low for a great coffee from Papua New Guinea. Reaching out to many of our exporting and importing partners resulted in the arrival of a sample from Baroida. Immediately upon tasting it, we knew that Baroida was a special coffee. Not too long after tasting the coffee from Baroida we also tasted coffee from the Tairora Project they implement at Baroida, and we were equally impressed. Little did we know that the coffee we were tasting was the very first coffee the Colbran family had ever exported themselves. In 2010, after years of turning in their coffee to various exporters, that would either sell it or blend it into generic lots, the Colbrans decided to process and export their own coffee.
This year is our third year of buying from and working with the Colbran family, and we have no hesitation in saying their coffee is the best in the all the Pacific. Not only has there coffee been great for the last three years, but this year the Colbrans implemented a myriad of quality focused initiatives. They now employ a team of people to sort out any poorly picked cherry, they built a raised bed for drying experimentation, isolated varieties for the purpose of tasting, and did a few batches of post fermentation soaking, all in an effort to make their coffee better.
The Tairora project that Chris Colbran manages and helped to move in a new direction in 2005 is unlike any other coffee we buy. To start, this coffee is brought in from hundreds of producers around the area, many of whom have walked for hours carrying many kilograms of coffee cherry. In some cases, Chris Colbran has rented planes to assist him in flying out to remote airstips to do a full day of flying coffee cherry back to the to the airport in Aiyura to be taken to Baroida for processing.
Once at Baroida, every detail – the day that the coffee was bought, what community the producer is from, and how much coffee they brought in – is logged with every batch in an ultra-transparent system. Once that is done and the coffee is fermented and washed, the batch for that day is recorded with the information and the method and number of days that the coffee was dried. To tie all the loose ends together, the coffee is lastly marked with the person who hand-sorted the coffee and the day and, also, who did the final inspection on that single bag of coffee.
This year, our Tairora offering comes from individual batches, that are all catalogued in this fashion, and every bag is marked with this information. We have never seen anything like this and the Colbran family is truly innovating the systems in which coffee can be produced.
Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea
The coffee-growing region of Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands is one of the most remote places on earth. The region’s legendary biodiversity, rich topsoil, elevation, and perfect weather make it one of the planet’s most unusual microclimates. Baroida and the communities associated with the Tairora Project sit scattered outside the town of Kainantu in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. This part of the Eastern Highlands is mostly rolling grasslands, but it has remarkable climate and great conditions for growing coffee.
The lowest altitude we saw around the plantation was just under 1,600 meters but can reach as high as 1,900 meters. Baroida itself was one of the first coffee farms in the area, and much of the coffee planted by small producers of the Tairora Project actually originally came from seeds from the Baroida Estate. Baroida today is only one of a handful of estates in all of Papua New Guinea. Some of the villages in the area that turn in coffee to the Tairora Project include Boka, Kantuera, Kobuta, Abiera, and the Bonta village from which we also have selected a few microlots over the years – including this year. Growers in this area who contribute to the Tairora project have between 2 and 25 hectares of coffee and grow an assortment of fruits and vegetables and a few other cash crops.
Papua New Guinea in general is a late-comer to the production of coffee, really only starting in the 1920s and not really taking off until the 1950s. Today, Papua New Guinea is most famous for how remote and culturally diverse it is. This remoteness kept outside visitors from venturing into the Papua New Guinea highlands until the early 1900s. This remoteness also led to the other very popular fact about Papua New Guinea which is that the hundreds of individual tribes in the country speak more 800 documented languages between all of them. It is often stated that certain tribes did not know of others tribes living as close as a few kilometers away due to the rugged terrain and remoteness of the highlands.
Tairora is the name of the largest tribe in the area, hence the name the Colbran family gave to the project of purchasing cherry from producers around them.
Baroida was founded by Ben Colbran and wife Norma in the early 1960s, after purchasing the land from an indigenous man named Taro. At the time, the surrounding land was mostly grassland, and, for the first two years, Ben primarily cultivated vegetables that he sold in the coastal town of Lae. In 1965, Ben followed the the government’s encouragement to plant coffee, which thrived in this micro-climate. Ben owned Baroida until 1979, when he sold the land to a trust, but Ben’s son Nichol stayed to manage.
Nichol managed the operation until 1991, we he left to work on other projects. In 1997, he bought the land back, but, in those 6 short years while Nichol was gone, the farm had been mismanaged and had fallen into disrepair. Fortunately, the Colbran family immediately started to turn things around, all the while helping to create positive livelihoods for a lot of the local producers around the farm. In 2005, Nichol’s son Chris moved back to the farm to work on many of the projects, in particular the cherry-purchasing Tairora project and the parchment-purchasing Lamari project. Chris’s wife Melody has also been an integral part of the Colbran farm, and, among many other contributions, she has helped build a local school for the community.
Nichol Colbran, son of Baroida’s founder Ben Colbran, was born in Invercargill, New Zealand, and came to Papua New Guinea when Nichol was 6 years old and have stayed ever since. Nichol has managed Baroida for more than 30 years and is constantly working on systems of improvement. Nichol’s son Chris was born in Goroka, Papua New Guinea, and grew up helping his father and grandfather on the farm. After a few years of moving around with his family, Chris returned to Baroida in 2005 to start the Tairora and Lamari Network, coffee projects dedicated to improving pricing and traceability in the local coffee trade.
Coffee veteran Stephen Romrundi, Baroida’s Extension and Sustainability Officer, hails from Mt. Hagen and came to Baroida in 2007 to help with the Tairora Network. This past year, Stephen helped Counter Culture in separating out varieties from the farm for tasting and is one of the go-to people at the farm.
Lot Specifics: June 17-19, 2013
Varieties: Typica, Bourbon, Arusha
Elevation: 1,600 – 1,865
Process: Washed. Coffee is pulped using disk-pulpers, and dry-fermented for 36 hours. After fermentation, mucilage is removed by pumping the coffee through pipes. Farmers often walk for hours to bring in cherry coffee to the Colbran family. The Colbrans pay a premium over the market for the cherry, and record everyone that contributed coffee cherry to that particular day batch.
Drying: Outdoor tarps and mechanical dryers. Coffee is dried on plastic tarps on the ground, and drying times vary greatly on climate and can range from a few days to over 30 days. The last few years, drying has been a challenge as weather has been unpredictable and unseasonably rainy. This causes the Colbrans to use the mechanical drier more frequently, even though the tarps are preferred.Harvest Time: April 2012 – July 2012