The 12kg coffee roaster at the Tanna Coffee outlet in Mele, a village next to Port Vila, Vanuatu's capital.
The 12kg coffee roaster at the Tanna Coffee outlet in Mele, a village next to Port Vila, Vanuatu's capital. Letea Cavander

Eco-tourism brews in Vanuatu following Cyclone Pam

AS THE wind of Cyclone Pam howled above a coffee factory on the small island of Tanna, in Vanuatu, and skylights broke above them, a group of coffee growers worked to protect the piles of beans inside. They put down plastic, some of them lying on it to help others who worked on the ropes to keep the plastic down. As their coffee plantations were razed, they risked their lives for Terry Adlington's stock.

Terry opened the doors of his coffee factory a few days following the storm, expecting the worst. The Tanna Coffee owner and his team from Port Vila, on the main island Efate, had already spent hours cutting his LandCruiser out of the garage so he could travel to the factory.

"I thought Port Vila was bad,” Terry said. "Tanna was so much worse. We turned into the factory and I thought 'what a mess'.”

The 12kg coffee roaster at the Tanna Coffee outlet in Mele, a suburb of Port Vila, Vanuatu's capital.
The 12kg coffee roaster at the Tanna Coffee outlet in Mele, a suburb of Port Vila, Vanuatu's capital. Letea Cavander

The category five cyclone decimated the small island nation of Vanuatu overnight on March 13 last year. The death toll was 15 and countless villagers across more than 80 islands lost their crops, their animals and their homes.

The coffee growers Terry traded with did not escape the ferocity of the cyclone either. Tanna is a small island, home to an active volcano. The volcanic soil makes perfect growing conditions for coffee plants.

In total, seven chiefs' and 650 landowners' crops were destroyed by Cyclone Pam's wind and rain. But because Terry's factory roof held, and because of the growers' generous act, Terry saved about 45 tonnes of coffee beans bound for cafes and tourism outlets across Port Vila.

Terry recounted the story with tears running down his face. The Aussie expat who used to live in the Tweed region in northern New South Wales, but moved to Vanuatu 18 years ago, took a major business and personal hit following the cyclone. On track to produce 100 tonnes of coffee last year, Terry's business produced only eight tonnes following Cyclone Pam.

Green beans, roasted beans and ground coffee beans.
Green beans, roasted beans and ground coffee beans. Letea Cavander

In the days following the cyclone, Terry's partner, Jania, also died following a battle with cancer. But despite their grief, Terry and his daughter, Yasmine Adlington-Walden, who travels to Port Vila to help her father in the operations side of the business, refused to give in.

"On a positive note though, (Cyclone Pam) put us on the map for our suffering,” Yasmine said.

"I said to dad, 'we've got to polish this turd so let's put us on the map while all eyes are on us.”

As the pair works with the Tanna landowners to re-establish the coffee plants on Tanna (90% of 750,000 trees were destroyed in the cyclone), Yasmine is exploring the export market to Asia, Australia and New Zealand. The pair is also in the middle of building what they are calling the Port Vila Eco-Tourism Centre. When completed, they hope to give visitors access to five companies' goods including the famous Vanuatu beer, Tusker, chocolate and essential oils.

Tanna chief Francis Iauiap, Tanna Coffee owner Terry Adlington and Terry's daughter Yasmine Adlington-Walden in what will become a Port Vila eco-tourism attraction.
Tanna chief Francis Iauiap, Tanna Coffee owner Terry Adlington and Terry's daughter Yasmine Adlington-Walden in what will become a Port Vila eco-tourism attraction. Letea Cavander

Tourists can also still visit the Tanna Coffee outlet in the village of Mele, next to Port Vila, to watch the roaster at work and buy a decent cup of coffee.

The outlet is in the oldest church on the island, built in 1903, and the roaster now takes pride of place where priests would have once delivered their sermons. The green wheelie bins full of beans line the front of the church like altar boys and the smell of roasting coffee coming out of the 12kg roaster has replaced the scent of incense.

On "ship days”, local-speak for visits from passing cruiseliners, the small church is packed with tourists after a drop and plunger coffee to take home. On other, quieter days, a small but steady stream of tourists continue their worship of coffee overseas.

"Tanna Coffee has a long story, but a beautiful story. It's full of farmers' stories,” Yasmine said.



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