Coffee Plantations

Coffee has been grown on 'Atiu for well over a century. The plant was introduced to 'Atiu by early-19th-century traders and missionaries, and by the turn of the century there was a thriving coffee industry on 'Atiu, producing almost 50 tonnes of coffee each year. Unfortunately, like many small-scale agricultural industries in the Cooks, 'Atiu's coffee trade suffered many ups and downs over the following century, and by the 1980s most of the coffee beans growing on the island were used purely for personal consumption.

Thankfully, the industry is now thriving, thanks to two enterprising 'Atiuan residents. German-born Juergen Manske-Eimke moved to 'Atiu in the 1980s, set up a coffee factory and formed the Atiu Coffee Growers Association. Mata Arai, a local 'Atiuan woman whose family had farmed coffee on the island in the 1950s, also returned to resume production in the mid-1990s.

The 'Atiu coffee business is rebounding; about 8 tonnes of roasted coffee is exported annually, grown on plantations totalling about 22 hectares. The supermarkets, resorts and restaurants of Rarotonga consume more than half of 'Atiu's production; the rest is exported to New Zealand, Tahiti and the USA.

The two brands of coffee produced on 'Atiu are Juergen's Atiu Coffee (§§ 33031; www .adc.co.ck/coffee.htm), and Mata's Atiu Island Coffee (§§ 33088). Atiu Coffee is larger and the coffee is machine-roasted in the factory in Mapu-mai village. Mata's Atiu Island Coffee is still hand-picked, hand-dried and hand-roasted the traditional way, using coconut cream to give the coffee its distinctive flavour.

The issue of which coffee is best remains a source of heated debate on the island, so you'll just have to buy them both and decide for yourself. You can buy Atiu Coffee, ground or whole beans, from the ADC store for about NZ$12, or via Juergen's website. Atiu Island Coffee is sold at the Centre Store and Atiu Villas for about NZ$12. Both brands are also available (for a premium) on Rarotonga - try Foodland or the CITC Supermarket in Avarua, or some of the smaller craft shops around the island.

If you're a coffee fiend, both growers offer coffee tours. Juergen's tour introduces you to his plantation and the Atiu Coffee Factory, and ends with coffee tasting at the café at the Atiu Fibre Arts Studio (opposite). Mata's Atiu Island Coffee tour includes a visit to her coffee plantations, deep in the 'Atiuan bush, and you'll also see how the coffee is sorted, dried and roasted outside her house, before trying a cup or two accompanied by homemade pancakes. Both tours cost NZ$ 15, and you can buy bags of coffee at a discount at the end of the tour.

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