Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cape Town's coffee culture

A couple months ago, my colleague Wanita and I decided to do a story on Cape Town's growing coffee culture for the Horizons magazine. As a coffee lover, this was the perfect excuse to go visit all the coffee places I love. And discover some new ones. One of my new favourites – as featured in the story – is Anthony's Golden Cup. Great quality single-origin coffee, rustic cute atmosphere and what a nice guy Anthony is. He has been importing and roasting his own beans for nearly 50 years now and is knowledgeable and passionate about his trade. Tell him the type of coffee you like to drink and he'll blend some beans for you.
Then there are the regular favourites: Origin, Truth, Haas coffee cult, Deluxe coffeeworks and so on....
My mom was recently down from Harare for a visit, and so i took her to some of these places to try her first single-origin coffee and learn the difference between a flat white and a cappuccino.
And I thought, well perhaps this article could serve as a guide to people starting their coffee adventures in the mother city.

My article below:

Ten years ago, the difference between ordinary coffee and fancy coffee was the cost of Ricoffy versus that of Nescafé. But sometime between then and now, Capetonian coffee-drinkers started becoming more particular about their caffeine fix and the ever-trendy Mother City had
a new flavour of the month to be snobbish about.
Brad Armitage, who, along with Rui Esteves, founded the very successful Vida e Caffè, reckons the global explosion of Starbucks had a profound effect on coffee drinkers. ‘Espresso became the benchmark for experiencing coffee, whether in its purest form or as the base for a flavoured or iced coffee,’ he says. ‘We didn’t feel that ripple effect in South Africa until the late 90s,
once we had been exposed to it through travel or mainstream media. The “revolution” was a slow build, and 10 years ago, when we opened the first Vida e Caffè [in Kloof Street], the South African coffee scene was generally characterised as cafe culture that meant scrambled eggs and milk tart.’
So was Comrade Vida the trailblazing leader of the revolution? ‘Vida e Caffè had a role to play, but essentially it was the consumers that led the revolution,’ says Armitage. ‘They demanded better, real coffee. Now there must be at least five new roasters in Cape Town alone.’
Roasters go a step further than traditional coffee shops in that they buy raw beans sourced directly from farms and plantations and roast the beans themselves. The roasting method and how soon after roasting the coffee is consumed have a profound effect on the flavour. According to David Donde of Truth.Coffeecult, one should allow 36 hours between roasting and
drinking and then consume the coffee within two weeks to appreciate its optimum flavour. As for the roasting process, it’s a science that in some cases borders on obsession.
Espresso Lab has invested in state-of-the-art equipment in their attempt to perfect the art, while Truth.Coffeecult boasts: ‘We roast coffee. Properly.’ The quest for perfection has intrigued a Cape Town public already accumstomed to questioning the origin of their food and wine.
Although Armitage will argue that Capetonians are more discerning than they are snobbish, he admits there will always be a mass segment of the market that is driven purely by price over quality. But that hasn’t prevented purveyors of ‘real’ coffee from opening shop across the City Bowl to satisfy the demands of the growing coffee set.
Jon-Paul Bolus, owner of The Loading Bay coffee shop and restaurant in Green Point, agrees that the launch of Vida e Caffè was what set off cafe culture in South Africa. ‘Basically Vida grew the market and demand, but then as it grew people became more aware of the actual product,’ he says. ‘Hence other smaller establishments started opening up with local roasters and so on. As more speciality roasters and coffee brewers educate the public about what coffee is really about, palates will change.’
‘Coffee has been grown and brewed for hundreds of years. I don’t expect this to go out of fashion. However, people do get caught up in the actual trend … smaller coffee shops are the hip and happening place to be now,’
