Saturday, November 8, 2008

Arabica and Robusta

Rummaging through the pantry cupboard for some spices for my pickled cabbage project I found several bottles of instant coffee. I thought that Joan might be doing a Nell. Nell was my dear grandmother who, when late in her life started buying daily amounts of bacon and chicken. We had to dispose of quite a lot of her hoard and my mother managed to restrict gran’s cash.

No this wasn’t Joan sliding into dementia, she just buys it when it is on special at the supermarket. I was astounded at the price of instant coffee and wondered why we actually drink it. Coffee houses are doing great business and I can’t see what it is all about. I don’t get any sort of buzz from drinking coffee. Wine works for me!

I do understand why coffee is expensive as I have had first hand experience of the harvesting and processing coffee when we worked in Papua New Guinea before independence. The plot my school had was owned by the agriculture station nearby and they let us have use of it for a couple of years. The small coffee farmer in PNG works very hard to earn very little from their coffee crop. To get the ripe beans (called cherries) to the dried state (called parchment) is hard work.

Lowland coffee is Robusta coffee and is used as the poor cousin to the finer Arabica which is grown in the NG highlands. The plot we worked was Robusta which needs to be grown in shade. The shade tree is Leucaena-leacocephala, a sort of mimosa with fine leaves. When the cherries are ripe they are picked by hand by pulling down the coffee tree branches which spills the dead leucaena leaves on the picker. Another foe is the nasty Korokum ant which, although not poisonous, is a right mean bugger. The cherries unfortunately do not ripen all at the same time so there is a bit of hunting for ripe beans.
Coffee pulper

Once enough beans have been picked they are put through a huller which breaks off the outside flesh, and the beans are then fermented in water for about a week to get rid of the adhering fruit flesh. After much washing the beans are laid out on plastic in the sun to dry, which takes about a fortnight in dry weather until the beans are so hard a tooth makes no impression on them. At this, the parchment stage, the coffee is ready for sale to a buyer who usually drives past the village if it is on a road.

The factory door price for highlands Arabica coffee is around A$1.20 per Kilo. Robusta is much less and buyers of course pay even less at the village. Hardly worth the effort!

Papua New Guinea produces about 1% of the world’s coffee, most of it Arabica.

No comments: