Over the last few years there’s been a definite caffeine surge in Durban’s coffee scene. The sunny east coast city may not be known for having many wine or gin bars, but vibrant coffee roasteries continue to pop up in and around the city every few months. Relative to the Cape, their number is small, but they’re getting it right with exceptional speciality beans. Nikita Buxton chats to a few of Durban’s top roasters and cafés about where the KZN coffee culture is headed next.
“The main change in the Durban coffee scene is the move from mainstream commercial-grade coffee consumption to speciality coffee,” says Trevor Molphy of Firebird Coffee Works. The average Durbanite and coffee consumer has simply become a lot savvier when it comes to their favourite cuppa. No longer purchasing sub-par product, coffee shops and cafés are now taking on beans and blends that are locally produced in order to get a truly great coffee with more love poured into it. Explains Trevor: “The really great thing about this is not just better coffee, but better wholesale prices for the small-scale farmer if he has the inclination to create an exceptional product. This gives him the chance to compete with the big corporation roasters.”
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With a noticeable shift towards high-quality single-origin, sustainable, traceable, and organic beans, Durban’s own coffee roasters and brewers are passionate about making the drink for those who love it, and not just for the energy boost. Craig Charity, award-winning barista and owner of Lineage Coffee, has been in the game for over 10 years and is proud of where things are headed for the city. “Durban is becoming a force to be reckoned with. Quite a few of the past barista champions have come from Durban. I like that some of the cafés are now serving lighter roasted coffee and going with traceable-to-farm options.”
The barista’s knowledge is growing – and the consumer’s expectations along with it. After witnessing a customer at a coffee shop complain about the way a flat white was made, Rowan Mallon from Colombo Coffee realised that “consumers are becoming more and more aware of what makes a good coffee and how it should be served”.
Locally roasted blends really showcase what Durban has to offer. Carin Robinson from Glenwood Bakery explains, “We buy our coffee grinds from local roasters Bean Green and Colombo. We alternate using them in the bakery and I think we may even be the only café that is not solely committed to just one roasting company.” Berea’s quirky coffee hub, Love Coffee, is also big into supporting local: “We’re a proudly African store, and therefore serve amazing all-African beans only. Currently we’re serving a Colombo blend, which is 50% Limu and 50% Bugisu.”. Hip coffee spot, Duke and Duchess serves up Colombo as well, with their Punch in the Mouth blend. The famous chicken takeaway, Afro’s Chicken has also chosen a Durban roaster for their shops and is pouring some delicious brews by Lineage.
Terbodore Coffee Roasters, located in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and in Franschhoek in the Western Cape, has seen a great start to the year with more retail outlets like Pick ‘n Pay and Spar stocking their coffee across the country. Terbodore has also forged a partnership with the Sharks rugby team to make their very own blend.
Durbanite coffee fans and South Africans in general are becoming vastly more enthusiastic about their caffeine beverage of choice, resulting in more variants emerging, from vegan milk options to cold-press brews. Luke Van der Merwe, business manager of popular Duke & Duchess remarks, “there are so many new ideas popping up very frequently and entrepreneurs here are pushing the boundaries in terms of offering a product that is completely new to this traditional society.” Colombo’s sister company, The Factory Café, is currently experimenting with a berry-tea-infused coffee-based drink brewed through a Yama cold coffee brewer, which is proving very popular, while Firebirds is pouring some interesting cold-coffee concoctions, which are ideal for the Durban humidity. Trevor quips, “It’s popular in our boiling summer, when the air is the same temperature and moisture content as an Americano!”
Another craze that has hit the east coast is mobile coffee. Love Coffee has a vintage VW Kombi that travels around KwaZulu-Natal, and I Want My Coffee has a coffee truck parked near busy office parks or on traffic-congested curbs. You can also catch Terbodore‘s Terbo Truck around the Midlands serving up their popular blends and sweet pastries.
So what of the future? Trevor foresees a further rise in speciality coffees shops in Durban. “This will either push out the guys who are serving mainstream coffee, or get them to better themselves and start serving what matters to the customer.”
One thing’s for sure, we’re excited to see what Durban’s coffee culture does next.