Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea - Markham Valley
Papua New Guinea produces one of the most unique fine flavor cacaos in the world. It is delicious, eccentric, and nearly lost after an infestation of the cocoa pod borer devastated crops throughout the country in 2006. After years of replanting and rebuilding, their production is once again approaching its previous levels. Which means that you can once again experience this amazing chocolate.
At Origin Chocolate our mission is to champion the terroir of chocolate. The word “terroir” is typically used to describe the effects that the soil and microclimate of a particular region have on the final flavor of the wine produced there. But the same dynamic applies to other things. For example it obviously applies to coffee as well. It can even apply to cheese. And it most certainly applies to cacao.
This means that each cacao varietal has its own distinct flavor profile, and if you have tried our single-origin chocolate you already know how obvious that difference can be. But even within the context of varietal differences, cacao from Papua New Guinea stands out.
Like many cacaos the chocolate produced from it has a bright, somewhat acidic profile. But in most chocolates this comes across as a type of fruit. Tanzanian for example has its cherry, and Madagascar its raspberry. The brightness of Papua New Guinea chocolate however doesn’t seem to carry with it any distinct fruit. It’s just…there. When you eat it your mind (and tongue) struggle to figure out what they are experiencing - is that lemon? Bright raisin? Many who write about cacao from Papua New Guinea give up and just say that the chocolate is “piquant.”
Also, most chocolate is either fruity or earthy. But cacao from Papua New Guinea straddles both, as the initial brightness of the chocolate gives way to subtle notes of leather and pipe tobacco. And then there’s the smoke. The famous smoke.
Because cacao only grows in a narrow band around the equator, most countries dry their fermented beans by laying them out in the sun. But the climate in Papua New Guinea is often too cloudy and damp for that. So the farmers and processors there often dry the beans using air heated inside steel pipes. The air is heated by burning wood and/or coconut husks, which leads to its famous smokey flavor associated with this cacao. This drying happens inside buildings that even look like smoke houses. (see image left)
The story of cacao from Papua New Guinea is not only about flavor however. It’s also about devastation, survival, and rebuilding. In 2006, seemingly out of nowhere and almost overnight, cocoa pod borer, a mosquito-sized moth, infested the cacao crop in various regions of Papua New Guinea. The cacao crop was decimated, with production for the entire nation dropping by 50%, and with some regions losing over 80% of their crop. In a nation where the average farmer makes little more than $2,000/year, cash crops like cacao were a vital part of Papua New Guinea’s economy, and its loss created a great deal of financial struggle for the people there.
It has taken the farmers and government of Papua New Guinea years to rebuild the cacao crop. With financial support from the World Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the European Union and others, a $100 million project was initiated to revive the cocoa industry. New CPB-resistant cacao clones were introduced; farmers were taught new techniques to avoid the pest, and over a million seedlings have been grown in nurseries and planted. The government is even investigating the introduction of solar dryers, so as to eliminate the “smokehouse” dryers that have become known as the hallmark of their cacao industry.
As the cacao farmers of Papua New Guinea move past recovery and enter a new phase of growth and development, we are pleased to be able to support their efforts by offering one of the most interesting cacaos in the world. Enjoy!