Coffee culture in South Africa

  • 07 August 2015 | Christine Marot
Pop-up coffee shops are one of the latest trends welcomed by lovers of the brew. Image courtesy of Londonaddict

Although South Africans have garnered a reputation as tea lovers, largely thanks to our colonial heritage, the past decade has seen a marked change in preference to coffee. We’re not talking any old coffee, either. The palate of the emerging South African coffee-lover has developed a taste for quality, speciality coffee.

Gone are the days of instant blends from a tin or traditional “boeretroos” black farmer’s coffee, traditionally drunk from an enamel mug. Today it’s all about baristas, roasteries, lattes, mocca, Java, Arabica and organic cappuccino.

Coffee is indigenous to Africa, and grown by an estimated 25-million farmers, primarily in Ethiopia, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Kenya. Although South Africa is not yet a commercial player, coffee is successfully grown as far afield as Crown Coffee in Tzaneen, Limpopo province, Beaver Creek Coffee Estate in Port Edward, KwaZulu-Natal and Sabie Valley Coffee in Mpumalanga. We even have a caffeine-free bean, Coffea racemosa, grown along the Zululand coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

By 2013 South Africa had established more than 30 coffee roasteries in the Cape alone. Today there are in excess of 150 coffee roasters in the country, backed by a handful of dedicated coffee publications such as The Coffee Mag, Instagram accounts such as @womenandcoffee and the formation of the Speciality Coffee Association of South Africa.

Nothing beats a good organic cappuccino. Image courtesy of Blyzz

The search for quality coffee has seen huge growth in the food and beverage sector, with multiple franchises and independent boutique coffee shops popping up in every sizeable town across the country.

The aesthetically pleasing cappuccino, today with a variety of branding and imagery sitting atop the foamy cap, may have led the charge, but there’s definitely more discernment today of the subtleties and constituents of good coffee – and how to make it.

Looking at future trends, Chris Brown, director at The Daily Buzz, a local chain of upmarket workplace coffee bars, said in 2013, “I believe we will also see more grinding of the beans on demand, as well as a steady increase in the demand for Fair Trade and organic coffee, even though it will still take up only a fraction of the market.”

Serving quality coffee is a serious business and those whose trade is dependent on a good brew have resorted to employing trained baristas to keep a shopping list of different coffees at the ready.

Early morning commuters form a sizeable part of the coffee-drinking market. In response niche outlets in business hubs offer everything from butterscotch-and-honey lattes to double-espressos – whatever it takes to kick the economy into high gear.

Having imported the talent to turn locally produced beans into pleasing beverages, has led to South Africa being officially recognised as a serious contender in the speciality coffee arena. International coffee publication Barista carried a feature on emerging barista talent such as South Africa’s 2014 champion, Craig Charity of Lineage Coffee in Hillcrest, KwaZulu-Natal.

Brown acknowledges the willingness of South Africans to experiment with new flavours and advanced brewing methods. "We are seeing a change in the local coffee culture - people are becoming more discerning and aware when it comes to drinking coffee."