BeanScene Magazine


A touch of paradise

From the August 2010 issue.
A touch of paradise

Nestled in the rugged highlands of Papua New Guinea there is a coffee plantation that ticks every box. The Kimel Estate is fully owned by the indigenous population and producing one of the world’s great beans.

After leaving the PNG capital, Port Moresby, the plane tracks north west up the southern coast, to the massive Deception Bay delta. Then, it turns hard right, heading into the interior. Below, the sun glistens on the hundreds of tributaries flowing into the Gulf of Papua. It is a completely different coastal structure, from the rich, blue, coral-clad coastline, following us up the coast behind.

Soon the plane is in another world as it climbs high to clear the massive mountain peaks below. Reality kicks-in hard, when the small aircraft drops back down through the clouds and the most sublime geography on earth looms up. It is an awe-inspiring sight, because there is nothing quite like the first experience from the air when you engage with the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea, dramatically laid out below.

Papua New Guinea has two main coffee production zones, both in highland areas. There are many smaller coffee production areas across the country in different micro-climate and geographic conditions. The main areas though are Mt Hagen in the Western Highlands and Goroka in the Eastern Highlands. Both present different cup characteristics and it is the view of many roasters worldwide, that the Mt Hagen region presents the most enjoyable and balanced cup of fine coffee, from the total Papua New Guinea region.

Within the Western Highlands, surrounding the Mt Hagen region of many vallies, there are two main supply sources, producing a world quality bean. The village or tribal plantation, of small-plot and hectareage, then the larger plantations with production and processing infrastructure. The larger plantations support the smaller village production, by processing either the cherry or the parchment coffee and off-taking its tonnage. 

The plantation that particularly shines is Kimel Estate. Located in the Waghi Valley, just north of Mt Hagen, not only does their bean present the finest and best balanced PNG coffee experience, but they encapsulate the structure for everything we coffee industry operators are searching for when it comes to bean selection.

Kimel Estate is 100% tribal, clan and village-owned and 100% of all profits are returned to the traditional landowners. It provides permanent employment for them and their families and houses the vegetable patch for the majority of the 500 permanent workers. Further, there is a high percentage of shade and bird-friendly trees across the plantation. The water comes fresh and unpolluted, straight off the surrounding mountains. Pulping wastes are reused as fertiliser and any machine drying uses the coffee bean husks to heat the drying pans, although natural sunshine is the main source of drying production.

 

There is no other PNG plantation that can challenge this overall outcome. Here is a plantation that also produces PNG’s finest coffee bean and, in a humble way, neither looks for nor needs somebody else’s accreditation and labels. The Kimel people simply want us to enjoy their fine coffee product and afford them a future, where that future is the outcome of their own labours.
The Kimel Estate plantation, has been part of Cofi-com Trading’s “Support to Origin” program for the last 15 years. This program has resulted in offering Australian and New Zealand quality roasters selections of coffee that actively promote “on-the-ground” support along with sustainable, cultural and social outcomes for the local producers. In tandem, this support has also raised the quality of the finished bean, which means a higher return for the producer.

Standing at the front of the old plantation house, on the only high point of the plantation, we look across the top of a dense sea of glistening vibrant green arabica trees. These trees originated from seeds imported from the Blue Mountains of Jamaica and now are predominantly Arusha and Typica varieties. These trees present a full and “gushy” appearance when laden with ripening cherry and are also the result of an ideal climate and rich soils, in tandem with creditable plantation management practices.

 

The OK Corporation, which owns 100% of the joint Kimel and Koban plantations, was formed from the tribal business groups, the OIra and Kam. The name of the company was derived from the two first letters of the tribes, Ope and Komunge. The company was initiated and started by the late Kishan Pau from the Ope tribe. This highly respected tribal leader pulled the clans together and they contributed cash and loan funding to purchase the estate in 1979. The current chairman, Pup Kaki, representing the Kalapi, Krange, Kime and Komunka clans, also came to the support of Kisan Pau and together, through their separate tribal business groups, purchased Kimel Estate. Their vision was to provide a future for their people, which they have achieved, along with the production of one of the world’s finest coffee’s.

The plantation has a permanent workforce of 500 housed on the estate and 1700 seasonal workers when the harvest is in full production. The Kimel estate covers 600 hectares and accepts the production of local and village plantations, which cover an additional 1000 hectares, also with Typica and Arusha varietal trees.

The clan and tribal corporation, employ a general manager, Ranbir Singh, who is highly qualified and experienced in agribusiness management. Ranbir’s hands-on operational direction is highly important to the success of the plantation and subsequently the high quality coffee bean. When asked what makes the Kimel coffee so special, Ranbir says that it is a combination of the unique environment and plantation practices, which also involves the holding and maturing of the dried parchment coffee, before hulling takes place.

Now, with international markets clamouring for the Kimel Estate bean, the plantation and its tribal owners, are assured of a strong future. Global traders and quality cup assessors have heralded the Kimel bean as being PNG’s finest single estate coffee. The result of hand picking and hand sorted quality, it presents in the cup a coffee of great flavour and complexity. This great product is well balanced with delicate acidity, rounded and smooth medium body and a great length of sweet cocoa mixed with tropical fruits and it is highly aromatic and consistent.

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