Relatively unknown to Western markets but beloved in the East, the coffee producing countries of the Pacific may not produce as much coffee as others around the world, but they’re still worth exploring.
In this guide, we’ll cover several islands that produce specialty-grade beans, a few of which actually belong to the same country.
Papua New Guinea
The island of New Guinea received coffee in the early 20th century with the arrival of British and German settlers. The industry was fairly stagnant until seedings of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain variety were planted in 1937. From then on, coffee production experienced a steady incline as quality rose.
This island nation doesn’t produce a ton of coffee (63% of its territory is forest and less than 2% is used for agriculture), but the coffee it does export is beloved for its smooth, complex flavours and citrus acidity.
Common Flavours: Chocolate, mild fruit, nuts, citrus acidity
Processing Methods: Washed
Notable Growing Regions: Chivu, Eastern Highlands, Western Highlands
Java — Indonesia
Indonesia has many coffee producing islands, but second to none in fame is the island of Java. Dutch settlers brought coffee plants to Java in the early 18th century. As far as we can tell, the first commercially available coffee blend was one part Yemeni coffee and two parts Java coffee (Mocha-Java).
Unfortunately, a pestilence destroyed much of the island’s coffee industry in the late 18th century, causing many farmers to trade their arabica plants for the more disease resistant robusta species. Because of this shift, Java produces a very small amount of specialty-grade coffee, but the little high-grade coffee that is grown is quite tasty, featuring notes of sweet vanilla, spice, and a gentle acidity.
Common Flavours: Clear, complex, spice, vanilla, sweet, gentle acidity
Processing Methods: Washed
Notable Growing Regions: Jampit, Blawan
Sumatra — Indonesia
Once again, Dutch settlers brought coffee to this Indonesian island in the late 17th century. And, once again, when disease came in the late 18th century, many farms uprooted their plagued arabica plants and cultivated robusta ones instead.
In the 70’s, Japanese buyers and partner farms started experimenting with a processing method called Giling Basah locally. Similar to wet-hulling, farmers would de-pulp the beans at their own homes, take them to market at 30-50% moisture, and the beans would be hulled and dried from there. This helped enhance the earthy, spicy flavours that are now common among Sumatran coffees.
Common Flavours: Earthy, spicy, herbaceous, sweet, mellow acidity, full body
Processing Methods: Wet Hulled (Giling Basah)
Notable Growing Regions: Aceh/Gayo, Lintong, Takengon/Bener Meriah
Sulawesi — Indonesia
Among the first Indonesian islands to receive coffee in the mid 1700’s, Sulawesi was also struck by the arabica-decimating disease of the late 18th century. However, this island was able to retain a larger percentage of arabica plants than many others.
As a result, specialty-grade coffees coming from the mountain region of Toraja are highly sought after, featuring the earth, vanilla, and spice notes common throughout Indonesia, but also a light, buttery body and pleasant fruity acidity. Most coffee is also processed via the Giling Basah process.
Common Flavours: Earthy, spicy, sweet, fruity, mild acidity, light buttery body
Processing Methods: Washed, Wet Hulled
Notable Growing Regions: Toraja, Mamasa, Gowa, Utara
Coffee came to this island nation in 1740 by way of a Spanish monk. The industry saw dramatic growth as the coffee grew in demand across the world. When disease struck Indonesia, East Africa, and Brazil in the late 1800’s, the Philippines was, for a short time, the fourth largest exporter of coffee in the world. Sadly, disease hit the Philippines too in 1889, causing exports to decline rapidly.
The Philippines is one of just a few countries that commercially grows four different species of coffee: arabica, robusta, liberica, and excelsa. A liberica variety called barako has long been a local favorite. Though now associated with the old wave of bitter coffee, some roasters are trying to prove that it’s a variety that ought to be taken seriously by the specialty coffee community.
Common Flavours: Crisp acidity, medium body, woody flavor, spice
Processing Methods: Washed
Notable Growing Regions: Lipa, Batangas, Amadeo
Hawaii — United States of America
High altitudes, volcanic soil, frequent rain, and a consistently cool climate make the remote islands of Hawaii great for coffee production. The first seedlings for commercial production arrived in the 1820’s, but the coffee industry faces nearly a century of ups and downs as sugar production faced its own rollercoaster.
When Hawaii became the 50th incorporated state of the United States of America, coffee prices shot up—and so did quality. Labor laws, a booming economy, and stellar marketing surrounding newly famous Kona coffee caused prices to soar.
Common Flavours: Crisp acidity, light body, rich flavor, floral, fruity
Processing Methods: Washed, Natural
Notable Growing Regions: Kona, Ka’u, O’ahu
Many other islands in the Pacific grow coffee, including East Timor, Vanuatu, and Bali. To start exploring the many flavours of these diverse islands, check out our current range of specialty-grade coffee beans. Here’s a guide to help you buy the coffee beans that’s just right for your needs.