AFRI-CAFF: THE BEAN COMES HOME
Coffee may or may not have been discovered by a curious Ethiopian goat shepherd, who became intrigued with the giddy behaviour his flock exhibited after eating the fruits and leaves of a certain bush. Many agree that it categorically originates from a region in a Kingdom known as Kaffa, now modern Ethiopia. Although we do not know who took the name from who – such is the long, long history of a life-changing organic discovery that might first have been noted in the fifth century. Or thirteenth. Some accounts of the shepherd’s story even put it at around 850 AD, but what is certain is that cafés – or coffeehouses – are well documented in the sixteenth century Ottoman Empire. Confused?
One straightforward thing is that, for a long time, Africa reigned as a coffee powerhouse. In 1975, four African nations were listed among the world’s ten leading producers, whilst the same list today counts just Ethiopia – birthplace of the bean – and Uganda, whose native Robusta coffee is used largely in instant coffee. Large scale urbanisation has rolled into land once used to grow coffee, essential crops have replaced it as populations grow, and more profitable careers than coffee farming have emerged – political conflicts and a growing difficulty to compete with places like Vietnam and Brazil (number one and two respectively in global coffee production) have all hampered a once thriving industry. However, the advent of third wave coffee – the considered, single-origin niche brews that have swept up hipsters across the globe – has given the continent a new hope.
A report by Bloomberg suggests that demand for said niche coffees could help revitalise industries in countries outside of typical origins like Ethiopia and Kenya; last year, Singapore’s Olam International Ltd – the third largest agri-business in the world – paid $7.5 million for Schluter S.A., an East African coffee specialist that had been family-owned since the nineteenth century. Where familiar names had been present for decades, nations like Rwanda and Burundi are now on the tips of top barista’s tongues, with well-regarded roasters such as Barcelona’s Nomad, Melbourne’s Industry Beans, and the Brooklyn Roasting Company all boasting beans from small-scale farmers.
It’s not just stylish ‘first world’ cities that are enjoying the output of these in-demand farmers, though. From Nairobi to Namibian capital Windhoek, the power of social media has brought demand for flat whites and pour-overs to surprising corners of the continent; Cape Town’s TRUTH Coffee Roastery has even been dubbed one of the world’s best.
In fact, its craft coffee scene has earned the Mother City plaudits from around the world, and can be credibly compared to that of your more expected style-conscious cities. Bean There, the country’s first to roast fair trade coffee beans; the industrial style motorcycle-showroom- cum-café, Tribe Coffee; Espressolab Microroasters, with its clinical aesthetics and meticulous precision in crafting the finest artisan brews; the excellent Rossetta Roastery at the recently renovated Woodstock exchange; the stylish lifestyle chain YOURS TRULY; Origin Coffee Roasting… Cape Town is now packed with roasters, cafés, and handy baristas.
Starting off with a single location on Church Street, Deluxe Coffeeworks now boasts an additional three Cape Town outlets, a Stellenbosch café, and an outpost in Namibia. Founded by Capetonian Carl Wessel and New Zealander Judd Francis, the duo have a ‘bad boy’ reputation and have forged a coffee empire on playing by their own rules. Which is barely any rules at all. Built on the back of extremely hard work – “when we first opened”, Wessel reminisces, “those were crazy days. We were serving around 400 cups of coffee a day and going through two tons of beans a month. We did shift roasting until like 1am in the morning” — the duo have now travelled the world on the back of their consultancy arm, and are rightly deemed one of the most dominant forces in coffee on the continent.
In Johannesburg, Father Coffee boasts Scandinavian-style interiors with wood-panelled walls and an in-café roaster. Fairtrade roasters Bean There can be found in the City of Gold too, their sustainable approach empowering community development in nations such as Tanzania, Burundi, and DR Congo. With third wave coffee to be found around the city, in other spots like Priest Espresso Bar and The Whippet, Jo’burg’s scene is fast rivalling its compatriot in the shadow of Table Mountain.
From Art Café amid the chaos of Lagos to Pete’s Café – run by Kenyan barista champion Peter Owiti – in Nairobi, as third wave coffee continues its global dominance, the birthplace of the bean is rising as a surprising player on the scene. Coffee is coming home.