Bean counter

Your coffee’s journey from crop to cup.

Your coffee’s journey from crop to cup

Imagine you’re sitting in your local cafe eagerly awaiting the perfect cup. That coffee you ordered is probably being prepared by an industry professional – a barista with at least five years’ experience, preparing thousands of coffees.

Each has been crafted on specialised espresso machines or non-pressurised equipment with careful attention paid to extraction time, temperature and technique, all ensuring you get your coffee just the way you like it.

Your day might just be starting, but at that moment you’re at the last stage of the supply chain, and when you think about the number of steps your coffee went through to reach you, it’s extraordinarily cheap.

Our coffee at Kokako is grown on organic plantations half a world away. It’s processed by the farmers into ‘parchment’, bought by an exporter who ensures the coffee is milled and graded, shipped overseas to local brokers and sold to Kokako.

We roast it to sell at both Kokako and other cafes – maybe even the one where you just spent $4.50. Somehow it just doesn’t seem enough!

Global markets dictate how much farmers are paid for their coffee, but the Fairtrade system means they receive a premium, ensuring they’re rewarded for their extra effort over and above the market price. Here’s an inside look into the journey your coffee has made – from Papua New Guinea crop to Kiwi cup.

Coffee roasters buy beans either directly from an exporter or through a New Zealand agent, depending on the size of their business. At Kokako, we buy our Papua New Guinea (PNG) coffee from John Burton Importers, who have a long-held direct relationship with Coffee Connections and Highlands Organic Agriculture Co-operative (HOAC). We buy other origins such as Guatemalan and Ethiopian beans from Trade Aid Importers.

Importers are a vital link in the chain for us – they are able to purchase larger quantities of coffee from a variety of origins and hold these in consignment in New Zealand, allowing roasters such as Kokako to buy per 60-70kg sack, rather than by container, which typically holds 320 sacks!

Brokers handle shipping, customs obligations and storage of the coffee, and are able to add further value to roasters by providing tasting notes and assisting with suggestions of coffee blends and single origin coffees.

After roasting the coffee at Kokako, we let it rest for three days before packing it. Although we are firm believers in the ‘fresh is best’ mantra, waiting a few days allows the coffee to settle. Depending on your brew method, this ensures the bloom, extraction and crema are controlled. Super fresh coffee might sound good, but it can taste a bit grassy and all of the rich aromas and flavours will not be fully developed.

Once we have the coffee in Auckland, we roast it either as part of a blend, or we profile it as a single origin (the Ethiopian Sidamo Grade One is an example of a great single origin coffee). Roasting coffee requires paying careful attention to time, temperature, processes and sensory indicators, such as aroma and colour, in order to get the best from the beans and provide quality in the cup.

Roasted coffee is regularly ‘cupped’, or tasted, in a controlled environment to measure the flavours and aromas. Cupping is the industry’s way of assessing the quality and consistency of different coffee origins in order to ensure that the beans meet the quality standards of each roaster. At Kokako, we cup our coffee every week and work with industry peers and professionals to continually enhance our knowledge and understanding of the roasted bean.

Not all coffee co-operatives have the power to process their coffee from dried ‘parchment’ to green beans, so it’s up to the exporter to arrange for the coffee to be processed at registered mills.

Before the green beans can be sold and shipped to export markets, they need to be graded according to quality and size, with any defects identified and removed. This is done by exporters such as Coffee Connections in Goroka, PNG, who use mechanised sorting tables and local staff to search for defects and grade on size.

Pulped and washed coffee cherries start on the bottom tray of a multilayered drying shed, then are gradually moved up to the top in order to completely remove all moisture. Depending on the temperature and weather, this takes up to ten days. Called ‘parchment’, the dried cherries are packed into sacks ready to take to the co-operative store-house.

Coffee farmers pack about 50kg of parchment into each sack. The precious green bean sits within the parchment, ready for processing. Fairtrade co-operatives collectively gather all their parchment, which allows them to sell it in bulk to an exporter. Alternatively, they have it milled under contract, before selling the green beans on to an exporter.

None of the Fairtrade co-operatives I visited in PNG had the resources to process their coffee from parchment to green beans. However, the Neknasi Coffee Growers Co-operative, which represents 452 people from eight villages, has just been given consent to build its own mill near the port city of Lae. This gives them more control over the processing of their coffee and will reduce costs by bringing milling in-house.

After harvesting, red coffee cherries are sent to the nearest coffee pulper. Farmers usually share coffee pulpers, which are worth around 400 Kina (NZ $250). Behind the pulper is a small pit which catches the skin of the cherry once it has been pulped – these are composted and used as fertiliser on coffee trees.

After the cherry has been through the pulper, it is fermented for about three days to remove a layer of sugary, jelly-like flesh known as the mucilage. This is then washed off to prevent an overripe or fermented coffee cherry negatively affecting the flavour of the bean underneath. Once washed, it is left to sit for a night before being rinsed again and transferred to solar drying sheds. Drying sheds are usually made of timber and mesh and have multiple layers for beans.

There’s no place in the world where coffee grows as easily as in PNG. Common varieties include Caturra, Mondo Nuovo, Catimor and the Blue Mountain or Typica.

Coffee growers make up one third of PNG’s population, and the coffee-growing areas of each co-operative are substantial – up to 120,000 trees over 45 hectares.

As part of the Fairtrade development programme, farmers are encouraged to grow their coffee trees in the most sustainable and organic way possible, such as using natural fertiliser from the pulping process, instead of harmful and expensive chemical alternatives. Many coffee co-operatives now have their own nurseries, which provide farmers with a sustainable supply of new plants when older coffee trees need replacing.

The Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC) of PNG is a government body dedicated to helping farmers, and Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand works in partnership with CIC to support Fairtrade and potential Fairtrade groups.

Climate change is having a mixed effect on farmers. Where there used to be a distinguishable difference between the dry and rainy seasons, farmers now see irregular flowering patterns on the trees. In 1998 a coffee garden at 2,200 metres above sea level had never flowered, but now these trees produce coffee cherries in what used to be the off season!

One downside to this is an increase in big bursts of rainfall which causes erosion on some farms. It’s the kind of challenge many of us might put in the ‘too hard’ basket – but not the small-scale farmers in PNG and elsewhere in the developing world who work tirelessly to grow and harvest the coffee we enjoy every day.

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