On coffee and … death?
You might have seen or heard the concept ‘death café’ floating around, but it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds. Death Cafés are social occasions which invite people to share stories about their own experiences with death and mortality – with coffee, cake, and a comforting camaraderie that helps bring talk of death into the light. This in itself is sometimes a foreign concept, as people often struggle to have open, honest conversations about death and grief.
What to expect
Death cafés are often held in people’s homes, or at temporary or pop-up venues, but the venue isn’t really important. The café part comes in because there’s invariably cake and coffee involved. The host of a death café is usually not a therapist or psychologist, but rather just an ordinary person willing to host an event that brings people together to discuss death-related topics.
A key principle of the death café scene is providing a non-judgemental and non-biased forum for conversation. This isn’t a symposium aiming to get to the bottom of anything, but rather a relaxed space for discussion that’s guided by the needs and interests of the attendees. That means every café session ends up being unique. Talk can range from terminal diagnoses to the death of a loved one, a dream, a suicide, or even a near-death experience.
A death café is not about trauma or grief counselling, but rather a kind of therapeutic experience in confronting mortality and talking about both death and life. One goal of the death café is to help people make meaningful connections.
Most conversations in Western society are frivolous and surface-level, and launching an in-depth discussion about mortality at a braai might put a damper on ‘the vibe’. But what the popularity of the death café shows is that people want to talk about the things that matter. They want to voice their fears and concerns…
For some, talking about death with family or close friends is too complicated and often too ‘real’ – sometimes you can unload to strangers in a way you can’t with those you know, as you’re not weighed down by concerns of what they’ll think. That said, don’t be surprised if a visit to a death café leads to the start of some new friendships.
The origin of the death café
The first death café was held in 2004, hosted by Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz, who believed the topic of death in the West was shrouded in “tyrannical secrecy”. He even went on to write a book about his idea and the reasoning for it, called Cafés Mortels: Sortir la Mort du Silence (Death Cafes: Bringing Death out of Silence).
The Englishman Jon Underwood so liked the idea when he heard about it that he held a death café in his home along with his mother in 2010. It was a real success and he worked to start a movement – successfully. Death cafés are being held in about 50 countries around the world, including South Africa. Some cafés are regular events, like Mortal Monday Death Cafe in Cape Town, occurring once a month.
The appeal of death cafés is particularly strong in the West, where many of us are shielded from death. The death café founders feel this separation from death isn’t helping us to learn to deal with death and thereby live life more thoughtfully and joyfully. Memento mori. Remember you must die. Life is finite, and a death café meeting is a chance to help you gainer greater clarity of that fact in a supportive environment that offers cake and of course, coffee.
Murray Carpenter has been drinking coffee daily since his late teens, and has long been intrigued by caffeine. He’s also the author of Caffeinated, How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts and Hooks Us – a book about the world’s most popular drug … caffeine. In his career, Murray Carpenter has reported for the New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, National Geographic and NPR. He’s also an interesting guy to chat to...
What inspired you to write Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us?
“As a psychology major at the University of Colorado, many years ago, I wrote a paper about how caffeine affects cognition. Then, in 2010, I was working on a radio story in Colombia, which took me to a coffee farm. At the farm, I began to think about the size and global reach of the coffee industry. About that time, the controversies over energy drinks were in the news. And it seemed like a good time to take a big, wide-angle look at caffeine.”
What do you want people to take away from reading the book?
“My goal was to help people understand caffeine better. Although most Americans consume caffeine daily – in coffee, tea, chocolate, sodas or energy drinks – many of us don’t really understand the drug itself. In better understanding caffeine, I think people can do more to use it better, to maximise its benefits and minimise its risks. Of course, this already seems a bit controversial, because a lot of people don’t like to think of caffeine as a drug. They’d rather think, ‘Oh, I just enjoy drinking coffee.’”
In your book, you say caffeine is a drug whose strength is consistently underestimated?
“Caffeine has real physiological effects, even at moderate levels – the amount of caffeine in a small cup of coffee, or even the mere 35 milligrams or so that you get in a cup of tea or a can of Coke. It makes you more alert, increases your athletic performance, and generally improves your mood, making you feel good. At higher levels, it can make you jittery, anxious, and interfere with sleep.”
What do the studies of experimentally caffeinated athletes, soldiers and students tell us?
“In many situations caffeine enhances physical and mental performance. No surprise, the benefits are most notable when people are tired.”
