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. Many smallholder farms in Papua New Guinea could be more accurately classified as “coffee gardens”; a farmer might have a hundred trees planted around their house, and the farmer will sell their crops to wet mills. However, there are some residents who do own large coffee-production properties.
In the mid-1960’s, the PNG government encouraged early settlers to start growing coffee as a long-term sustainable crop. So Ben Colbran started to plant coffee trees on a plot of a land he named Baroida Estate, becoming one of the first coffee producers of the Eastern Highlands. Today, Baroida Estate has produced some of our favorite coffees of the last few years. In the 15 years since he purchased the estate—originally founded and then sold by his father, Ben—owner and manager Nichol Colbran has worked constantly to improve the quality of the coffee produced there.
The Colbrans explain that “the name Baroida comes from an old traditional spirit that was believed to reside in a particular large rock that lies in the middle of the river that runs through the lands of the plantation. The reason it was believed a spirit, is that even the largest river floods could not move this one rock, even when all other stones and rocks were washed away.”
The farm is an awesome combination of heritage and technology due to the partnership of the father-son team. Nichol is the father, who has been living the farm for most of his life. His style is based on rugged instinct and determination. Chris, on the other hand, is deeply into technology and this enables them to monitor and measure everything to do with the coffee. The machinery is all top notch. They are building a certified cupping room, and though they are already the leaders in Specialty Coffee for PNG, their goal is to set their coffee estate among the top farms in the world.
In 2005, Nichol’s son Chris moved to the estate and began the Tairora Cherry Project, focusing on improving transparency, buying and processing practices in the Colbran’s relationships with farmers in the surrounding area. These myriad improvements led to some wonderful and striking small lots of coffee– like the Bonta micro-lot we shared with you earlier this year– as well as larger lots which provide a clearer, cleaner expression of the flavors we already know and love in coffees from Baroida.
Like the main lots from Baroida, the Tairora Cherry Project is a blend of four different varieties: Typica and Arusha, each known for striking stone-fruit flavors like cherry and plum; and Bourbon and Caturra (a dwarf variety of Bourbon,) both known for their surgary sweetness. These coffees are de-pulped at the Colbran’s mill, and then dry-fermented for 36 hours, amplifying their wonderful fruity acidity and aromatic qualities.
Tairora is the name of the largest tribe in the area where this coffee is grown, and, because this coffee comes from growers in many different villages in the Eastern Highlands, the Colbran family gave this name to the coffee to best recognize the people with whom they work.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping a cup of Papua New Guinea Tairora, from Counter Culture Coffee in Durham, North Carolina. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Aiyura, Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea
farm: Baroida Estate
producer: Nicholas and Chris Colbran
elevation: 1600 – 1900 meters above sea level
cultivars: Typica, Bourbon, Arusha, Caturra
process: fully washed, patio dried
grind: 13, Preciso
coffee: 28 g
water: 430 mL
pour: 2:00 straight pour, 1:00 drop
The aroma of the Tairora is fairly mild; not necessarily “simple,” but, at the same time, there doesn’t seem to be much going on. It’s somewhat herbaceous and savory, it has some red fruit scents, and faint floral aromatics, but these scents are merely glimpses of what I know this coffee is capable of.
The first few sips of this coffee immediately post-brew are identical to its aroma: yeah, there are some really great flavors here—brown sugar, ginger, maple syrup—but they’re very subdued and muffled. Faded. The coffee is pretty full-bodied and a pretty juicy mouthfeel, but without those massive, booming flavors… It just kinda tastes like coffee.
As the cup cools off it gets pretty juicy, which is a welcomed development. The coffee now has a wonderfully malic acidity and the profile is highlighted by nuances of apple, red grape, nectarine, and apricot and it finishes with a clean, crisp break. Still, though, the Tairora leaves me disappointed.
Full body; juicy mouthfeel; berry acidity; clean finish.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
When in the right roaster’s hands, Papua New Guinean coffees can be really special coffees; wild, juicy, spicy, intensely flavorful; when in the wrong roaster’s hands, well…
Counter Culture Coffee’s Papua New Guinea Tairora, on the other hand, was a very middle of the road affair. It was neither this nor that—just a surprisingly (for a PNG) straightforward coffee that was pleasant, that was fine, that was drinkable, that was just kinda meh. Which, for me, of course, makes it bleh.
I don’t want wild and exotic Papua New Guinean coffees to be just average and inoffensive—I want them to be wild! And exotic! Particularly coffee from the Baroida Estate. Particularly coffee from Counter Culture Coffee!
So that’s my takeaway from this coffee; could have been better, but I guess it could have been worse.
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.