A trip around the Garden Route with Winston Thomas

Tuesday, 12 March, 2019

Words by WInston Thomas for MoreFlavour

Sitting in a café having completed my Garden Route/PE trip. I am so glad I decided to take a day off before leaving back to Cape Town, giving myself the opportunity to rest but also reflect on what an amazing week it has been.

What was meant to be a trip where others were able to learn from me, ended up being a trip where I’ve been on the receiving end of learning more than anyone else. Before leaving I told myself that I need to approach this trip with an open mind and fresh perspective in order to observe and learn from the experiences. Looking back now it has exceeded my expectations. The trip materialized from a conversation I had with Karla and Nelonia from Krust Café in George, after meeting in Durban for Creative Coffee Week. They wanted me to take a trip up the garden route and visit their store. This was followed by a call from Ben at Brothers Coffee in Grootbrak and doing training with Chris from Holiday Coffee a few weeks later requesting the same. Fast forward a couple of months and we managed to make it happen.

The first stop was Brothers Coffee in Grootbrak (also known as Greatbrak depending on your language preference, or so they say). The owner is Ben Ferreira. I met Ben in Kampala Uganda last year at the AFCA conference and he came to my rescue backstage when I needed help polishing equipment and sourcing ice. After my set Ben ensued to take me on a short tour of the city. Having lived there for more than 8 years Ben was very clued up with the history and demographic of the city and it was amazing to listen to all of his family adventures in Uganda and other African countries. Ben’s roastery is very unique. It is literally inside his house on a somewhat secluded plot in the bush. It’s surrounded by his family chickens, dogs and the odd Monkey who comes to visit from the other side of the fence. Ben has added a bar and café space to the roastery which is open to the public. In addition to this he has set up an amazing bar in one of the local Grootbrak restaurants – Die Peperboom. This acts as a showroom for his coffee and various retail products.

Groot Brak AeroPress View

Brewing an aeropress with a killer view on my first morning in Grootbrak!

Having spent 3 of my days on the trip staying at Ben’s place and observing him excitedly chatting to the locals – I realize that he has been the coffee catalyst in a large part of this Garden Route. This was evident when we hosted a mini Aeropress and Cup Tasters Competition at the Peperboom restaurant. One of my fondest memories of the trip was asking the crowd for a Afrikaans translation for the word “extraction” and having one of the “Ooms” in the crowd shout out “die word wat hy soek is TREK!”

From Brothers I moved on to two of Ben’s clients on respective days. Krust café in George and The Merchant Coffee in Mossel Bay. If the phrase “running a tight ship” is a foreign concept to you, one visit to the ship that is Krust Café will easily put it into perspective. I have yet to visit a café in Melbourne but based on what I’ve heard and read, Krust Café must be one of South Africa’s closest comparisons. What owners Nelonia and Karla do so well is striking a balance between quality and productivity – this can be said for their coffee, food and service. I was amazed at the level of efficiency of staff while still being able to keep a up a standard of engagement that left patrons waving goodbye with joy as they left the store. I had a chance to chat to some customers and almost everyone spoke of how often they came to the store and their “celebrity status” amongst staff which lead me to believe that they staff managed to make every single one of them feel special.

The Merchant coffee Mossel Bay

The faces behind the Merchant 

After my stay with Ben was complete, I moved on to surf town Jeffrey’s Bay to Infood Coffee Society. This was my first trip to J-Bay and, knowing very little about Infood other than my brother Nigel to came in second place at SA Latte Champs 2018 and their new roastery, I was welcomed with so much warmth by owner Jayne who proceeded to show me around their original store. I think I managed to introduce myself to almost every staff member (roughly 20 or more) and pulled out some Shona and Xhosa as well! Infood arranged a lucky draw which allowed customers to have a cortado with me and stand a chance of winning a pretty sweet coffee hamper. After spending a couple of hours at the first store I moved over to the second store closer to the ocean.

This had a completely different feel and made me think of a specialty café on the beach of an exotic island. Once again, the staff were so welcoming and were so hungry to learn, asking me so many questions! I squeezed in lunch between talking to the staff and locals then made my way over to the new roastery. Now, to call this new space a roastery is a bit of an understatement. It’s a combination of a showroom, roastery, coffee bar, brewing lab, training center and they serve waffles! I got a chance to spend time with staff talking competition and coffee in general, cupped Hilary’s (one of their Barista’s who competed at Nationals) comp coffee and sat in on one of his comp sets. This is a young enthusiastic team and with the resources at their disposal led by roast master and poker face Percy, they are on the road to achieving big things!

My final stop after a very busy week was Holiday Coffee in PE owned by my very good friend Chris Faragher. I met Chris at Barista Competitions where he had judged me a couple of times and I have also done some SCA training with him before. I’ve known Chris as being a perfectionist. But I got to know his fun side after spending the week with him and the name of the café expressed this perfectly. The vibe and interior, Chris’s collection of floral shirts and the people (on both sides of the bar) whatever the case may be, Chris has tapped into it all and created a space where you literally feel like you are on holiday with the added extra of delicious coffee. I arrived on Friday evening straight after my shift at Infood to co-host a Latte Art smackdown with Chris.

One of the friendliest faces of the friendly city!

We started off making coffee for the guests and I cannot express how much fun it was working bar on a Friday night for Chris’s customers. The turn-out was great and we had around 9 guys enter the comp. Smiles and laughs all around I got another taste of the strong bond between coffee folk along the Garden Route and PE. We were up early the next morning to pick up fresh pastries for the Saturday shift. It was very interesting to see the difference between a typical Saturday morning shift in PE versus what we usually experience in Cape Town. It started off very slow and gradually picked up but never passed the point of craziness we experience in Cape Town. I was grateful for this because it gave me more time to engage with Chris, his staff and customers and get a feel for the scene in PE and what the folks think of specialty coffee. In between making coffee for customers we had a chance to brew one of the single origins that Ben from Brothers Coffee had given to me to taste and sample. It was the perfect end to the week!

For the first few years of working in coffee I had been confined to the progressive and fast paced coffee scene in Cape Town. I loved it. And I still do. But in the last 2 years I’ve gotten the opportunity to explore what the rest of the country has to offer and gain a better understanding of what the industry is like outside of Cape Town. This trip along the Garden Route and stopping in PE was a humbling and inspiring experience – seeing individuals who don’t have a progressive audience of coffee drinkers working hard to educate and translate what can seem like an exaggerated and overpriced product to some. Garden Route and PE you have cemented a place in my heart and I hope to be back soon!

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