Source: Markham Valley
Region: Morobe Province
Country: Papua New Guinea
Source Type: Collection of fermentaries/farms
Beans: Purchased (dry) for export by Panamex USA
Fermentation Style: Individual lots fermented by farmers using collection of shared fermentaries
Tasting Notes: pomegranate, raisins, tobacco
Our current Papua New Guinea beans come from the hot, dry flat land of the Markham Valley, situated on the country’s Eastern Coast.
Papua New Guinea beans are distinct in a few ways, but most recognizably by a hallmark smokey flavor. The taste is furnished from drying the beans by heating the air inside steel pipes using a wood fire, a traditional technique that circumvents the challenges presented by a cloudy, damp climate. There are many ways to dry beans—under the sun, in the shade, on mesh, on cement, or blowing hot air around them—and the choice depends upon what suits a region’s climate, resources, and infrastructure.
Because the freshly fermented beans are still wet with their own pulp before drying, they readily absorb the flavor of smoke from the surrounding air. Moderating the intensity of the smoke absorption is a delicate balancing act for farmers, and can easily become too intense. The effect is a taste that many chocolate makers liken to barbecue. Whether or not smoke is a desirable taste is subjective—some small scale makers find it delicious and defining, in the same way peat characterizes certain scotches—but many chocolate makers consider strong smokiness a taint that they choose to mute. Oftentimes, this means blending Papua New Guinea beans with larger proportions of other beans, or processing them in a way that hides the flavor. We love a delicate balance of subtle smoke, and the way it warms up the cacao’s fruit notes. Like grilled peaches, or bruléed bananas.
Papua New Guinea is an interesting and volatile hotbed of cacao production that relies to a large degree on the export for economic success. Until recently, the country produced 4% of the world’s cacao supply. Over the last few years, an influx of cocoa pod borer—a crop pest—has cut Papua New Guinea’s production by more than half, wiping out as much as 80% of the crop in provinces like East New Britain, inspiring more and more farmers to move away from cacao into other crops.
Greg, Caitlin, and Cynthia recently visited Papua New Guinea to learn more about the landscape, the beans, and how we can begin to work more directly with producers in the country. There are over 10,000 fermentaries in Papua New Guinea, which means most villages have their own (or a few). Electricity and good roads become less frequent further from the major cities, which makes coordinating export very difficult. The producers we have worked with in the past are no longer producing cacao so we are currently looking for a new partner to continue bringing cacao from Papua New Guinea to the craft chocolate industry.