Could caffeine kill you?
“It would be very difficult, to get a lethal dose from consuming coffee, tea, or sodas, you just couldn’t get enough. You’d have to drink something like 50 cups of coffee at once, or 200 cups of tea or cans of soda. But pure caffeine powder is powerful stuff. Ten grams, about a tablespoon, is a reliably lethal dose for an adult.”
Coffee drinkers don’t often hear about the ‘white powder’ you mention…how is it produced?
“In the book, I describe a visit to a decaffeination facility in Texas. It uses supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2 at high heat and high pressure) to remove the caffeine from coffee beans. The plant’s primary product is decaffeinated coffee, but it also produces pure, powdered caffeine as a byproduct. So, it was an interesting chance to see the beans we are all so familiar with, and fond of, juxtaposed with the refined powder that gives coffee its kick.”
What exactly is the “caffeine industrial complex”?
“That’s a term that the author and food activist Marion Nestle used in reviewing my book. The idea is that the caffeinated-products industry is far bigger than just coffee, tea, and chocolate, which are plants that naturally contain caffeine and have long histories of human use. It also includes the soda industry, which is three times the size of the coffee trade. And even over-the-counter drugs like Vivarin, Excedrin, Anacin, and prescription drugs like Cafergot, which is used to treat migraine headaches.”
Should the average coffee drinker be concerned about their coffee habit?
“For most people, moderate coffee consumption is a healthy habit. The exceptions are people who are pregnant, who are advised to limit their caffeine intake. Also, people suffering from anxiety or insomnia might find that they benefit from restricting, or eliminating, their coffee consumption.”
Did you discover anything particularly interesting during your research?
“One of the most interesting aspects of the research was visiting coffee farms in Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico. As I learned about growing Arabica coffee, it was surprising to hear how fussy the plants are. They need rain at just the right time in order to flower, for example. Other times they like it dry. And coffee growers all over the world are being challenged by a warming, changing climate.”
If there’s one thing coffee lovers should take away from reading your book, what should it be?
“Caffeinated coffee can be a wonderful beverage, one of the very best, but it also deserves more respect.”
How have your travels and research affected your own coffee habit?
“I still drink three or four cups (about 24 ounces total) of good, strong coffee daily, and I appreciate it more than ever. I’ve started drinking coffee a bit more strategically. And I’ve become far more aware of the work behind our daily habit. So much has to go right in the growing, harvesting, shipping, roasting, and brewing to produce a decent cup of coffee.”
Caffeinated, How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts and Hooks Us is available from Amazon.
A Shot in the Dark - 10 Days until Judgement Day. Who will be in the TOP 10?
Ok, so that headline was a bit dramatic, but we can’t contain our excitement! And, of course A Shot in the Dark, presented by Genio, is a roasting competition where South Africa’s best coffee roasters all roast the exact same, beautiful Tanzanian coffee for our judges, but where the emphasis is on learning, sharing and improving our roasting skills at a specialty level.
For the past few weeks, our 43 competitors have been sample roasting and experimenting with their Green Coffee allocations to try to get the best possible flavour profile from this very delicious coffee. We have been lucky enough to try some already - and it is incredible, but we are not the judges of a Short in the Dark, our 3 highly skilled Q-graders are…and we are keeping their identities a secret until the cupping date on 7th May!
Our competitors have until the 3rd of May to submit their coffee’s, and all the coffee’s will be judged on 7th May, according to the SCA cupping scoresheet, with Roasters Notes being taken into consideration. For example, if they say they aimed for specific flavour notes, or a certain level of sweetness, acidity or body and the judges pick those flavour notes and characteristics, they will score well.
Of the 43 Roasters that entered, the TOP 10 will qualify for the FINALS ROUND, where they will be given another set of roasting tasks to complete before Creative Coffee Week, in Durban 27-29 June where the Finals judging will take place with our International guests, Trish Rothgeb of Wrecking Ball Coffee ( USA) , Colin Harmon of 3FE (Ireland) and Emi Fukahori of Mame coffee (Switzerland). All 43 Roasters received a complimentary ticket to CCW 2019, and there is bound to be some very interesting discussion around the different approaches to roasting the First Rounds coffee and to the Finals roasting tasks. This is definitely a highlight of the CCW 2019 sessions.
