March 2022 - When I fell in love with coffee. Exciting AusPost improvements. Secret Label bold sweetness

Date Posted:9 March 2022 

A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams." - John Barrymore


March 2022

This month we have a rare good news story on parcel shipping with AusPost implementing a major processing hub in our local area. We think it’s a game changer.

Global coffee prices continue at 10+ year highs. Despite the wild swings of commodities from the European conflict, it seems that sellers of raw coffee are yet again finding new ways to play the market. Lately it's been a game of mischievous deeds in manipulating inventories. Stock piling, hiding, under-reporting, call it what you like but it’s contributing to crazy high differentials that continue to put pressure on keeping prices up by you guessed it, holding the market to ransom perpetuating the myths around huge supply deficits.

February's Secret Label broke the record despite the shorter month. We think this month’s Secret Label is as good or better and we are so proud to have it ready now after a few false starts. A bold cup with amazing chocolate and fruit notes and whilst you will notice a price difference, it's directly related to the exotic grading of the raw ingredients.

It’s been 30 years since I fell in love with Papua New Guinea and their amazing coffees. Read our blog on where it all started.



March Secret Label

A deceptively bold coffee with rich, sweet and creamy notes of Swiss chocolate, cherry, mandarin, vanilla pods and salted caramel generating a lush coating of chocolate with a lovely long finish.

We have been waiting with excitement to unleash this month’s Secret Label and my goodness it delivers in spades.

Loving the versatility of this Secret Label with delicious preserved fruit compote riding across the palate as a black helping balance out the acids with a super-sweet burst of citrus.

In milk, just like the Honjo Masamune sword it slice through dairy with consummate ease, standing up in the cup - proud as punch.

For a limited time only - don't miss out.

**** All SOLD OUT ****


AusPost improvements

It’s not that often we have something positive to say about parcel shipping, so let’s try to get some good news out there.

Before we start, we feel it's important to declare upfront this is not a PR exercise on behalf of AusPost and we are certainly not aware of any official public information about this new AusPost facility as it just started processing parcels 3 days ago. 

AusPost operate with a spoke and hub design for parcel networks and that’s exactly the same topology every other freight handler implements for their parcel networks.

Spoke & hub topology means that parcels are funneled into a central hub for each state so that scanning, measuring, weighing and routing, etc, is processed on sophisticated, high speed Xray systems (and also for charging/revenue), the parcel is routed to the correct zone and then loaded for line haul (semi trailer or train in WA) if it’s interstate.

The problem with any spoke and hub design is when the hub is overloaded, breaks down or experiences any kind of resource constraint, everything rapidly grinds to a halt. By now you are probably guessing that’s why sometimes your parcels are delayed – bingo!.

In fact, issues with a hub are around 90% likely to be the primary cause of delays.

These spoke and hub designs are a great solution when all the variables are well known and remain stable or controllable, but as we know situations with parcel networks change rapidly as volumes are spiking often, particularly around incidents, events and holidays.

So the good news is that AusPost have finally taken a big step towards smashing this crazy and inflexible solitary state central hub mentality they had persisted with for way too long. The reason we are so excited to see this change in strategy is because AusPost have just completed a massive DWS (dimension weigh system) at the Bayswater facility in Melbourne, which also happens to be in our neighborhood, our local depot.

About time we enjoyed a bit of good luck !

All AusPost parcels from every Victorian merchant or retailer are funneled through the Melbourne Parcel Facility (MPF) in Sunshine. Nobody gets priority or special treatment and it’s just wall after wall of parcel cargo. Funneling takes a lot of time as it involves physically moving cargo in and out of trucks, through traffic, etc.

Whilst central state hubs are large, they are also a key contributor to regular bottlenecks for parcels moving around the network, even well before the pandemic. It got so bad during the last 2 years that overflow warehouses were leased just to hold parcel cargo temporarily whilst waiting for processing capacity at the central hub.

