Coffee Origins 101: The Pacific

Far away, across the world’s largest ocean, lay many of the world’s coffee producers. And yet, here in America, we’re fairly clueless when it comes to these countries.

Because of the distance, American buyers source fewer coffees from the Pacific than they do from Africa or Central/South America. And yet, these producing countries deserve our attention as well.

Allow me to introduce you to these lesser-known coffee origins.

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the country that inhabits the western half of the Pacific island New Guinea. Coffee cultivation in this island nation began with the arrival of British and German colonials in the early 20th century, but coffee production really took off with the arrival of Blue Mountain variety seedlings from Jamaica in the 1920’s.

Coffee production on the island falls into two main categories:

  • Estate coffees. Grown, processed, and sold by large estates, these coffees are generally less risky to buy and of decent quality.
  • Small-holder coffees. Grown and processed in the backyards of small family lots, these coffees can be fascinating, but quality is very hard to determine and maintain.

Read: How Much Should You Pay For Coffee Beans?

Just about all coffee is processed via the washed method, which brings out the shy citrus acidity and adds depth to the intricate flavors of chocolate, milk, fruit, nuts.

Papua New Guinean Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Chocolate, mild fruit, nuts, citrus acidity

Processing: Washed

Main Growing Regions: Chivu, Eastern Highlands, Western Highlands

Harvest: May to August

Java (Indonesia)

Dutch settlers brought coffee to the Indonesian island of Java in the 18th century. Before the industry was decimated by plant pestilence, it was the world leader in coffee production.

Understandably, Java farmers ditched the disease-susceptible arabica plants for more resistant robusta plants after the pestilence, so little coffee from here is specialty-grade arabica to this day.

Most coffees are processed through a sophisticated washed process, giving the higher-quality crop a crisp, clear flavor with notes of complex spice and vanilla, a satisfying sweetness, and a gentle acidity.

Read: The Perfect Water Temperature For Coffee Brewing

Java Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Clear, complex, spice, vanilla, sweet, gentle acidity

Processing: Washed

Main Growing Regions: Jampit, Blawan

Harvest: June to October

Sumatra (Indonesia)

The Dutch brought coffee to Sumatra, Indonesia in the late 1600’s and produced it at plantation-style farms. When the coffee leaf rust crippled the industry in the mid-1800’s, most of the estates were split up among locals as the colonists sought over ventures or left for home. Many of these farmers uprooted their arabica plants and planted disease-resistant varieties and robusta.


Japanese buyers took interest in Sumatra in the 1970’s and trained the Sumatran farmers in a well hulled-style processing method called Giling Basah locally.


Under this method, farmers depulp the beans at home themselves. They then take them to a market and sell the beans while they’re still at 30-50% moisture. The coffee is then hulled (any leftover mucilage is removed) while the beans are still moist before laying them out to dry to 10-12% like normal.

Read: Coffee Bean Processing: The Washed Method

Sumatran coffee is the classic Indonesian coffee in the mind of Americans. It’s earthy, it’s spicy, and sometimes herbaceous. It’s sweet, it has a mellow acidity, and it boasts a rich, full body.

Sumatran Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Earthy, spicy, herbaceous, sweet, mellow acidity, full body

Processing: Wet Hulled (Giling Basah)

Main Growing Regions: Aceh/Gayo, Lintong, Takengon/Bener Meriah

Harvest: October to March

Sulawesi (Indonesia)

Once again, the Indonesian island of Sulawesi was introduced to coffee through Dutch colonizers around the mid-1700’s.

The vast majority of coffee is grown by small farmers in the mountainous region in the center of the island. Most of the coffee is processed via the Giling Basah method that’s used on Sumatra, though a sizable number of farms fully wash their coffee instead.

Coffee from Sulawesi is similar to that of Sumatra: earthy, deep, spicy, sweet, and mild acidity. However, these coffees tend to have a lighter, more buttery body and a hint of fruity notes.

Read: How To Taste Coffee Sweetness

Sulawesian Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Earthy, spicy, sweet, fruity, mild acidity, light buttery body

Processing: Washed, Wet Hulled

Main Growing Regions: Toraja, Mamasa, Gowa, Utara

Harvest: May to November

Hawaii

The remote island chain of Hawaii received coffee for the first time in 1813, though it wasn’t untill the late 1820’s that bourbon variety seedlings arrived and a farm became dedicated to coffee production. The high-altitude rich volcanic oils, frequent rain, and slightly cool climate is perfect for growing coffee, especially on the mountain slopes in the Kona, Ka’u, and O’ahu regions.

As the only place in the developed world with a thriving coffee industry, Hawaii’s coffees aren’t cheap. This is largely due to labor laws from the United States, as well as the remote location.

Read: Here's Why Some Coffees Are Very Expensive

Hawaiian coffees are quite diverse, but they all tend to have a pleasant crisp acidity, light body, and rich, complex flavor notes with hints of flowers and fruits.

Hawaiian Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Crisp acidity, light body, rich flavor, floral, fruity

Processing: Washed, Natural

Main Growing Regions: Kona, Ka'u, O’ahu

Harvest: November to March

Honorable Mentions

The island of Tanna, Vanuatu is a particularly fertile one. The island’s arabica exports are typically quite floral, earthy, and chocolatey.

Though once sold exclusively to Japanese buyers, coffee from Bali, Indonesia finally hit the North American market in 2015. Coffee from here often has notes of citrus, brown sugar, and mild fruit.

Though the world’s 4th largest exporter of coffee in the late 1800’s, the coffee industry of the Philippines is only a shadow of its former glory. Unfortunately, most coffee from this nation of over 7,000 islands goes towards instant coffee.

Read: The 5 Best Coffee Brewers For Travelers

The island nation of East Timor was the site of a new coffee variety discovery: timor. A hybrid of robusta and arabica species, this coffee often has notes of bitter chocolate, a gentle sweetness, and a low-key acidity.

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There are many more islands spread across the Pacific Ocean that grow coffee, but most of them are extremely small-time and rarely export coffee to North America.

If you’re interested in experiencing coffee from around the world, check out our Coffee Club. We source beans from some of the world’s best and most quality-focused farms.

Then we roast the beans to highlight their best flavors in our San Diego facilities and ship them to you on the same day. That means you get uber-fresh (and thus, uber-flavorful) coffee delivered right to your door!

Check it out!

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