Caffeine Fuelled: The Garage Forecourt Wars

Wednesday, 5 September, 2018

Words by Nick Dall

Originally published in Issue 21 of The Coffee Magazine

Because fuel is so strictly regulated in South Africa, petrol stations are looking for other ways to stand out. The battle for the forecourt is on, and coffee is at its very heart. We catch up with some of the key players.

Think back to your last road trip. How did you decide where to fill up? Chances are it had nothing to do with the quality of the fuel itself. Growing up, my family’s red kombi suffered an almost magnetic pull towards the nation’s Wimpy petrol stations, from Zeerus to Ceres. These days I don’t get quite as excited about Wimpy (although my kids are partial to a strawberry milkshake), but I do care a lot about the coffee I drink. 

Petrol station coffee used to be fairly similar to the stuff that comes out of the petrol pumps, but in recent years fuel companies and garage owners have really upped their game. With a bit of thought it’s possible to get a damned fine cup of Joe every time you fill up – both in the urban jungle and on the Platteland.

Where it all began

About 16 years ago, Caltex – after researching international trends in fuel retail – approached Seattle Coffee Company to open a 24-hour convenience bar at their V&A Waterfront filling station. To say the concept took off would be an understatement, says Seattle’s CEO Pete Howie. Customers could suddenly get great coffee “24 hours a day, without having to fight the parking system.” Fast forward to 2017 and Seattle has over 100 stores in Caltex Freshstops all over Mzansi.

Howie realised immediately that these tiny stores made excellent business sense. Capital setup was low and – especially in the early 2000s – rentals in bigger shopping centres were through the roof. Rents have come down a bit since then, but at one point “profits from a 9m² kiosk could rival those of a flagship branch in a big shopping centre.”

From Day One, Seattle vowed to maintain their exacting quality standards in every single store. All of their forecourt branches, no matter how small, feature human baristas, La Marzocco FB80s and the signature Seattle blend. Deciding against automatic machines wasn’t only about quality, says Howie, as customers “develop relationships with baristas which keep them coming back, time and again.” Seattle’s agreement with Caltex and Freshstop means that they’re unable to serve food in their forecourt branches but the drinks menu features the same butterscotch lattes, berry freezes and chai steamers you’d get in a full outlet.

Only a handful of forecourt stores have performed poorly (generally those in industrial areas with no thoroughfare to high-LSM suburbs), says Howie, who is especially heartened by how well some of their Platteland branches have done. “You’d think there’s no way it’s gonna work out in Ermelo, Phalaborwa, Kimberley…” he laughs, “But it turns out small town South Africans also appreciate a decent cappuccino.” 

According to Howie one of the biggest factors in the success of their forecourt kiosks is that they’re all operated as 50-50 joint ventures between Seattle and the individual fuel station franchisees. Under the agreement, Seattle provides the raw materials, maintains the equipment and staffs the stores. “Having so much to lose keeps us on our toes and ensures the quality never slips,” says Howie. Evidently, it’s also worked for Caltex, as plans are afoot to open about 15 more stores in 2017. 

The competition hots up

Vida e Caffè entered the fray fairly late in the piece, but they’ve made up for lost time – and then some. Since entering into an agreement with Shell in 2012 they’ve opened a staggering 128 forecourt branches with a further 11 slated to start brewing before 2017 is out. At the moment many of the firm’s forecourt outlets fall under the Torrador brand, but by the second half of 2018 these will all be rebranded as Vidas. “We’ve decided it’s better to focus on one brand,” says CEO Darren Levy.

While both Seattle and Vida have seen incredible returns from their forays into the forecourt, it’s fascinating to see – great coffee aside – how differently the brands have gone about their business. While Vida’s forecourt branches are mostly ‘takeaways only’ establishments, they all offer full food menus. “Food is integral to our brand,” says Levy, “And everything on our menu is designed to be portable, so it’s a perfect fit.” Featuring bircher muesli pots, banting-friendly protein snack boxes, and exotic paozinhos, it’s also a step up from what you can find at your average garage. What’s more all of the food is prepared on-site and – due to the distances involved – many of the more remote forecourt branches even bake their own pastries. 

