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Origin Trip - Papua New Guinea

Origin Trip - Papua New Guinea
Dan Leahy, brother Mick and Jim Taylor first saw the Waghi Valley from their plane in 1933 while surveying the highlands for gold. Contrary to popular belief at the time that the vast interior of Papua New Guinea (PNG) was uninhabited, Dan, Mick and Jim discovered a huge and heavily populated territory. Over a million inhabitants by some accounts. Tribes that had changed little since the Stone Age and had never before seen a white person.

Eighty-six years later and we are headed for the Western Highlands of PNG to visit our producers. Landing at Mt Hagen airport, we are met by Bryan Leahy, one of Dan’s children. Bryan produces most of the coffee we source from PNG, with cherries bought from small holder farmers. Straight off the plane we head to his wet mill in Kagamuga, a short drive from the airport.

We arrive to witness a steady stream of farmers lining up to deliver their coffee at the weighing station. Visually, we can see an amount of green cherries intermixed with the red. Theft, and a mistaken belief that they will make more money leads farmers to pick unripe, green cherries with red. Most of this is sorted at the wet mill as green cherries, generally lighter than ripe, red cherries, float on water and are easily separated. The rest of it can be sorted out at the dry mill using the gravity table. The farmers seem in good spirits, despite having to deal with a number of pressing issues.

Low coffee prices have driven a number of farmers to abandon coffee and move on to more profitable crops. As coffee is not a traditional crop in PNG, and the locals do not have a strong coffee drinking culture, it is not difficult for farmers to pull out their trees and replace them with vegetables like cabbage which allow them to earn a higher return per hectare. Additionally, an outbreak of coffee borer beetle, notoriously difficult to eradicate, has made it even more difficult to earn a living from coffee. Coffee borer beetle, or broca is it is also known in other parts of the world, is a pest that burrows into the coffee cherries to lay its eggs. Broca can be controlled with alcohol traps and farmers have adopted this technique which involves luring the broca inside a plastic bottle laced with a mixture of ethanol and methanol. The broca is attracted to the trap by the sweet and they end up drowning in the alcohol mixture. The broca is attracted to the trap by the aroma of coffee and they end up drowning in the alcohol. The traps have proven effective in other producing countries, so the farmers here are hopeful. By reducing yield and quality, broca can severely reduce a farmer’s income. An outbreak of broca alone can cost a farmer his entire seasons profit. Globally, broca has been widely reported to cost the coffee industry over US$500 million per annum.

Much of the coffee in the Western Highlands is sun-dried on tarps or raised beds, making them most vulnerable to weather. This harvest, rain has been frequent and plentiful, making it difficult to dry the coffee down to acceptable moisture levels within an acceptable time. This situation worsens when harvest season peaks as the inflow of cherries gathers pace and space on the patio runs short. Thankfully, Bryan is building a new dry mill, including new mechanical dryers and conditioning bins, allowing him to achieve consistent drying rime and improve both quality and consistency in the coffee.

We head out the next day to Bryan’s plantation Korgua, originally built by his father Dan in 1953. Located in the Nebilyer Valley, Korgua lies under the shadow of Kuta Ridge where Dan’s gold mine was located. To this day Dan’s original plantings of Bourbon and Typica are still healthy and producing cherry. There is a wet mill on site, drawing water from the nearby river. These days natural and honey processed coffees are produced, dried on patios covered with retractable roofs, in addition to the more traditional washed coffees.

Situated on the border of two warring tribes, the Ulga and Kolga, Korgua served as homestead, coffee plantation as well as a buffer zone for tribal conflict. To help bring peace between the tribes, Bryan’s father Dan was invited by the Ulgas and Kolgas to occupy their shared territory and create a buffer between them. Much of the PNG highlands is still very tribal, and disagreements can escalate into large scale conflict involving weapons like machetes which many seem to carry. Conflicts like this often result in fatalities, with most deaths occurring several days after the event as injuries become infected and turn gangrenous.

We leave Mt Hagen for the Eastern Highlands capital of Goroka and head east along the Highlands Highway, traditionally a two-lane single carriageway resembling a gallery of potholes and land slips. Reaching the town of Kudjip, we take a side road just past the tea plantations and make a quick visit to two of the few remaining coffee estates in PNG, WR Carpenter Estates’ Sigri and Bunum-Wo plantations, and Kimel Estate. Much of the coffee grown in PNG these days come from small-holder producers, accounting for 85% of annual crop production according to PNG’s Coffee Industry Corporation. Intermediate sized holdings, of between 10 and 20 hectares, account for 11% of annual crop and plantations with over 20 hectares account for 4%.

Arriving in Goroka, we visit the team at PNG Coffee Exports for a cupping session and updates on the current harvest. We are joined by Brian Kuglame of AAK Co-operative who will be taking us to meet some of the member farmers of AAK.

I first met Brian Kuglame in 2014 on a previous trip to PNG. He founded AAK in 2000 to encourage self-reliance within highland communities through coffee. Nineteen years later and his organisation is still going strong. AAK is organised with cluster groups as the base unit. Each cluster is effectively one extended family. On last count, AAK had 64 cluster groups spanning three provinces in the highlands. We visit one of the cluster groups near Gimiyufa Village in the Asaro area and discuss some of the issues they currently face. Happily, one of the coffees we selected while cupping the following day turned out to be one of AAK’s lots.

Origin Trip - Central America

Origin Trip - Central America

Twenty-seven hours is a long time to get anywhere, and it feels especially so if you’re spending all of it cooped up in planes and airport departure lounges. On such journeys, time travels slowly it seems, you uncontrollably check your watch every couple of minutes hoping it had moved forward a couple of hours. Thankfully, this trip is a little different. Our first visit to Central America comes with a backpack full of anticipation and excitement. With a little over two weeks to cover three producing countries, there was plenty to do. Before we knew it, we were landing in Guatemala City. It’s Friday night and there was one thing in particular on our mind, “I hope the shower is good!”.

