Everyone wants to live in Cape Town! At least if you ask the South Africans. And I do not doubt it: behind the scenes Cape Town has worked its way up as one of the top destinations for sun craving holidaymakers and sophisticated cosmopolitans alike.
Welcome to follow the coffee crumbs across the Town!
Origin’s coffee shop and barista school in De Waterkant are located in an old red brick building which has that cool and urban look of a rundown warehouse. Inside, the atmosphere is like in any other, sophisticated big city coffee shop, and the customers are greeted with both scent and sight: the beans are roasted in the coffee shop itself.
As my very first cup of coffee in Cape Town I make the mistake of tasting the Salvadorean Miravalle, which was recommended by the barista, and had recently succeeded in the country’s Cup Of Excellence competition. Miravalle’s subtle and balanced flavours leave a velvety feel on my pallet, and I instantly know that even if I didn’t taste any other cups of coffee in Cape Town, the trip would have been worth it already.
Origin Coffee Roasting was established in 2006 to lift up the African coffee culture to the place it deserves: after all, coffee’s origins are in Africa.
On a Sunday drive around the Cape of Good Hope I stop in Muizenberg, which is a coastal town about fifteen minutes from Cape Town. If you are a surfer, this is your beach. And if you are a coffee lover, Knead is your coffee shop.
I decide to order my first Capetonian red cappuccino and a brioche french toast. The toast is served with a mighty stack of lightly fried fruits. A drizzle of honey, and the breakfast is perfect. Red cappuccino is made with rooibos, which is a Western Cape speciality, and before travelling here I had read that it is the thing to taste in Cape Town if you love coffee. Rooibos brings a bit of softness to the coffee but, all in all, its sweetness is a bit too overpowering for my liking – I fear it takes away the kick necessary for the day’s first cup.
Nevertheless, I leave Knead content and full, and smile widely as I pass the famous and colourful Victorian bathing houses on my way around the Cape of Good Hope.
Giovanni’s is a gathering place for the local Jewish community, tells my local coffee guide. Giovanni’s is an Italian deli and the buzz reminds me of the narrow and noisy alleyways in Rome. The deli is packed, and every space is used as a seating area – even the terrace railing where we manage to find a spot for two.
I get my portion of Sicilian caponata, pastrami, Bocconcini cheese, salmon with wasabi and Lebanese olives with salad leaves. The coffee is prepared at a bar in the terrace where three baristas busy themselves with the hissing machines.
As I savour my espresso for the perfect lunch hour kick, I take in the busy atmosphere and the slight cool sea breeze. Giovanni’s casual lunch made of fresh, good quality ingredients enjoyed with fellow foodies has stayed in my memories as one of the main demonstrations Cape Town’s versatile culinary culture.
4. Bean There
I happened to bump into Bean There by a chance as I walked from the busy Long Street (main photo) towards Bo-Kaap which is a colourful Malaysian district. I remember seeing the coffee shop’s witty name in an article about coffice culture in Cape Town. And the word coffice truly captures the atmosphere in Bean There: the customers haven’t come here for an afternoon’s chit chat, but are using the space as an extension of their offices. The humming of the roaster and the sizzling of the espresso machine manage to hide the keyboards’ constant tapping only occasionally.
As many other Cape Town coffee shops, also Bean There prefer Fair Trade and single origin coffee. You can buy, for example, Ethiopian and Burundian coffees for 65 to 70 rands per 250 grams – this is a place for some serious bean shopping. And while on Wale Street, pop into the artisan chocolate shop Honest next door. The word ‘artisan’ is often added not only to baking and chocolate produce in Cape Town, but also to coffee shops: the artisan coffee makers have passion for the produce, and value the centuries old tradition of professional pride.
5. Jason Bakery
On Bree Street, you’ll find a coffee shop after a coffee shop, and one among them is Jason Bakery. Jason in considered as a warm and friendly spot for breakfast while browsing through your morning papers. Eventhough it’s early, the terrace is full and I find a place indoors on a high stool by the window.
I decide to have another go at red cappuccino as I felt the one I tasted in Knead did not live up to my (high) expectations. The waitress asks if I would like to have cinnamon instead of chilli flakes in my coffee. Luckily my instinct advices me to pass on the chilli flakes, and when my coffee arrives and I take my first sip I pat myself on the shoulder for the wise decision.
Now we’re talking! I finally understand why this Capetonian concoction red cappuccino was so highly praised in food magazines. I had had my doubts over using rooibos to flavour coffee, but Jason Bakery’s red coffee reveals its versatile use: I can taste only a hint of its sweetness somewhere in the background of my coffee’s full and round flavours, and the chilli’s heat isn’t too much to take – even for a sissy Finn like myself.