Commencing this week, our mycuppa AusPost parcels collected each afternoon and driven directly to the new Bayswater processing centre, about 7 mins away. Parcels are measured, weighed and then sorted immediately for distribution without having to wait for trucks to be loaded, travel across town, wait, unload and then stored before waiting for a processing slot on the two Sunshine DWS’s. There will always be long queues at Sunshine and this new facility near us totally eliminates those potential delays and effectively removes at least 2x lots of manual handling on the VIC side.

Already, in the short period of a few days since the new Bayswater facility has operated during this week, we have seen significant speed improvements. In many cases, regular parcels have been delivered to Melbourne metro customers the next morning which is promising and reminds us of 2010 – 2014 era before Sunshine started to became a bottleneck.

It’s possible this new facility may be capable of providing a transit time that beats the old Express service for Melbourne metro customers. Maybe our Melbourne customers should consider using regular instead of Express (all express parcel must go out to the airport and may experience delays).

For our interstate clients, the new processing facility may mean that your parcels are loaded onto line haul semi-trailers faster – no more long delays waiting 24hr+ at Sunshine.

Whilst we don’t have sufficient data available as yet to declare this a major success, we certainly have high hopes that at least there is a greater opportunity for transit time improvements and lower risk of delays. Our ability to lodge directly into a major hub is indeed a game changer as most of our competitors will still be hampered by multi-handling funnels in 3rd tier facilities with higher risk of delays.

For those customers that may have lost faith with AusPost during the Pandemic, particularly our Melbourne metro customers, you may wish to give AusPost another go.

Interstate is always going to be more complex and no provider is perfect across all segments. Sendle has good form on Adelaide and Sydney metro segments, so we are watching this new AusPost service to see if it can match.

The recent floods in NSW and QLD may cause problems in the parcel networks over the next couple of weeks, but once we can see clear of abnormal weather events, public holidays, etc. the transit times should continue to see improvements.

Where it all began

It might have been 30 years ago but I remember the moment falling hopelessly in love with Papua New Guinea (PNG) coffees as if it was only yesterday.

Coffee had been a big part of our family during the 1980's, with my hard-working mother running a busy cafe in Newcastle. In those early days, espresso coffee was a rare novelty and also remarkably difficult to prepare as the equipment was not designed for ergonomic or efficient workflow.

With just 3 brands of commercial coffee available - all based in Sydney and delivered by local hospitality distributors, Australia's coffee industry was a remarkably different world compared to today.

There was no information about the coffee, it's origins or what you could expect to taste and it came in large, plain silver packaging that was, wait for it.......already pre-ground.

The coffee was dark roasted to within a fraction of it's dear life, as was the way back then (and seemingly for a long period afterwards) so with literally zero knowledge or awareness about how to manage freshness or even pull shots on Mum’s 3 foot tall, eagle-crested towering Italians brass and copper espresso machine that looked more like a hot water system than a coffee dispenser, we just naturally accepted that whatever we were buying was a quality product. Also because the Rep kept reminding us every time he dropped in for a visit and to grab a free cup of coffee - which was remarkably often.

Back then every coffee by default was served with sugar and the only real variations involved the number of sugars to be added if customers wanted more or less. Hot with 2 was the cry we often heard and it translated into burning the milk till it smelt really bad and then adding 2 sugars.

Adventure calls
A few years later between 1991 and 1993, I was fortunate enough to visit Papua New Guinea on business not related to coffee. It was the first of many trips into PNG during the early 1990's when the country was still under night-time curfews.

The safety and welfare briefing from the boss was short and sweet - make sure you are in the hotel before dark, don't go out at night and stay on high alert 24/7, in other words, strictly business, no sight-seeing, definitely no fun.

My boss was the best manager a person could wish for - always making extra effort to support, empower and mentor those around him whilst always having fun. Alan lived to travel, to explore and see how far he could stretch the envelope of cramming crazy side trips for sight-seeing every time we traveled for business, which was often.

Nevertheless, it was a dangerous period in PNG's history.

Landing at Jacksons airport in Port Moresby, a crowded, chaotic and confusing period ensued trying to find and collect my luggage, barely any signage and people in groups walking in every direction making it impossible to work out how to solve the problem of making a connecting flight to Lae.