says Hanno Schwartz, who established Strictly Coffee in 2006 – at the time only the second speciality coffee roaster in the Western Cape. Recently he caused a stir in coffee circles when he became the first local importer of kopi luwak, aka civet coffee. Made from beans extracted from civet droppings, it is one of the world’s rarest and most expensive coffees at R780 for 250g.
Schwartz believes the fact that there are more and more roasters making a living in the Western Cape is an indication of the growing appetite for speciality coffees. ‘In a way, people are going back to basics and that means going back to the land,’ he says. ‘People want to know more about where their food and drink comes from and how it is being produced.
That’s why coffee consumers are immersing themselves in the story of coffee. This makes them interested in terroir and the unique taste profile a geographical growing area can impart. They want to explore different regions, different coffee varieties and discover what makes them distinctive.’
Is coffee becoming the new wine? Talk on the streets of Cape Town seems to indicate that it is, with coffee tastings growing in popularity as converts learn to identify varietals and flavours.
‘Coffee is certainly a topic of interest in the way that wine is,’ says Schwartz. ‘Just like with wine, people want to know … how it has been grown and treated, how it is roasted and
blended, who is making it and something of their personal story and their passion for coffee.’
But he reiterates that not everyone is snobbish about coffee, and the public is genuinely showing a preference for speciality coffee over mass-produced alternatives. According to Schwartz, people can taste the difference and are prepared to make a change, even if it means having fewer cups.
Ironically, just as the fledgling culture of ‘real’ coffee is becoming more established, it may already be under threat. Coffee prices are going up and the public can soon expect to pay considerably more for a cup of joe than they’ve become accustomed to. Bolus predicts the going rate for a good cup of coffee to be between R25 and R30 in the not-too-distant future.
‘There are a variety of factors pushing the coffee prices up,’ he says. ‘One of them being climate change, and how the footprint of ideal growing locations is getting smaller. We should ask ourselves the question about other necessity things we consume regularly. When bread prices go up, it’s due to various factors, like transporting costs and labour prices. We seem to adjust to this but when it comes to coffee, people don’t see what goes on behind the machine: where the raw coffee comes from, who’s farming, how it’s getting here, roasting, right up until it gets in your cup.’
So what makes a good cup of coffee?
Schwartz says it starts with the green bean – how it is cleaned, dried and roasted – and that the barista plays the critical role of preparing a cup to perfection, a science in its own right. Bolus says it’s about working with the correct roasters who source their green beans from speciality farmers. Perfect knowledge of how to brew espresso and the correct attitude are also key
for him. For Armitage, it’s simply about having a good bean, a clean machine, and a barista who really cares about each and every shot.
As for whether this is the start of a national cultural revolution or just the latest Cape Town craze, the jury’s still out. Schwartz says ‘coffee culture is not only a Cape Town thing, but it
seems the boutique coffee roasters are. We found it very interesting that you don’t find very many boutique roasters in Johannesburg and Pretoria. The way Capetonians go to a coffee shop to drink coffee is not the way the people in Joburg and Pretoria do it. Capetonians are more cosmopolitan that way and indulge in coffee for the sheer pleasure of it, whereas up north coffee is more about something to drink over a meeting.’
Armitage, on the other hand, believes the phenomenon is spreading. ‘Bean There in Johannesburg is doing some great stuff. People everywhere are coffee drinkers. Durban has
a fierce scene too.’
But they all agree on one point: there are certain things you never say to a barista.
‘No flavours! No hazelnut, caramel concoctions,’ warns Armitage.
‘Decaffeinated coffee – the process of decaf coffee is harmful to your body. Please do your research,’ says Bolus.
‘Asking for a cup of tea’, says Schwartz with a smile.

