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The SA coffee revolution

Coffee has come a long way in South Africa.

by: Charles Denison | 02 May 2013

From instant coffee to moer-koffie to chicory, South Africa has a lot of bad coffee habits. Maybe they’re not bad habits, but rather part of our culture and history?  Either way, South Africa has been going through a rather rapid transition towards specialty coffee in the past eight years or so.
Back in 2005, while still living my student days at UCT, caffeinating myself on bottles of instant, I stumbled upon what I believe to have been the two only micro-roasters in the Cape, Origin and Coffee Roasting Co.

Fast-forward to 2013, and there are now over 33 of these specialty roasters between Cape Town, the winelands, and Hermanus. 

And its not just the cosmopolitan vibe of Cape Town that is attracting this trend, great coffee is being roasted and enjoyed in our lesser known towns, from Clarens to Mossel-Bay, and Port Edward to Curry’s Post.
The move from over-roasted, milky “cappuccinos” topped with mountains of foam and chocolate sprinkles, to cinnamon roasts of flat-whites and cortados (Spanish, espresso "cut" with a small amount of milk to reduce the acidity. The steamed milk doesn’t have much foam, but many baristas make some micro foam for latte art.) is however not a worldly trend.

Just last week, a bunch of Swiss friends escaping the cruel long European winters, were absolutely blown away by the latte-art gracing their perfectly balanced cappuccinos here in Durban. This third wave of coffee exploding through South Africa is only really apparent in Australia, New Zealand, North America, and England, mostly missing out on continental Europe and other major developed nations.

SA recognised as major player
Although we were a bit late at coming to the party, South Africa is now recognised as a serious player in the specialty coffee field. The cover of this months edition of USA based Barista magazine features a South African roaster Bean There, while a world barista champion recently graced us with his presence at one of our own events. 

There are thought to be over 150 roasters in the country, and with this, we now boast our own glossy magazine (The Coffee Mag) dedicated to specialty coffee, as well as a Specialty Coffee Association of South Africa (SCASA).
Besides the huge growth in the specialty market, South Africans not only consume beans from around the world, but we also produce coffee on some beautiful estates (Beaver Creek), notably in KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga (although on a much smaller scale than before).  We even have our own, naturally caffeine-free species, Coffea racemosa, found in the coastal forests of Zululand.
With the more prized and superior arabica coffee prices at a four year low, and interest as well as expectations of good coffee spiking, anticipate even more specialty roasters to be opening up around the country. Coffee is indigenous to Africa, and affects the lives of an estimated 25 million farmers (mostly small scale).

Next time you’re at your local coffee bar start to ask the barista about where your coffee comes from, the blend, and the freshness.  Push for locally roasted beans, as I really believe in South Africa, we have the skills and people to offer the best the world has to offer.

For more coffee quips follow @CharliDenison on twitter.


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