Waiting in the airport and asking random strangers the question yielded not much except delightful giggles and cheeky smiles until I sneakily blocked the path of a flight attendant walking briskly through the crowd and was directed to go outside, across to the domestic terminal next door.

Walking into the domestic terminal to the Air Niugini counter, sitting alone in what seemed like an open-sided hangar for 4+ hours in hot, humid weather. Finally, boarding time arrived and there were only 6 passengers on the 40+ seat flight. Peering out the windows of the plane revealed some of the most amazing mountain views on the journey up to high altitudes and over to Lae.

Landing in Nadzab airport late afternoon and the person organized to meet and collect me was nowhere to be found. This was a time before mobile phones and with the airport now completely empty the prospect of panic had set in the more I worried about approaching darkness and my boss's earlier warnings.

Nadzab was almost an hour from Lae city and there were no Taxis waiting outside, I was the only person walking around inside, even the counters were totally abandoned. Feeling stranded there was incredible relief when my lift eventually arrived and apologised as there had been an accident with the road blocked.

By now it was approaching dusk and the trip back to the Lae International Hotel was like traveling through wild jungles as the driver, a senior manager of the company, took a different route to avoid any further road traffic delays or curfew issues - speeding on dark, bumpy roads, no street lighting and at times unsealed with people and livestock walking alongside it was like something out of a movie.

The car had an elaborate array of 2-way radios, walkie-talkies and other communications equipment and oh yeah, underneath the seats were boxes with guns and ammunition if we needed!. 

By the time we arrived at the Lae International Hotel, my sweat-drenched clothes had to be changed after a rather stressful 12hr journey from Brisbane. What I had not been prepared for was the large group of Ex-Pats ensconced in the hotel bar that my colleague was surprisingly keen to introduce. They certainly were not assembled for my arrival as I discovered this was a regular night time ritual.

People from all over the world, living and working in PNG with interesting backgrounds and stories. Pilots, ship captains, explosive experts, ex military special forces, a collection of characters right out of Indiana Jones. One guy even told me a story about owning a Diamond mine in South Africa until it got taken over by bandits and his family murdered.

The evening ritual of meeting at the Hotel bar was one of the most important highlights of the Ex Pat’s day as there was no nightlife or entertainment in Lae due to the curfews. Drinking alcohol seemed like the primary outlet of fun and sure enough those Ex-Pats were high-performance athletes at alcohol consumption. This was worse than the 6 o' clock swill with a relentless race knocking back drinks so fast and furious you'd think it was the final day on earth.

The morning after was painful and my only thought was trying to find coffee and food - you know, how that works when the natural instinct of hangover recovery kicks in. Down at the breakfast buffet was a beautiful array of tropical fruits, large floral arrangements, toast, pastries and I lunged at speed to the pot of brewed coffee and gave it a mighty bear hug. Relief was in sight.

Sitting at the table and downing food as fast as I could, I casually took the first sip of coffee and my jaw dropped - what was this coffee, it's amazing, so sweet, fruity, clean, smooth. Unlike anything else I'd drank before. No sugar, no milk…..just juicy coffee elixir. A second cup beckoned followed by a 3rd before I was starting to get a serious case of caffeine shakes.

Did I have my coffee goggles on or was it the thumping headache from too many glasses of SP Lager the previous night that was clouding my thoughts. Where the hell am I and how did this amazing coffee get to be here in front of me right now. So many questions.

Later that day I happened to mention the morning's coffee experience to a PNG colleague only for him to laugh and retort "that's because PNG has the best coffee in the world !".

At breakfast the following morning, with a clearer mind I took a bit more time to study and savour this delicious brew. Curiosity was getting the better of me and eventually I asked a serving staff what type of coffee was in the carafe ?
The lady smiled at me and's Goroka, from Goroka. As the only person in the buffet she kept whispering Goroka and giggling whenever she passed me - it was hilarious.

It's people that make the difference
Apart from the wonderful coffee, it was the delightful and happy nature of the people from PNG that made the experience surreal. Always smiling, laughing and relaxed, the nationals working in the Lae office seemed to enjoy having visitors from overseas and you could sense they liked explaining the many unique and distinctive aspects of life in PNG, always with a laugh or cheeky giggle.