There is a lot of excitement out there folks, and our Roasters are extremely competitive, so we can’t wait to be in Johannesburg on 7th of May to document the First Round cupping of A Shot in the Dark and keep you all posted on the TOP 10!
Good luck to all competitors in your final preparations!
The 2017 World Barista Champion, Dale Harris, used his love of learning to create a truly unique routine at the competition in Seoul 2017. The newly crowned WBC is Jooyeon Jeon of South Korea and no doubt her technical set took inspiration from Dale's performance in her home country! Our interview with her is on the way soon, but in the meantime learn more about another coffee great.
We’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it, the world’s top baristas are the most humble people you’re likely to come across. It might have to do with the fact that their time in the hospitality industry has both humbled and strengthened them, but it really never ceases to amaze us. Dale Harris is no exception. Kind and generous with his time, he has proved an incredible ambassador for specialty coffee over his time as Champion. He put in the hard work over the years, coming back wiser each time, until his moment finally came, 9 years after he began competing. For his Championship set, Dale invested a lot of time into the study of the aromatic compounds found in coffee, of which there are more than 1000 that we know of. He selected ten of the most significant ones in his coffee that carried certain flavours and explained what flavour they translated into in his espresso. He expressed this rather complicated idea with charm and grace and the judges rewarded him. We caught up with him just before he handed over the mantle to the 2018 Champion in Amsterdam, Agnieszka Rowjewska.
Can words describe how it felt to hold up that trophy after the journey competition has led you on? How long did it take to sink in?
My whole experience of the last year’s announcements was full of conflicting emotions - whilst it’s a super happy thing to have happened, it also took awhile to adjust to the idea that we had won and to be able to think objectively about my competition experience over so many years.
In truth, raising the trophy above your head is a weird thing and one that I was a little uncomfortable with - routines are always the result of teamwork, whether your team is large or small like mine, and being the only one to hold the trophy that way in that moment feels a little bit off. Celebrating with Pete, Jenn and Steve afterwards was the more special moment!
As the World Barista Champion and a veteran competitor, if you had one piece of advice to offer first time competitors, what would it be?
Read the rules! No, really - read the rules and watch a few videos of former competitors to get a real understanding of what’s required. Every time I look at the rules, I find something new to consider - it’s really important to have a good understanding of what’s being asked of you before you start building a presentation or begin working on your ideas.
Competition can be stressful but it can also be a lot of fun - if you go into it with open eyes and a clear understanding of what’s expected, it’s a more rewarding experience for everyone, regardless of your placing - and you get better at doing it each time, so take that first leap :)
Have you had any crazy experiences/opportunities that have come your way because of being the World Barista Champion?
Over the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to places I’ve never expected to visit, experiencing coffee in different climates, cultural settings, and evolutionary stages of cafe culture.
Most recently, I visited Cuba and I found it really interesting to engage with coffee in a place where a lot of the concepts around specialty green coffee production don’t apply quite as easily as they do elsewhere. More than anything I’m learning even more!
What do you think is so attractive about coffee that it continues to grow in such a robust way?
Coffee is interesting because you can find it at the intersection of so many different ideas, places, and people in different ways: people’s relationships with the flavours in coffee, their relationships with cafes; coffee’s relationship with economics, the sheer scale of the global logistics required to make coffee happen. This, plus long and varied histories of coffee cultures, all create a broad coffee culture that can attract different kinds of people. For me, the most exciting aspects of coffee are those moments where those flavours and people intersect.
Is there anything in coffee that is really getting you excited right now?
There’s a lot of academic work being done in agriculture, flavour chemistry, and other fields that has the ability to impact the way we grow, brew, and experience coffee, but isn’t always communicated well to those of us who are super passionate about that very specific product.
At the moment, I’m reading a lot and working on a few projects that might allow me to find some new ways to communicate some of these ideas.
The culture of Hasbean seems fun and crazy and that you have to have a seriously good sense of humour to be part of the team, yet the operation is one of the most efficient and slick we’ve ever witnessed, how is that possible?! Tell us a bit about the culture of your team.
Thank you - that’s super flattering! It’s exactly how we want our customers to think of us.
We’re a small company - just 15 staff - but I’d say that the biggest thing that makes us tick as a group is our shared passion for two things: building long term relationships with producers and making a wide range of super tasty coffee accessible and available. And, well, a third - doing it together!
Because we’ve been doing our thing for a long time, we’ve become pretty well known and- most people think we’re a bigger company than we really are - but in reality, what we do is present the results of hard work by some really incredible people we’ve been able to work with - I’m super proud to be a part of it.
