March 29, 2012

Norfolk Island

This is the first article of an occasional series where Randal and Susan Dennings will be interviewing coffee professionals from around the world, to gather their insights on how to savour and enjoy great coffees. The first report comes from Norfolk Island, a mere 3 hours’ flight from Sydney in the Pacific (north of New Zealand), where they meet Fred Wong, the man behind Anson Coffee.

Fred has been a long time resident of Norfolk Island, for some 30 years. He first came to Norfolk as a cook in the local Chinese restaurant, but loved it so much that he has now raised his family, sunk his roots (including his coffee trees’) deep into the Norfolk soil and … bought the Chinese restaurant itself! Fred brings to Norfolk all of his experiences from his native Hong Kong and his lifelong determination to make a difference and be the best that he can be. This lifelong passion is evidenced by the love and pride he has grafted onto each of the 2,500 coffee trees growing on his plantation of 3 hectares in picturesque Anson Bay, Norfolk Island.

He stands proudly beside his coffee plantation, which includes two varieties of Arabica coffee, with trees up to 12 years old.

Fred is the one man dynamo behind Anson Coffee, having been involved right from the beginning of the modern Norfolk coffee industry. Although coffee had been grown on Norfolk since convict times, its renaissance was engineered by Norfolk pioneers such as Fred, who became enamoured of the Arabica possibilities and commenced production in the ‘90s.

Fred insists on personal oversight of the whole coffee making process at Anson Bay. He and his family are intimately involved in the day to day running of the whole operation, including tending the coffee bushes and the entire coffee production process. Fred finds Norfolk’s mild climate, generous rainfall and rich soils ideal for Arabica coffee tree growth. Flowering generally begins sometime in January each year, since December can often be the drier time of the year. Fred finds that the flowering begins when the bushes get their first burst of rain in the new year. At Anson Coffee, flowering to harvest is around ten months. Fred says: “The longer the berries stay on the tree, the smoother and less bitter the coffee”.

Harvesting occurs from September to December each year, and Fred prefers to manually pick the berries when ripe and sort them to ensure the highest quality coffee. Each tree can produce up to 5 kg of fruit in ideal conditions. Fred employs the wet coffee processing method. During this process, the cherry skin is separated from the bean using a pulping machine, with fermentation occurring thereafter for 2 – 3 days. The beans are then dried (generally in the sun) and then processed via hulling machines to extract the bean from the shell. The beans are then sorted again, to select the largest beans for roasting. Fred finds these are the ones that make the best tasting coffee!

Anson Coffee must be fresh. Accordingly, Fred roasts regularly on the plantation, to ensure the least amount of time between roasting and consumption. Fred says: “We never roast unnecessarily … so we can proudly boast we never sell stale or old coffee”.

Fred is also involved in the island’s tourism industry and has developed one of the houses on the plantation, that is close to 100 years old,  into a retail coffee tasting and tour destination, where island visitors can often be seen relaxing while sipping coffee either on the open verandah amongst wafting cool sea breezes or cuddling cosily next to the convict stove (depending on the weather). It’s a great spot to revel in the whole coffee experience – from tree to cup – while enjoying the taste and aroma of the coffee.

“I can’t keep up with the demand for the coffee on the island,” says Fred. This was confirmed by these reporters, as they heard directly the laments from a number of the store and café owners on Norfolk Island in this regard.

Fred sees a big opportunity for further development and sophistication of Anson Coffee’s products over the coming years. He is rightly proud of his achievements and is determined to continue his 100% involvement in every stage of the production, in order to maintain his high standards and ideals of coffee production (and enjoyment).

When next you visit Norfolk Island, we recommend you check out Fred’s plantation for yourselves via the Norfolk Island Anson Coffee Tour.

We look forward to visiting Fred again and will watch with interest the continuing development of the plantation and his ‘coffee dreams’ in the years to come.

About Norfolk Island:

Norfolk Island is situated in the South Pacific and is only a tiny 5 x 8 kilometres. With a cap of approximately 2,700 people on the island at any one time (up to 1,500 of these are visitors), great lifestyle, friendly locals and … cows and geese having right of way on the roads (!) Norfolk island is a welcome, laid back destination for those seeking to escape.

Its climate is mild, rarely reaching over 30°C nor less than 9°C, and its rainfall is so regular, there is no need for reticulated water. The island boasts a history which started with the First Fleet (it was settled within weeks of Sydney), a grim convict settlement plus a later settlement of … wait for it … the descendants of the Bounty mutineers! The island is physically beautiful, with majestic scenes of pines marching to the seashore and idyllic coral bays.

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