With a softly spoken manner and wide, infectious smile, Simon was the most senior PNG national working in the Lae office and also a leader of his Wantok. I had noticed during the day Simon was constantly interrupted with people coming up to him and asking questions - although I could not understand what was being said as it was in a local dialect of pidgin english.

Simon kept apologizing to me about the frequent interruptions as if he was deeply embarrassed. There were moments when he disappeared for hours as he was required to "resolve" issues not related to the company - when I asked a staff member where Simon was, they would explain Simon was often asked to help solve problems peacefully and promptly, off-site as Wantok members would walk into the office and ask for him.

I spoke with Simon about my coffee revelations in the Hotel each morning. His facial expression changed to immense joy with that beaming smile as he told me his family are from areas in Goroka with coffee plantations and co-incidentally he was traveling up to Goroka on the weekend to visit the family as there had been on-going disputes about land titles - something I learned would often arise in PNG.

He asked if I wanted to come along for the trip. Remembering my boss's edict about staying put and safe in the hotel for 3 weeks versus the rare opportunity to visit a coffee plantation you can imagine what any young man of seemingly invincible belief does when faced with unexpected excitement over the prospect of boredom and responsibility.

Journey into Highlands jungle
We arranged for Simon to collect me from the Hotel on Saturday morning at 9am as the trip was a solid 5+ hours drive assuming no traffic problems, so I deliberately avoided the Ex-pats Friday night drink-a-thon in order to give my damaged system a chance of recovery and sat excitedly waiting from 8:40am with my back pack for Simon to arrive.

Another interesting lesson I learned about life in PNG - things never really quite run to a defined time schedule. Simon casually rolled up smiling as usual at 1pm without even the slightest worry of being late, saying later as we were driving that he had to attend to unexpected Wantok duties earlier in the day and sometimes these matters take a long period of endless talking and negotiations.

The scenery was breathtaking as we passed old vehicles broken down, lots of people walking on the side of the road, animals and glimpses of shanty shelters made from old pieces of corrugated iron. Closer to Goroka as darkness arrived we passed a coffee mill that process cherry and parchment from local growers.

Detouring from the highway and climbing unsealed mountain tracks in the dark was slow and tedious work, careful traversing deep gutters, muddy courses and washed out areas from previous rains and mud-slides. In some instances, large fallen trees almost as thick as a vehicle is tall had temporary paths hacked around them in the dense rainforest terrain. Simon knew this area instinctively.

Arriving at what appeared to be a clearing with building lights spread around level grounds. The air was smoky with the smell of wood fires a reminder of scout camps when I was a teenager. A cool crispness in the temperature was a welcome relief to the constant humidity in Lae.

About a dozen kids came running and screaming with joy at the sight of the vehicle pulling up and gathered around Simon all shouting and singing at the same time, but they kept a careful distance to peer at me and smile in the semi-darkness of the dim porch lights.

Simon was talking a rapid dialect and soon there were more than 20 people gathered around, nodding their heads in unison to Simon's words as he pointed towards me. Some of the kids came to me with their hands out as I looked at Simon he nodded and said it's OK, they are greeting you and happy to meet you - he yelled out my name twice and some echoed my name back like children do with a teacher in class.

The next morning, Simon took me for a short walk to an elevated ridge where we looked over the coffee trees growing on the sides of mountains as he pointed to the boundaries - it was vast and spectacular. He arranged for one of his younger relatives that had just finished University and spoke good English to take me for a tour of the farm and the community mill whilst Simon attended to family matters.

Simon's relative explained that no pesticides or fertilizers were used as these were too expensive and difficult to source in remote areas of PNG. The micro-climate for growing coffee here was almost perfect with high altitude, rich volcanic soil and plentiful rains. Roads were the biggest problem, sometimes being washed out a few times a year and cutting off access to the plantation.

Simon's relative also told me a story about Simon being a highly respected man in the community and the reason Simon worked in Lae was because it was critical to help support the family as coffee farming was not producing sufficient income.

