There was a time when the only coffee in South Africa was instant. Luckily, those days are long gone and now a cup of java in your blend and style of choice is readily on hand, and nowhere more so than in Cape Town, considered by connoisseurs to be one of the coffee capitals of the world.
And there’s nowhere better to indulge in a cup of Joe than the Cape Town CBD where there are over 60 coffee shops, a key selection of which you will find on this handy digital retail map, which is part of the Cape Town Central City’s Improvement District’s (CCID) #ComeBackToTown campaign, aimed at encouraging visitors to return to town to stimulate the beleaguered economy.
These choice destination venues place the city firmly on any coffee lover’s radar, and in addition to ever-popular chains like Seattle, Vida and Bootleggers (a new branch opened in Bree Street last year), Cape Town now has the largest number of independent roasters in South Africa.
So why is the coffee culture here thriving? Maybe it’s the rainy winters or the abundance of urbanites who survive on their morning fix. Or perhaps it’s because everyone’s realised how good it is to have a familiar place to enjoy a brew as they work remotely, meet a colleague or read a book. Maybe it’s just because the coffee here is so darn good.
If anyone knows the story of Cape Town’s coffee culture, it is David Donde, founder of Truth Coffee. A former co-owner of Origin, the first independent roaster in Cape Town, Donde has been around since the start of the coffee trend. He branched off to form Truth, a highly successful coffee wholesaler that is housed in one of the most interesting venues in town. The outlet, on Buitenkant Street in the East City, was voted Best Coffee Shop in the world in 2015 and 2016 by London’s Daily Telegraph and its steampunk atmosphere (created by iconic designer Haldane Martin) is nothing short of enticing. Donde also started the Speciality Coffee Association of South Africa and is a judge at international coffee competitions. “Cape Town is definitely one of the coffee capitals of the world,” he says. “Not a lot of people know that.”
The secret to Truth’s coffee, Donde explains, is that they buy the best coffee beans in the world. “You have to buy a great brand and then stand out of the way and let the beans roast so that they speak for themselves.” And what Truth blend would he most recommend? Black Honey, he says. “Coffee was becoming overly acidic, so I created a blend that adds a bit of sweetness.”
New kids on the coffee block
There are some newcomers to town too, such as Rosetta Roastery, which first started in Woodstock 10 years ago but opened a branch in Bree Street last year during lockdown. “Our aim is take customers on a coffee journey,” says manager Timothy Porter. “Wherever they are in terms of their coffee knowledge we want to elevate their experience.” Porter explains that each of their blends has its own unique flavour profile, and you need to discover which one you like the most.
On a fundamental level, Rosetta Roastery only sources single-origin specialty grain coffee. “We showcase the uniqueness of the coffee, so have two or three different blends for people to choose from,” he says. What Porter really likes is when customers order two cups of coffee side by side, to get an idea of the diversity of flavour profiles of the blends.
Another outlet on Buitenkant Street that’s pulling in the coffee lovers is Haas Collective. Managing partner Tarryn Burton attributes their success to the fact they like to do things differently. “Not only to stand out from the crowd but to remain true to our eccentric nature, which underpins everything we do,” she says. “We take good coffee very seriously. So, we make sure our freshly roasted coffee is constantly excellent and lovingly prepared by experienced baristas. We believe that the ritual of drinking coffee is (almost) as important as the coffee itself.” The store stocks single-origin beans imported from top coffee destinations across the globe, such as Ethiopia, Brazil and Indonesia. “Our signature house blend – or rather Haas blend – is a firm favourite, roasted onsite and made from a combination of beans with the most delicious flavours. We’re also a proud stockist of Black Insomnia, the world’s strongest coffee,” says Burton.
Then there are those firm favourites who seem to have been around forever. RCaffé on Long Street has been delighting patrons with its coffee for the last 16 years. Now under new ownership, the outlet continues its tradition of offering a locally-sourced, full-bodied, rich and complex blend. Co-owner Chanelle Labuschagne believes the secret to the great coffee served at RCaffé is the love that goes into it. “Our barista makes every cup with love,” she says. This includes incredible coffee art – and we’re not talking your regular hearts. It’s not unusual to see teddy bears, pandas and even tigers in the frothy topping!
Other recommendations for a great cuppa include Ruby’s Bakery and Café, Yours Truly on Loop and Long streets, Dapper Coffee Co (now in new premises, but still on Bree Street) and Stellski Coffee Bar on Loop Street. We could go on …
It’s clear that at the heart of Cape Town’s coffee culture are the passionate roasters, baristas, coffee shop owners and of course, the coffee lovers themselves. It’s no surprise the city’s hottest java outlets continue to thrive.