Dad always had a cup of coffee. Because of his severe rheumatoid arthritis, he would ask me to make him a cup and bring it to him. As a small boy I remember a New Year’s Eve midnight service where at the fellowship time mom let me have a cup of “coffee” (about eight parts milk and two parts coffee).
In my teen years and into my college life, I can remember sharing a morning cup of coffee with mom and dad at breakfast on a weekend, or sitting on the edge of their bed some nights, steaming mugs of coffee in our hands, discussing life’s issues. At the School for Officers Training there was usually a group of us sitting around the table after supper sipping coffee and avoiding homework.
For me, life has just always included coffee.
I’ve joked that the only verse in scripture I want to take issue with is the one that says man cannot live on bread alone. I also love bread! So I’ve agreed grudgingly by saying that, okay, so long as I have coffee too, then I’m good to go. Is it too sacrilegious to say that God, coffee and bread are life to me?
One of the things we learned early on before we moved to Papua New Guinea was that the coffee here is exceptional. That pleased me to no end! If God was going to send me to the other side of the earth, it seems He took into account my love for coffee and took care of that little detail for me.
I do have to admit to a temporary letdown upon arrival as I discovered that prevalent here is a light-brown, fine-powdered instant coffee that dissolves quickly and easily in hot water. However, I soon found the “real” coffee in the grocery stores, and was extremely pleased to see that I could get a variety of whole bean coffees from the highlands here in PNG. And the coffee is as good as I had been told!
After eight months I finally got the opportunity to visit the coffee region of PNG. I went to Goroka for a two-day visit with our CARE Coffee project. It was a valuable time to meet our staff and hear their passion for the ministry to the coffee farmers in the remotest mountainous areas. I got an education in coffee production. I had the chance to see the entire process, from a small farm on a hillside to the green bean processors to the roasters and exporters.
The beautiful red berries are ripe for the picking. Two beans are removed from each berry through “pulping.” The beans are still encased in a slippery translucent cover that’s sweet to the taste. These beans are washed to remove the slick coating, and then laid out in the sun to dry. The dried beans are called parchment at this stage because the translucent coating has become thin and flakey. This is when the beans are bagged and sold to the processor. At the processing plant, beans go through a machine that shakes and blows the parchment from each bean, and gravity sorts the beans into different grades.
These green beans are bagged again and prepared for export. Part of that preparation is the important “cupping” procedure where two or three dozen different beans are sampled. Small amounts of each batch of beans are roasted and ground. Several small spoonfuls of each sample of the grounds are placed in a short glass (cups) and hot water is poured in. The cups are lined along the edge of a long counter. The coffee is allowed to brew and cool slightly and the foam is skimmed from the top of the glass.
Testers pick up their testing equipment – a tablespoon and a small plastic pitcher. They quickly move from one cup to the next, taking a spoonful of each sample, loudly sucking it into their mouths, swishing it around and then spitting it into the pitcher. They take notes on each sample in order to grade the beans and determine their individual and unique flavors that are a result of soil conditions, weather, altitude, farming techniques and treatment – all sorts of tangibles and intangibles.
Though there are big company farms, there are thousands of tiny family farms where coffee provides the little subsistence for the year. Considering there’s one crop per year, and the harvest is so dependent on weather conditions, you can imagine how tough it is for these families. Then, the challenge is to get the bags of parchment to the processor. This is where the CARE coffee program comes in.
Our program was begun as a sort of co-op in order to provide transportation into and out of those most remote areas, to purchase the beans directly from the farmers for a good market price, and then to sell them to processors. The hope was to provide support, education and information to these farmers, in order to help them build their own capacity, thereby improving their families’ economic conditions.
There are currently 800 farmers registered with the program, and 650 actively participating. The difficulty for the program, as well as for the farmers, is that it is not economically feasible to pay fuel costs, truck rentals, drivers and an end-market price to farmers. As one consultant put it, if it was economically feasible, there would be companies doing it! The subsidy is ending, yet the coffee farmers in the remote areas still struggle to make it a viable crop.
The common story is of a farmer who produces a 50 – 60 kilogram bag of beans. He distributes the beans into several smaller bags for ease of transport, and then he and family members carry the bags on their backs for two or three days to get to a road where a buyer can purchase the beans from him. The buyer may offer the farmer only two kina per kilo for the beans, and since he’s the only buyer, and the farmer is days from home, he simply has to accept the price and head back home with his K100-K120.
Our efforts are to figure out ways to support the farmers in better farming techniques, time management, financial education and working together with nearby farmers to share costs and help negotiate the best selling prices. The farmers in our CARE program are all associated with Salvation Army corps and fellowships scattered throughout the region, and this support is provided as part of the SA ministry to the area farmers.
Now, each morning as I place three small scoops of “Blue Mountain” roasted coffee beans from the Papua New Guinea highlands into my grinder, I remember the farmers I met, and the rough hilly region where they eke out a living. And as I brew my two cups of fresh hot coffee in my press, I have a newfound appreciation for this simple beverage that is so important to my life.
Pray for us in these next couple of months as we work to transition this program into a viable ministry that supports coffee growers and the industry in a meaningful way.