The Ulya estate itself was established in the 1930s by the Lay family, Australians who had relocated to Papua New Guinea and were part of the colonial efforts to introduce coffee as a cash crop to the country. Originally the estate was closer to 800 hectares of land, but after Papua New Guinea achieved independence from Australia, large sections of land were given to indigenous New Guineans as part of redistribution. Therein lies some of the confusion: Ulya is the name of the region, the farm, and the shared wet mill.
High altitude and cool temperatures make this an ideal location for high-quality coffee. The plantation and the local smallholders both sell cherry directly to the mill for processing, which allows for greater quality control and selection. The mill has expanded its milling capacity relatively recently, with a wet-milling line and a waste-water processing plant.
At the Ulya mill, coffees are purchased and sorted in cherry, depulped, fermented for 24 hours in tanks without water, then dried on tarpaulins for three to six days. Coffee is sent to the Kagamuga dry mill in Mount Hagen for hulling and final sorting for export.
Papua New Guinea is an extremely diverse country, with over 800 different languages spoken. Most tribes from the highlands had minimal contact with the western world until the 1930s, as exploration in PNG had been minimal. PNG is now a paradox between Western influence and indigenous traditions.
Commercial coffee production started in Papua New Guinea in the 1920s, with seeds brought from Jamaica’s Blue Mountain, a Typica known as Jamaica Blue Mountain. At that time most of the coffee production came from 18 large plantations. Plantations still exist in PNG, it only account for 15% of the total production; most of the production now comes from smallholders who tend to their coffee gardens, as they call them locally. These smallholders are subsistence farmers (meaning they live of their land), and they also grow coffee—there are no coffee farmers per se. Each garden might have anywhere from a couple to a couple hundred trees of coffee on 1-2 hectare of land, and parchment deliveries can range from 25–65 kg.
Cultural differences and conflict are partially responsible for the logistical difficulties of sourcing from PNG: The country’s many indigenous populations are often very distinct from one another in terms of custom and language, and individual communities might comprise only a few hundred people, making communication and the cultural sensitivity required to do business here more difficult than in other coffee-growing regions. Less than 10 percent of the population is connected to or uses the Internet for communications, and there are roughly 55 telephones (both fixed-line and cellular) for every 100 people—another impediment when operating within a very digital contemporary global coffee industry.