What are your personal views on the best way we as Coffee Consumers and Businesses can support sustainability for coffee growers? HasBean has a reputation for championing lesser known farmers and experimental processing techniques, does this fit into that mission?
I believe one of the most important things we can do to support coffee growers and sustainability within our industry is for roasters, in particular, to build long-term relationships with producers. Sometimes this will be at the expense of buying the most exciting coffees, but instead showing up and working with individuals to help them produce the highest quality and value coffee that they can, allows them to grow - and grows the diversity of coffee available in the industry too.
I’d like to see every roaster building one or two great relationships with producers that they care about and I’d encourage consumers to support businesses who do this over the longer term.
Is there any portion of your life that is free of any association to coffee? Give us some insight into what else makes Dale Harris tick.
Pretty much all my time is tied up with coffee or related work at the moment (!), but it’s really important to me to make some small windows in each week to walk my dog, make and eat nice food, and spend time with my partner and my kids. I drink coffee when doing all those things though!
If you are in Cape Town, you should be going to the Cape Town Coffee Festival coming up at the beginning of June. Early bird tickets are on sale until the 5th of May!
And the good news is we're giving away a couple tickets too! There are two ways you can enter the competition.
1. You can fill in the form below.
2. You can head on over to our Facebook page to enter on social media.
One of the features we're looking forward to is the African Coffee Experience. It is sure to be a sensational taste exploration with three amazing SA roasters, Origin Coffee Roasters, Father Coffee and Bean There Coffee Company, on board to provide the coffees!
"The African Coffee Experience is a showcase of the diverse African coffee scene, home to some of the world's finest coffees. Featuring three of South Africa’s most inspiring coffee roasters, this interactive area will be dedicated to exploring and tasting the best origins and cups the African coffee scene has to offer."
In two months time we will be announcing the new Winners for The Coffee Magazine Awards 2019. This year, we are introducing an exciting new section of categories, the Readers Choice Awards.
This is where you, our wonderful coffee loving readers, have the opportunity to nominate and vote for your favourite places and people in coffee!
Also for nominating your favourites you go into a draw to win one of three Full Event passes worth R2500 to attend the event and meet all your coffee heroes.
Favourite Cafe 2019
You know the one. That independent cafe that is your safe space. The one you just can't make it through the week without visiting. For the baristas who know your name, for the incredible coffee, for the way the space makes you feel.
Favourite Coffee Franchise 2019
These coffee franchises form an important part of the SA coffee landscape. They have a presence all over the country and you know exactly what you're going to get from every one. Which of the big guys is your go-to for that satisfying and consistent delicious cup?
The Ultimate Cold Brew?
Words by Lucy Corne
They’re not quite siblings, but they’re certainly pretty close cousins – you know, cousins in one of those families who see each other every weekend and get along really well. They’ve grown up together in South Africa, their respective revolutions having happened at the same time. They both have their ardent, often geeky, followers. They’re both drunk for flavour and the extra kick they bring to the table, whether it’s in the form of caffeine or alcohol. So it makes sense that coffee and beer should exist not only on the same menu, but sometimes in the same glass.
Now this isn’t the sort of thing you should do at the table – mix your espresso with your pint – but it is something that craft brewers in South Africa are working hard to perfect, and marrying coffee and beer is not always an easy task. First, there is the matter of when to add the coffee. “The first time I tried a coffee beer I was still a homebrewer,” says Cameron Doubell of Atlantic Storm Brewing Company, based in Kommetjie. “I originally added the beans to the boil kettle, right at the end, but I found it gives way too much astringency.” It was a chance meeting with Tribe Coffee founder Jake Easton that changed the way Cameron brewed his coffee beer. “I got chatting to him one day as we were having a post-surf flat white and he suggested cold-steeping the beans,” explains Cameron.
He still uses this method today in his Black Tempest Coffee Milk Stout, a popular beer that’s won a few local awards. “We only use Tribe beans,” he says. “We soak them in vodka to sanitise them, then pour them into a stocking and add them to the fermenter once fermentation is complete. They steep for about five days, then the beer is bottled or kegged.”