He told me their coffee was used only as a cash crop to buy food and other household items and he had future plans to turn it into something bigger. Some of the family also worked at timber mills to earn money at different times of the year when not required to work on the coffee farms.

I was amazed at the size of the farms and at the same time puzzled why it was not viable. Of course in hindsight it was my lack of understanding on how the coffee economy functioned, particularly in developing nations.

When we returned to the homestead, I was gifted 2x 250g bricks of Goroka ground coffee by the helpful relative and when trying to pay him Kina notes he refused to take it. He told me this coffee would have been grown on the family's plantation but thought the coffee was likely to have been blended with other lots for grading, roasting and packaging. Their coffee was prized as it was used to lift inferior lots in order to meet the quality standards. As farmers, they did not know the accurate path of the supply chain, just the locations of the mills and after that point traceability was lost.

After lunch, wandering around the homestead and marveled at the ways in which they managed to farm such large plantations with limited equipment and infrastructure. Simon's relative took me to a small set of tins sheds about an hour's drive from the homestead, up and down perilous mountain tracks with dangerous cliffs on some edges.

We sat waiting outside in the car until another 4WD arrived with a gentleman greeting Simon's relative as we went inside. The smell of fresh roasted coffee was over-powering but also the smell and smoke of wood fires was a constant presence in the air.

Here was a small coffee mill, with pulping machines, belts, contraptions and other machinery that looked like it came from the industrial revolution 100 years ago. Simon's relative asked if I wanted to try some coffees as the host put the kettle on to boil. He walked around and scooped up roasted beans from various wooden casks, ground coffee into small cups and then proceeded to brew some sample cups.

Wowsa. A black coffee tasting like tropical fruits with soaring sweetness. The kind host gifted me a bag of beans in a waxed-paper bag with tin-tie. The aromas were heavenly as it wafted through the car on the trip back to Lae. He told me not to grind the coffee beans until I was ready to drink it. Aromas filled my hotel room for days afterwards.

The penny drops
When packing my suitcase for the return flight back to Brisbane, I was careful to ensure the gifts of coffee would get back with me and pass through customs, excited to finally try these wonderful coffees at home. Over the next weeks, sitting on my deck at home savoring every sip of these delicious coffees and remembering amazing moments of that PNG visit, memories that last forever.

It was probably right then, enjoying fabulous PNG coffees that my true obsession with all things coffee was kick-started.

Wild times and amazing memories
On subsequent trips to PNG, along with drinking more delicious coffees, I was lucky to spend time at Rabaul and explore World War 2 artifacts at a museum in Kokopo, snorkeling atolls around Simpson Harbor and sampling diverse tropical lifestyles before the Volcano destroyed the town in 1994.

Trying to depart Rabaul a week before Xmas with fully paid and confirmed tickets, the airline operator deliberately over-books seating and then unofficially accept bribes as the only way to ensure a way out. Facing the prospect of being stranded at Xmas in Rabaul as the airline operator ignored my confirmed ticket, with escalating arguments in the terminal about the "overloading" and families desperate to travel, my local GM walked out to his car, came back into the airport carrying a brown paper bag and then disappeared into an office behind the check-in counter, returning a few minutes later empty handed presumably that was just the right incentive required to ensure I got my seat back. He didn't say a word about what happened, but I could work it out and was super appreciative.

It was just another chapter in what were always eventful trips into PNG - full of interesting moments. From being caught in 2 different armed holdups during broad daylight, one of these incidents was an amusing attempt by a solitary rascal barely 4 foot tall with a spear that was rapidly defused but the other incident was 10 minutes after the payroll had been delivered to our company site - a well planned gig by a group of bandits using crude home-made weapons. I learned later the Police apparently recovered most of the payroll the next day as it had been a commonly repeated crime by the gang.

On another trip to Lae, rascals had tried earnestly throughout the night to smash my hotel door down around 3am. Screaming and banging on the door trying to gain access with a tree trunk as battering ram. I had  wondered curiously why each room had 5x locks on the inside of the door - 2x sets of chains and 2x slide bolts and right now that was blatantly obvious and desperately needed.