While all of the most popular outlets are staffed by Vida’s vibey “passionistas”, Levy is pragmatic about the need to have automatic coffee machines in some branches. Shell has over 600 forecourts, he says, some of which will never justify having a 24-hour barista on site. By opting for pricey, Swiss-made Thermoplan machines which feature fresh milk injectors they’re able to spread the brand footprint without compromising on quality.

Unlike Seattle, Vida’s agreement with Shell follows the classic franchise model, with the individual garage owners taking 100% ownership of each Vida franchise. Vida still does all the staffing, maintenance and training and the royalty structure incentivises Vida to deliver a quality experience. Not to mention Levy’s commitment that “the Vida in Camps Bay should feel exactly the same as the one in Kroonstad.”

Vida are committed to expanding the use of technology across their brand, but especially in the convenience sector. The Vida app, which works across the Shell network, allows customers to pay for coffee, earn loyalty points, send vouchers to friends, and order their fix in advance – especially handy if you’re 10 kays from Three Sisters and going through a serious caffeine trough. What’s more, Discovery Active Rewards (i.e. free coffee!) can also be redeemed at all forecourt branches. 

Interestingly, the incredible growth in the forecourt stores has had no impact on sales at sit-down branches. In the vicinity of Century City (Cape Town) there are two forecourt stores and two sit-down Vidas and, Levy notes with a smile, “all four are doing extremely well.”

Three’s a crowd

Mugg & Bean started rolling out their On-The-Move cafes in partnership with Total at about the same time that Vida and Shell hooked up. Brand Manager Adam Deane says the popular café franchise opted for a menu that “maintains the feel and flavour of the core brand, but is geared towards convenience” and, as the name suggests, doesn’t have an eat-in option. 

While this may all sound very minimalist, all OTM cafes are manned by human baristas, top-notch Nuova Simonelli equipment and the Mugg & Bean menu was certainly the heartiest of three we surveyed. Drinks include plenty of coffee, tea and hot chocolate options as well as a few Freezos, Muggachinos and Power Smoothies and there’s a veritable smorgasbord on the food front: choose from pot pies, baguettes, snack pots and desserts, to mention but a few.

The OTM cafes have exceeded all expectations and, says Deane, the lower setup and running costs make them a major part of the brand’s future focus. So far, they’ve opened around 50 forecourt stores (mainly in Gauteng and KZN) and a further 18 OTMs in airports and strip malls, but there’s a real feeling that this is just the beginning for the OTM concept.

While all three coffee brands have approached the battle for the forecourt in a slightly different manner they’re all united by a common belief that no one in our Rainbow Nation should ever have to put up with three-day-old moerkoffie and stale muffins. And with good reason.

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Episode Six: Flava Club Coffee

Wednesday, 5 September, 2018

The Selati Barista Scholarship Initiative has given 12 people the opportunity to pursue a meaningful career in coffee. In this Episode we visit Partner Cafe Flava Club Coffee in KwaMashu, KZN. This scholarship initiative wouldn't be successful without the help of the cafes that volunteered to mentor and provide internship for the candidates. Real world experience is so important and we were so lucky to have such great partners like Flava Club Coffee, MiCoffee, Urban Brew, Skyline Coffee, Colombo Coffee and Kaffa Hoist.

The KZN Selati Crew in their Jonsson kit!  Jonsson is our Proud Workwear Sponsor!

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Filter Stories with James Harper

Thursday, 6 September, 2018

I met James Harper in Seoul in 2017, where he was ably managing the backstage area at the World Barista Champs while at the same time recording snippets of the action on his dictaphone. That was the beginning of his journey towards creating Filter Stories. This is the first in his series on the darker side of coffee.

Meet Sarah.