Guatemala is an important origin for us at St Dreux. We have been purchasing coffee from here for two seasons now and they form an important component in two of our blends. Our first destination in Guatemala was to the department of Sacatepequez, around the old and picturesque city of Antigua. It was an easy drive just over an hour out of Guatemala City. No need for a travel pillow on this drive.

Finca Medina was founded in 1842 on the foothills of the Agua Volcano. It is a large operation, occupying around 74 hectares, and successfully combines modern technology with traditional coffee processing techniques. Here we sampled classic Antiguan coffee, typically described as chocolate, brown sugar and a creamy body. Our pick also featured floral notes and made a very well-balanced cup. It was a very good start. “Coco”, the General Manager, and his team have a well-run operation. The pictures which adorn the walls of their cupping lab, featuring buyers and visitors from internationally known and respected coffee companies give some testimony to their achievements.

Sunday was officially a rest day. The only one during the trip, as it turned out. Faced with a multitude of options, we chose to climb a volcano and shake off the jet-lag. Pacaya is one of the four volcanoes that encircle Antigua. Of the four, it is considered the easier climb at 2,552 metres and it is still active.

Monday morning and we were ready to head to Huehuetenango. Thankfully there is a new charter plane available from Guatemala City which cuts the 7 hour drive to a swift 30 minute flight. We spent twice as long waiting to board the plane at the airport. Our main focus here is to visit producers in Cantinil, La Democracia and La Libertad. We have been purchasing coffee from this area over the past two seasons and the coffee gets better and better. The work is ongoing, and this next shipment promises to be truly exciting.

Our last stop in Guatemala was a visit to Jaime Rios at his farm Sitio de Maria in Jutiapa. Situated right on the border, half the farm lies within Guatemala and the other in El Salvador. Jaime has created a rather unique moniker for his estate, dubbing it the “Republic of Gualvador”. It was also here we encountered what we agreed to be the most bumpy road of the whole trip. Jaime was a great host, and his new projects look to deliver very interesting and surprising results.

Leaving Guatemala, we take a short flight to neighbouring Honduras, landing in San Pedro Sula. The Guardian newspaper once labelled it “the most violent city in the world”. Things are apparently much better now. Honduras is a relatively new origin for us and one we are keen to explore. We head straight out of town and spend the weekend exploring Santa Barbara and Lempira. We had previously purchased Honduran micro-lots, including one of the parainema varietal. Typically sweet, with red fruits and chocolate, it was originally developed by the Honduran Coffee Association (ihcafe) as a leaf rust, (roya in Spanish) resistant varietal. It has a good pedigree with several farms using it to win national Cup Of Exellence (COE) competitions. Unfortunately, parainema now seems to be losing its resistance as the proportion of trees affected by leaf rust is increasing, and the recovery rate slower than other varietals e.g. caturra or catuai.

Despite the issues with leaf rust and labour shortage, we did find some truly outstanding coffees in Honduras. Standouts for us included Finca Monte Vista in Santa Barbara. Situated within the crater of an extinct volcano, surrounded by Mahogany and Cedar trees, Monte Vista is owned and operated by father and son duo Juan Hipp and Juan Hipp Jr.

Finca Cimarron, on the outskirts of San Pedro Sula, is one of the most innovative and enterprising farms we have visited. Operated by brothers Marcos and Olvin Rodriguez, they also sell roasted coffee, roasted by a third party, but have plans to roast their own in the near future. Olvin is a graduate of Earth University and he uses this expertise to good effect with Finca Cimarron supplying some of Europe’s most prestigious roasters.

Finally, onto Nicaragua and what would turn out to be one of the highlights of our trip. With no direct flights available from Honduras, we flew in late to Nicaragua via El Salvador. It was like visiting your next door neighbour by first walking around the block instead of going straight to their front door. Up early the next morning for a three-hour drive to La Concordia, Jinotega and some cupping before a further two-hour drive to Ocotal, Nueva Segovia. In many ways it is obvious to see there is plenty of good coffee to be found here and in large part due to the meticulous work by producers, agronomists and others in the chain. After tasting quite a few samples, one place in particular caught our attention, a producer based near Mozonte. Two of the most memorable coffees we cupped here were both from him. One was plummy, citric and floral and the other more winey and reminiscent of port. There was even a hint of beer hops in the aroma. Without delay we made arrangements to visit. Near the top of the mountain, where the road ends and the farm is a further 500m on foot, we met a small producer (I’m keeping his identity a secret, for now at least) with a passion and clear vision for producing specialty coffee. A previous COE winner, his family operated farm nestled in perhaps one of the most ideal locations for producing specialty coffee. We sat down and chatted over coffee. He is confident, and we have no doubt he consistently produces what he claims.

Two weeks is a short time, but it can feel a lot longer when so many things are squeezed into it. We have continued development with our existing supply lines, strengthened existing relationships, made new friends and tasted some really good coffee. We are lucky to have secured some of these and we can’t wait to share it all with you.

The Shepherd

The Shepherd

The Shepherd - our signature blend named after St.Dreux himself, is quintessentially sweet and undeniably inviting. Combining balanced notes of dark chocolate, hazelnuts and a long lasting plum flavour. The Shepherd is a balanced and refined espresso experience, that leads you to the sweetness of chocolate and dried plum flavours to finish! This is a medium bodied coffee with a sweet finish and moderate acidity.

Flavour Profile

Dark Chocolate

Brew Guide

METHOD: Espresso
SUGGESTED RECIPE: 22g, in 40g, out 35sec


Papua New Guinea