Beyond porters and stouts
It’s not unusual to use a stout or porter as the base for a coffee-infused beer. Notes of coffee and chocolate are naturally found in the roasted malt used in dark beers and adding actual coffee works in harmony with the natural flavours from the malt. But you don’t have to stick to dark, roasty ales if you want to bring coffee into your beers. Bruce Collins, owner-brewer at Stellenbosch Brewing Company has worked for more than a year to conceptualise his latest beer, a nut brown ale by the name of Squirrel Nut Juice. “We have been working with Terbodore Coffee to create our own almond roast,” Bruce explains. “We’re bringing in almond oil from the States and the oil is poured over the beans as they’re roasted.”
Co-owner of the family-run brewery – and Bruce’s wife – Karen, is a former barista and took the lead when it came to choosing the coffee. Each batch of beer uses 5kg of cold-pressed coffee, half of which was added at “flame-out” – right at the end of the boil when the heat is turned off – so as not to extract too much astringency. The rest will be added once fermentation is complete.
Perhaps one of the most interesting ways to use coffee in beer is the so-called golden stout. In fact the beer is not a stout at all – it’s usually a pale ale, but one that seeks to deceive the senses. The brewer attempts to replicate the taste profile of a stout by using ingredients whose flavours are found naturally in roasted malt – namely chocolate and coffee. When you look at the beer, you see a clear, golden brew topped with white foam but when you sniff and sip, you’re met with notes of coffee and dark chocolate, just as you would find in a normal, unflavoured stout.
Dewald Goosen, head brewer at Tuk Tuk Microbrewery in Franschhoek, recently released a golden stout and was amazed by its popularity. “We used 1kg of Blue Crane beans in a 250-litre batch, adding 250g of whole beans at flame-out. The rest were blitzed in a food processor and added after fermentation along with a kilo of cocoa nibs,” he explains. “It’s kind of a weird beer and I didn’t really know how well it would go down so I was shocked by how quickly it sold.” He plans to produce another batch later this year and urges other craft and homebrewers to step outside the box and explore new beer styles.
One beer that certainly celebrates innovation is Dark Continent, a milk stout with condensed milk flavouring, inspired by a pot of moerkoffie. Brewed as a collaboration between Fraser’s Folly brewery near Elim in the Overberg, and the duo from beer-and-braai TV show Beer Country, Dark Continent won a gold medal at the 2017 National Beer Trophy. “Apart from being both local and lekka, moerkoffie is a national treasure and we wanted the beer to be more than just a coffee stout,” explains Greg Gilowey of Beer Country. The recipe process was trial and error. “We tried everything from instant coffee to whole beans and cold brew, We eventually decided on a blend from Beaver Creek Estate called Transkei Gold. It’s a blend of three African coffees as well as locally grown coffee from the estate. It has a rich body with caramel and toffee flavours to complement the roasted malt in the beer. Our last ingredient was condensed milk extract to give it the vanilla and caramel nose.” says Greg. “Some advice from our coffee suppliers went a long way here, and so good quality, filter-ground coffee, added at flame-out seems to do the trick for us.”
Whether the beans are ground or whole, steeped or tossed straight into the brew, it’s clear that two of South Africa’s finest foodie – or rather, drinkie – passions have come together to create one seriously good, seriously cold brew.
Atlantic Storm Black Tempest Coffee Milk Stout (6%)
With additions of lactose and Tribe coffee beans, Black Tempest is one of the most coffee-forward beers currently available in South Africa. The lactose adds a slight sweetness to balance out all the roasted malt.
Beer Country /Fraser’s Folly Dark Continent Moerkoffie Condensed Milk Stout (5%)
Using Beaver Creek coffee and a condensed milk extract, Dark Continent is inspired by the traditional pot-on-the-fire coffee. Expect caramel and coffee on the nose and a prominent dark roast flavour, backed up by sweetness from added lactose.
Boston Breweries Black River Coffee Stout (5%)
The most subtle of the bunch, Boston’s recently revamped stout uses Ethiopian yirgacheffe beans from Deluxe Coffee in this easy-drinking, light bodied stout with the merest suggestion of coffee.
Nottingham Road Pickled Pig Cappuccino Porter (4.5%)
Launched in 2016 to sit alongside the brewery’s flagship porter, the cappuccino version has quickly won a flock of fans. Coffee from local roaster Terbodore is added to the keg, post fermentation, along with a touch of vanilla essence.
Stellies Squirrel Nut Juice (6%)
This experimental brown ale uses almond-roasted coffee from Terbodore and has been aged with Amaretto-soaked oak chips.