She has just landed her dream job working as a barista for the best cafe in North Carolina. Her cafe will soon be featured in the New York Times and grab international attention. 

But it has nothing to do with the coffee. 

Rather, her bosses will hurt many women in her community. 

This is the real story about misogyny damaging the life of a young woman, her struggle to regain control and bring her community back together.

This is the first ever episode of Filter Stories, the untold stories hidden in your cup of coffee. 

“The property manager says ‘I just want you to know that we have to have a professional business in here. We can’t have “Go Women Power!” signs on the windows’. Me and Lindsay looked at each other with pure shock.”

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Roaster Spotlight: Bloemfontein Coffee Roasters

Wednesday, 5 September, 2018

We love hearing coffee success stories and we love to share them with you, our readers, so you can taste new coffees from unexpected places!

We'll let Inge from Bloemfontein Coffee Roasters tell you all about it!

It was toward the end of 2015 that we took the big leap to become a part of the growing coffee culture in SA. 

Our work then saw us travelling extensively in not just our area (Free State & Northern Cape) but also throughout SA and we were fortunate enough to have travelled through Europe on a few occasions as well.

Our love and passion for a good cup of coffee had always been part of us and we would take various brew tools with on trips and make our own coffee next to the road, or in the guesthouses we stayed in. Let's just say we've never been fans of instant coffee!

It was on a holiday through Germany visiting family in September 2015, that we came to the conclusion that we definitely wanted to play a part in the coffee industry in SA.

We came back and started extensive research on the growing, cultivating, roasting and making of coffee. We found Neil from Genio, and after meeting with him we knew this was what we wanted to do.

Roasting coffee is an art, and unfortunately there are still some places out there that just want to make a quick buck but are not passionate about the coffee they put out.

In April 2016 our Genio roaster was delivered and we had extensive training with Neil for the next couple of days. We were blown away! How amazing to drink coffee that you yourself roasted with so much pride!

It started as a side-line for us at first, roasting out of a small flat on our property, inviting friends and family over to try and test out our various coffees. They in turn spoke to their friends and so on, and so on.

Pretty soon word got out and we decided to take part in local markets and festivals. We started with branded 3mx3m Gazebo set up, marketing and selling cups of coffee and product and brewtools. The response was phenomenal and we were super excited! Pretty soon we started picking up Wholesale customers (Coffee shops, Guesthouses, Boutique Hotels and Restaurants) who started buying from us on a regular basis. The wholesale side started growing nicely and we continued to do markets and festivals in and around Bloemfontein. 

Our coffee business started picking up and we decided to participate in bigger events eg. BloemShow, Free State Arts Festival, etc. 

We reached a point where we had to make a decision as to how much time was needed to grow our coffee business into the vision we had and the amount of time spent on our regular jobs at that stage.

After much deliberation, sum making, planning we quit our jobs at the end of 2016 and decided to focus fully on our dream.

We renovated a vintage Jurgens Caravan into a mobile Coffee Caravan and moved away from the Gazebo set up scenario. It gets tiring assembling and taking down a stand all the time, and we were concerned that somewhere an espresso machine or something would get hurt. So the Red and White caravan was launched in February 2017 and our plan for the following 2 years was to continue to do markets and festivals, but also to find a permanent area for a pop-up shop for the caravan during the week. We were still roasting from home and selling from there.

But by middle July 2017 we realized that we needed a shopfront.

As our name spread coffee lovers started looking for us more and more. They didn’t just want to wait till a next market or event, but wanted to be able to come to us any time, whether it was for a quick cup of coffee, freshly roasted coffee for home or work and help with brew tool methods.

With our previous work, we were away from home almost everyday and that is why we decided that when the time would come to open up shop, we knew we wanted to be close to our home. And besides, most people who were buying from us already knew we were in Langenhovenpark, Bloemfontein. So when the opportunity came for a shop opening at the centre just down the road from us, we had to think and act quickly. The centre wanted a coffee shop in their building, and we wanted a shopfront. And so it happened that we moved into our first premises November 2017 at The Towers Centre in Langenhovenpark, Bloemfontein.