Six coffee shops to visit in town:

Your uncle in the coffee business
Nearly 50 years before speciality coffee became cool, Anthony’s Golden Cup was serving imported single-origin coffee and blends roasted and freshly ground in a tiny Loop Street bolt-hole. There are just five small tables in the shop, with bottle-green tablecloths and buckled metal sugar bowls. A diverse display of coffee pots and plungers, press clippings, flags and coffee beans – raw and roasted – are crammed into limited space, along with plastic jars of rusks and biscuits. Celebs in town could while away the afternoon at the table behind the door without anyone knowing they were there. First-time patrons marvel at the selection of beans from Africa and South America, as well as flavours such as hazelnut and Irish cream, all served with friendly conversation. It’s like drinking really good coffee in your gran’s kitchen.
Cost of a cappuccino: R12

The regular
Tucked up the narrow alley that is Church Street, Deluxe Coffeeworks is so small one could miss it. But once inside, the soundtrack of 50s-style rock ’n’ roll coupled with the smell of fresh coffee made it a welcome escape from the cold. No surprise, then, that caffeine fiends who work in the area call it their second home. The sitting options are few – four stools around the bar, an armchair and a couple of high chairs looking onto the street. Half of these were occupied
by solitary customers engrossed in novels, notepads and Wallpaper magazine, while the three skater-boy types behind the bar did a brisk trade in takeaways – more than one patron ordering their usual.
Cost of a cappuccino: R12

Where the cool kids go
There’s a sizeable parking area opposite Origin Roastery in Green Point, with an hour free for patrons, yet most of the crowd look like they arrived on Vespas. The windowless restaurant has
the industrial warehouse look that has become so popular in the inner city, and the vibe is San Francisco basement-level eatery meets New York coffee hub. There is a courtyard, and a more tranquil tearoom in the back. Fifteen minutes before closing on a Saturday every table was occupied by well-dressed little groups engaged in animated conversation. No lone, bookish types here. Fast-paced beats added to the buzz, as did the coffee – the house blend packs a punch. But there are other options displayed in aromatic sacks lining the counter. Homesick New Yorkers will feel at home.
Cost of a cappuccino: R20

Sidewalk cafe
Next door to Origin, The Loading Bay opens onto Hudson Street so patrons get a faceful of Table Mountain with each sip of their creamy cappuccino. The openness and natural light give it an airy feel although the space is actually rather small. The crowd is likely to be wearing snoods or jeans with sandals, and as likely to have a demure golden Labrador dozing at their feet. Older patrons share long tables with 30-something hipsters, all intent on their own business with not a glance at what anyone else is wearing. The staff’s warm smiles invite one to linger and order lunch, even though that was never the intention. Several lone patrons mess about on Macbooks or page through a Monocle magazine from the stack provided. The clothing store attached has a great collection of denim.
Cost of cappuccino: R17

Crazy beautiful
If the Mad Hatter opened a coffee shop from home, it might be something like Haas. Friendly, informal and a little off-the-wall, it was the first SA coffee shop to add rare kopi luwak (civet coffee) to its extensive menu of speciality coffees. We mistakenly entered the chocolate-brown building in the Bo-Kaap through the kitchen, and the staff ushered us through without batting an eyelid. They were, in fact, wearing hats. Patrons perch on ottomans and couches in what can only be called a lounge, or settle into a nook in the courtyard out back. Connecting the
two is the design part of the collective, where local artists such as John Bauer and Francois Irvine have their work on display. Collectors will find quirky contemporary jewellery, paintings, ceramics and potentially even the artists themselves.
Cost of a cappuccino: R18

Experimental coffee
The clinical white walls of Espresso Lab Microroasters resemble those of a science laboratory, and that’s what it is, in a manner of speaking. It has invested in state-of-the-art roasting equipment, which is used to experiment with different roasts and blends. The ‘lab rats’ are beans imported green from farms, estates and cooperatives around the world. These guys love coffee and all the intricate processes that go into producing a great cup, and while they’re happy to share their knowledge, novices are not made to feel ignorant and there’s no eyebrow-raising from the purists when a layman adds milk and sugar. Located in The Old Biscuit Mill in Salt River, it’s a good first stop for early risers hoping to beat the crowds at the Saturday market.
Cost of a cappuccino: R16


Anonymous said...

Great article

Amy Hopkins said...

Thanks very much :-)

Anonymous said...

You guys should sample some nice origin coffee at Coffee Rock Roasters in Brackenfell. It is a new rostery but great stuff!!!!