Standing naked in my room, heart pounding and leaning with all my strength against the door to buffer each attempt at ramming it open until they gave up, it was a scary time with all the shouting in the hallways and outside the grounds, none of it I could understand.

Apparently, rascals had slipped hotel guards some alcohol earlier in the evening and the guards had passed out asleep. The commotion went on for what seemed like more than an hour before the they eventually left. During the melee, I tried to call reception but there was no answer which only made my paranoia worse.

In the morning, despite the calm and quiet surroundings it took all my courage to exit the room and walk down to Hotel reception. Expecting danger at any moment, from my technician's tool case all I could think of was a small retractable knife and a large screwdriver that I concealed into my socks as defensive weapons in case of confrontations which was not a good idea as it made walking really difficult. Of course, all the advice I had been given beforehand was to avoid any resistance or conflict and let them take whatever they wanted and yet here I was preparing for battle - foolish young men never take advice it seems.

When asking the gentleman at reception about the commotion during the night, he looked at me puzzled and said "what ?" as if I had been dreaming. I assured him it was no dream - my sore and bruised body from pushing against the door a subtle reminder of the reality.

And just when I think danger levels can't be exceeded any further, a bad storm and communications failure in Port Moresby knocked out computer systems. Being in Lae at the time, I was required to get across to Port Moresby urgently. No seats were available on the daily Air Nuigini turbo-prop, so they booked me on the "milk run" cargo flight - the eponymous DHC-6 twin-otter from Nadzab via a few "stops" on the way that nobody warned me about.

I'd been in Twin Otters dozens of times before on the regular half-hour Aeropelican service from Belmont airport in Newcastle as the only way to connect into Sydney flights for interstate or international trips.

With an empty fuselage except for a solitary jump seat behind the cabin, as soon as I sat down the airport worker told me to sit in the left seat of the cabin - like a pilot, this was indeed exciting.

The fuselage was empty and soon after I sat down they hurriedly filled it with sacks and cargo including the jump seat, so I was the only passenger. Steaming humidity, heavy cloud and as I waited in the co-pilot's seat, I could hear an American accent outside the plane arguing with the airport staff outside "what do you mean it's 550kg over weight, I'm not taking off, nope, fix it or else I'm walking away!".  

Some adjustments made to the cargo and finally the pilot sits down into his seat mumbling "idiots" and turns to me to say "hello", "buckle up boy". All I could smell was scotch or whiskey or some type of alcohol and my heart races into a panic. The pilot's playing with the dials, the plane is moving and I'm peering out the small screen ahead as we take off. 

Nadzab airport is a volcanic crater and there are steep mountains around the landscape. Clouds are low, visibility is almost zero with the plane is climbing as fast and as hard as it can go the pilot is sweating bullets and reeking of alcohol.

It's noisy, we can't see a thing except grey clouds, the pilot keeps twisting his neck to stare out the windows and it's obvious he is searching for something when I yell out "what are you looking for ?" and he snaps back "bloody mountains...... these bloody mountains are so dangerous, can't see a thing". At that very moment I sharpen my gaze to look sideways and there's a dark mountain cliff face barely 20 metres away as clouds clear - terrifying. That was too close for comfort and way overdose for any adrenaline junkie.

The 4+ hour plane trip involved 4 heart-stopping landings on the sides of mountains en-route, these were not proper airports but short grass strips designed for minimal tolerance with rock walls at the ends and turning around the plane by hand for take-off. One landing was so scary we bounced back up into the air twice after touching down on "non flat" landing zone finally stopping barely 3 feet from the end.

Despite the risks, PNG is a beautiful country with equally beautiful people and blessed with amazing coffee.

My love affair with PNG remains just as strong today as it was 30 years ago and it's the reason we specifically go above and beyond to source the absolute best available lots from this magnificent origin.

Our PNG Highlands coffee is without doubt the finest PNG coffee you will drink and I reckon it’s one of the best in our line-up.

PNG coffee remains in our DNA, our blends and most importantly it is core to our coffee soul.