I must tell you, this was one of the most trying times of our entire lives, opening a shopfront. Because it came about sooner than we originally planned, but boy are we having some fun now!

We moved the roaster into the shop to be able to show and educate people as to how their coffee is roasted. We take great pride in every roast and cupping these coffees takes place before we are totally satisfied that it goes out to the public. Packaging and distribution also takes place on the premises.

On the retail side, we have the coffee shop , with add-ons like breakfast, light lunches and home baked cakes. We also do some off-premises catering for small events. We try to support local, bakers, farmers and businesses as much as possible when purchasing foodstuffs for the shop. We believe that if we want fellow locals to buy from us, we should be buying from them too to support each other.

It is hard to believe we have already been in our Roastery & Café for almost a year!

It isn’t always easy, and we have been through some ups and downs during this time, but we have learned so much. Not just of coffee, the industry, people etc , but also about ourselves.

Our journey has just started, and we are looking forward to the road ahead. Adriaan and I are both actively involved in the Roastery & Café on a daily basis and this gives us the opportunity to become a small but significant part of our customers lives. 

We have offered them a comfortable, friendly environment in which everyone is welcome and feels at home.

The shop itself has a slightly modern feel  that features a timeless design with functional style and simple sophistication – in a corner are books dating from my grandparents era, books about gardening, travel destinations and story books, creating an area where you can just slip away from the world and enjoy a good cup of coffee. 

Our music is a mixture of jazzy, bossa nova and occasionally even some light reggae vibes – depending on the crowd. 

Currently we have 3 blends and 4 single origins in our range and a decaf option.

As we continue to grow we look forward to what the future will have in store for us and the growing coffee culture.

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Calling all Gamers: Coffee Talk may be the new game you need in your life

Friday, 7 September, 2018

A ‘chill’ test of your coffee and conversation skills

It’s a cold and rainy night in near-future Seattle. You run the only late-night coffee shop in the neighbourhood, opening only after sundown, but it looks to be a slow and quiet night. As the rain falls outside the café, some of your regulars wander in after a long work day. Your regulars, Baileys and Lua, are busy discussing how their families disapprove of their relationship. In between serving drinks, you eavesdrop on their conversation. The politics of interspecies romance between an elf and a succubus is complicated to say the least.

This is the setting of Coffee Talk, a demo game by Toge Productions, an indie game developer and publisher based in Indonesia. In their alternative future, you’re a barista that serves orcs, elves, humans and succubi, listening to their problems as you concoct lattes and espressos with the ingredients that you have in stock. This is not your typical game though – the developers set out to create a game that simulates that calm and relaxing feeling of drinking a warm beverage on a cold winter’s night.

Quiet conversations in a coffee shop

Coffee Talk is not a game about racking up fatalities while avoiding your own. This is a narrative game that focuses on quiet conversations in a cozy coffee shop setting – ranging from an alien trying to understand humans’ lives, to a journalist who’s struggling to get her boss to let her write a novel. The main selling points are the story, 90s anime-inspired pixel art, and a lo-fi chill-hop soundtrack that will be downloadable on Steam, iTunes, and Spotify when the full game is released in 2019.

The game was the result of a Toge Productions annual game jam – two weeks of planning, designing and prototyping experimental new games, turning ideas and concepts into reality. For now, only the demo is available – a short 15 minutes of gameplay, available from at the fair price of ‘pay what you want’. Reviews have been extremely positive, with players raving about the stress relief of a relaxing gameplay experience and “chill” coffee shop vibe. 

Sit back and relax

The game mechanics are not too complicated – you can craft almost any drink through trial-and-error. You simply pick a base of coffee or milk, and add ingredients. Sometimes the orders are specific, and other times you’re asked to experiment. The storyline branches from the drinks that you serve to your customers and interactions are dialogue-based.

Currently in demo, Coffee Talk is downloadable for Windows and macOS. Check it out here: Coffee Talk on Steam.