6. Deluxe Coffeeworks
I find Deluxe Coffeeworks by a chance when walking from the infamous blocks of District Six to the trendy Long Street. The barista is sitting on the stairs watching people passing by but makes room to let me enter the coffee shop.
The décor could feature in any interior design magazine, and the customers are typical for an urban coffee house: hipsters. In fact, Deluxe Coffeeworks seems to epitomise the whole concept of hipsterism from its choice of music to the art on its walls. Deluxe Coffeeworks takes pride on its main produce, coffee, and do not fiddle with fancy baking or WiFi – this is not a coffice!
I have arrived just before closing time and the working Capetonians pop in every other minute for the day’s last take away coffee. “This is today’s last, I swear,” jokes the barista and flips up the volume for The Black Keys.
7. Haas Collective
Even though Origin made a huge impression on me, Haas Collective in Bo-Kaap reaches the same level of coffee heaven – and not just because they serve the infamous coffee bean which has travelled through the guts of a civet.
The clientele in Haas Collective surprises me: greying gentlemen dressed in cool white cotton with beautiful dames sipping elegantly from their tiny cups and a group of businessmen apparently practicing some religious ritual over their coffees. I sit on a velvety, purple armchair and watch the busy baristas at work. They are clad in black trousers and white casual shirts and have felt top hats dangling on their heads. The style is sophisticated burlesque – an intriguing mix of humour aiming for seriousness.
I got lost when walking to Bo-Kaap, and the day was hot, so I decide to order a cool drink as a starter – but this is not an excuse for not ordering civet poo coffee! I stick with my rooibos theme and order Red Apple. It turns out to be a cinnamon flavoured rooibos coffee poured on top of ice and apple juice. The ice and juice in the bottom form one, light coloured layer on top of which the red rooibos with cinnamon flakes forms a separate layer – an impressive and beautiful drink which I am sad to destroy by drinking. Another strike for rooibos in coffee: Red Apple turns out to be a perfect choice after tramping Cape Town’s hot streets under the glaring afternoon sun.
8. Anthony’s Golden Cup of Coffee
But the coffee shop is not advertised in vain as an institutionalised part of Cape Town’s coffee culture. The space is crammed and shady, and the tables are covered with old-fashioned, red and white squared wax table cloths. Anthony’s coffee shop is from the times way before coffice culture. Next to the old and used grinder stands even older scales: what a contrast to the black and shiny machines I have seen in Cape Town’s other coffee shops!
Anthony turns out to be very sympathetic, ageless gentleman. With laughing eyes he recommends me his Out of Africa blend for a good morning kick. He tells he has been working with coffee for fifty years, and judging by his smiling face I conclude he has not regretted a day.
I enjoy my coffee at the terrace where it’s cooler than inside. The coffee is simple and strong and the dark roast perfect for the day’s first cup. As I keep sipping my coffee, I get the feeling that my coffee tour in Cape Town is soon coming to its end: the temperature keeps rising higher and higher by the hour.
Waterfront is Cape Town’s shopping and restaurant centre, especially convenient for tourists for its location at the harbour where you can take the ferry to Robben Island or just admire the magnificent silhouette of Table Mountain.
Melissa’s is a chain and sells high-quality produce from frozen goods to laptop cases. There are seven Melissa’s in Cape Town, and I have heard that they are favoured by local housewives spending some me-time away from domestic duties. The décor imitates French pastoral with its red and white marquees and iron legged wooden tables.
Because the temperature has risen to such heights I estimate that drinking coffee would be a safety hazard for my heart, so I order some good old rooibos tea – without any shots of espressos. Usually the locals enjoy their tea with some rusks, bulky and hard biscuits and personal favourites of mine, but just to blend in with the French ambiance I get some macaroons. Perfect pitstop before checking what the local young designer talent is selling just around the corner at YDE.
10. Espresso Lab
The highlight of my stay in Cape Town is the Saturday food market in former factory buildings in Old Biscuit Mill. The market was held for the first time in 2006 when the organisers wanted to bring the old, small town market culture into urban setting. Now the market in Woodstock is popular among the locals and tourists alike, and the best restaurants and coffee shops in town have their stands here. So you might as well squeeze your culinary tour in one Saturday – the waist area may expand, as there are more than hundred stands to sample!
Perhaps the highest praise from coffee enthusiasts go to The Espresso Laboratory. Its décor is simple and white with some black highlights, and the coffee shop provides drinks for the deli next door as well. So I order my cup from here and move to the deli area for a late breakfast.
The coffee does not shame the atmosphere and milieu in Old Biscuit Mill. The flavours are balanced and simple – here you get coffee as coffee. And the quiet spot I managed to find in the middle of a busy Saturday morning market in Cape Town is the perfect end for my coffee tour.
I could start it from the beginning, the Origin, again anytime.