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Episode Five: Laying the Foundation for Success

Friday, 31 August, 2018

The Selati Barista Scholarship Initiative has given 12 people the opportunity to pursue a meaningful career in coffee. In this episode we take a look inside the classroom as the CT candidates complete their SCA and UNISA practical work at Ciro Beverage Solutions.

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Let the Music Move You

Friday, 31 August, 2018

There is a strong connection between music and coffee and we couldn’t think of a better person to explore it than the legendary Lemuel Butler. Part 1 of 4 deals with how Lem used music to compliment his competition set at WBC and why he chose the specific tracks!

The beauty of music is that it is a universal language. Some would argue against this, but let me give you an example of what I mean. Take any composition from Frederic Chopin or from the John Coltrane Quartet (one of my favourite jazz quartets) and give the sheet music to an American musician, a French musician, a South African musician and a Japanese musician who only speak their native tongue and they will be able to play the sheet music as if they were written by someone in their country. It only requires one language to read music and it doesn’t require any language to embrace the emotion music creates. Music has the power to evoke feelings found at the core of the human experience. Crossing cultures, social and economic boundaries which otherwise hinder human connection, music reaches into the human evolutionary past connecting us.

Coffee, very much like music, creates a bridge between people. What drew me to the barista competition was that same human connection I found in the coffee shop. People from all walks of life; socioeconomic diversities, ethnic diversities and cultural diversities in one space enjoying each other’s company and conversation over a cup of coffee. I witnessed that same connection of people from all over the world when I volunteered at the 2011 World Barista Competition in Bogota, it was electrifying. I had competed before, but never been a part of something where I could see the bigger picture of how coffee works.

Let’s put music and coffee together in a competition format. What do we create? I can only speak for myself, but what I create in my presentation is an experience; a journey into my life experiences with people and coffee. Think about how music can evoke emotion, for example in a movie or documentary score. The music is integral at building suspense and adding tone to the images you’re absorbing.  I begin with an introduction that connects me with my guests (the judges). The introduction varies from competition to competition, but what I look for is how I felt during months of practice and what message or thesis I want to defend with a 15 minute presentation using coffee beverages; roasting information and the tireless dedication to farming all help in the music selection. Once a connection with my guests is established in the introduction, they can now trust me to take them on an incredible 15 minute taste, olfactory and auditory journey where I can share coffee, but more than “just” coffee; a sensory symphony. Music allows me to start and create an emotional ride of upbeat tempos and downtempo melodies where I tie in the farmer’s emotions through her dedication to her life’s work; the roaster’s dedication to his craft and my guests past experiences with coffee I may not even know. The conclusion of my presentation is always my favourite way of bringing it all together and when I call time not only do I feel wonderful but my guests have enjoyed the journey where time stood still just long enough to bridge a connection between farmer, roaster, barista and guest. As a competition barista, I select a final track that is suitable for the culmination of all the orchestrated emotions in the presentation; the farmer’s hard work, the message, the music, the coffee. I’ll use my 2016 WBC Track List as an example.

1. Ancestros - Los Dioses Hablan

2. Jamie xx - The Rest is Noise

3. De La Soul - Pain

4. Cecile Kayirebwa - Urumbaby'ingwe

For me it has always been the first and last track on the playlist that are the most important in the presentation. The songs in the middle were always a fun bridge between the two.

The first track on my set list for the 2016 WBC was a song entitled Los Dioses Hablan from a local band in Huila, Colombia called Ancestros. I was on an origin trip with a number of barista champions sponsored by Cafe Imports in 2015. The trip was a true inspiration. After one of many a full days of farm visits we had dinner together in Huila. The 6 piece band Ancestros set up and began playing. The tunes were incredible; an added soundtrack to an unforgettable journey with incredible people who would inspire me to compete again. After dinner, I chatted with the band as best I could with my horrible Spanish and purchased their CD. I wasn't able to listen to the CD until after I returned stateside and when I did the music transported me back to the emotions from the experience in Colombia. I continued to listen to the CD during preparation for the 2016 United States Barista Competition and later after winning I listened to Ancestros during my trip to Panama to cup through 35 lots of Jose Gallardo's coffee to find what I wanted to use in the 2016 World Barista Championship. The first track, Los Dioses Hablan creates an emotional bridge to a magical place and time in Panama where I rediscovered what draws me to certain coffees; unforgettable acidity from delicate coffee varieties and sweetness from elevation. Sitting at 1900 meters above sea level on Jose Gallardo's farm Finca Nuguo watching clouds slowly drift into the valley from the Pacific is a moment I can only relive through the song Los Dioses Hablan. I used that track in my intro to help me connect with my guest judges forming a bridge of trust between us to help move us into a new experience with coffee something similar to that personal discovery I had in Panama.

Track 2 was from Jamie XX called The Rest is Noise. I love how this track keeps me in a wonderful mood. The title was appropriate too, because the rest of our surroundings at the competition just melted away as "just noise" allowing the important part of my presentation, the coffee experience to be enjoyed to background of uplifting music. The hand clapping in the song always fills me with positive energy allowing me and my guests to drop all walls of inhibitions and enjoy the ride.

I positioned De La Soul third on the playlist because it is a party song with an upbeat tempo. The name of the song is Pain and the artists describe how pain makes it/us better. I've always had a philosophy of "that which does not kills us, motivates us". Preparing for months to be judged by some of the best palates in the world can be painfully stressful, but critically motivating. Pain by De La Soul is a reminder of that and within the presentation it adds good vibes to what could be a boring section of the presentation. I will always have a rhythm to my presentations that follow a musical pattern of up tempo, down tempo, up tempo, down tempo or some variation similar to keep the presentation moving and judges engaged.

I concluded with Cecile Kayirebwa's Urumbaby'ingwe because her voice is filled with years of emotion that created a canvas where I could paint my conclusion; the final signature beverage the  journey back from the experience, back across that bridge safe and sound and filled with something new. It was my first and possibly my last time on the world stage and I wanted to leave the judges with something to remember; a reconnection to coffee through my presentation.

Stay connected my friends. 

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Help a South African Barista win the Global Almond Breeze LAVC! Vote now.

Wednesday, 29 August, 2018

The Global finals of the Almond Breeze Latte Art Video Challenge (LAVC) just went live! 

There are 6 very talented South African Baristas in the finals up against the best of Japan, Australia, UK and New Zealand.

The most number of overall votes in the Global competition will see the winner flown over to Australia to compete in the Almond Breeze World Breezey Masters - a trip of a lifetime!

The 6 South African Barista are:

  • Innocent Chakanyuka - Truth Coffee, Cape Town.
  • Ricardo Muller - Beans About Coffee Hartenbos
  • Edward Manase - Cup - O - Cafe, Pretoria
  • Jabulani Thumbani - Toast Food Co,  Pretoria
  • Nigel Kamhanda - InFood Coffee Society, Jeffery's Bay.
  • Groove Mhlanga - Truth Coffee, Cape Town


The LAVC South African prizemoney is: 

R10,000 Winner

R7,500 Runner Up

R5,000 Third place

The Almond Breeze Latte Art Video Challenge has been running in 5 Countries over the past 2 months, with some incredible Latte Art Skills being shown. Check out  for the past 8 weeks videos across all countries.

The overall Global Winner of the LAVC 2018 will win an all-expenses paid trip to compete in the Almond Breeze Breezey Masters Global Latte Art Competition! This will be the barista with the most votes across all Countries in the LAVC FINALS ROUNDS. 

About Almond Breeze:

Almond Breeze Barista Blend has been created specially for coffee lovers, baristas and coffee shops. It compliments the taste of coffee and produces a rich, creamy froth to sit atop lattes, cappuccinos and flat whites. Barista Blend not only delivers a great taste but many important health benefits. 

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