Take a trip through some incredible locations on this great continent with Coffee Sustainability Manager at TriBeCa Coffee and all round adventurer, Matt Carter to explore how coffee is drunk around Africa
Words and Images by Matt Carter
Rushing through the streets of Moshi, Tanzania, I’m trying to get to a meeting on the other side of town, hawkers shouting their wares and local sales guys trying to sell me art and trinkets. It is hot and very humid with the equatorial sun giving me instant sunburn. Then a familiar aroma pushes its way through all the other smells and welcomes me home in a most delightful way, coffee!
This isn’t the coffee of the high street cafe or the trendy hole in the wall coffee shop at the corner this is coffee done the traditional way, the way it has been done for hundreds of years.
It’s delightful! I don’t really have time, but while the Swiss may have invented the clock, Africa owns its own time, so I choose to pause and buy a coffee and some sweet peanut brittle that accompanies the brew. It is still so hot that it burns my tongue a little bit, I look down the street and I can see Kilimanjaro breaking through the clouds just to have a look and see what we are all up to. The kids walking past shout “mzungu” (white person) and the sales team trying to get me into the market all calling “rafiki” (friend) and as I stand there sipping my coffee, I am content and I understand why people throughout Africa brew their coffee like this.
If you wanted to repeat this process at home, you will need the following:
A small farm where you can plant, grow and sell some coffee from.
An old pestle and mortar to hull your coffee with.
A clay pot on an open fire to roast your coffee with.
A second pestle and mortar to grind your coffee.
A small charcoal stove
An aluminium kettle (ideally really old and battered)
Take about one and a half hand full of coffee (the coffee grown on your farm!) and hull it using a pestle and mortar.
Roast it surprisingly well in a clay pot over an open fire till golden brown.
Grind it in a separate pestle and mortar till “it looks right”
Place into pot with cold water and bring to boil.
Move over to charcoal stove to keep hot
Pour and serve throughout the day.
Objectively this coffee is really not so great; over extracted, burnt, bitter…Subjectively sitting here right now, it’s the best coffee on earth. The sights, smells and sounds bring it all together in a beautiful and unique way that cannot be explained in a Coffee Quality Institute speciality score sheet or in a barista competition.
Going up the road into the foothills of Kilimanjaro I had coffee with a coffee farmer named Edmond. He farms in the Uru area and is in his sixties but still as strong as an ox! He made me a fresh cup of coffee after showing me around his farm.
Now I normally don’t have any coffee after 2pm otherwise I don't sleep, but sitting with Edmond on his farm at 7pm and sharing a great dinner I decided to break my rules.
The coffee hulling, roasting and grinding was done exactly the same as mentioned above except when it got to the brewing the hot water was added to a flask and then the coffee added into the hot water. It was left to brew for 4 minutes and then strained through a plastic tea strainer. I added half a teaspoon of sweet brown sugar and the coffee took on a delightful caramel, toffee and cinnamon flavour. It was lovely!
To counter the effect of the caffeine, I had a bottle of a local white spirit in my bag called Konyagi and I poured a generous amount into a glass for Edmond and me.
I don’t know if it was the moment or the Konyagi but I really felt that while I am the first to appreciate a well roasted and brewed coffee back home and will drink a cortado with the greatest of ease, I couldn’t help wondering if we had made it too complex and possibly inaccessible?
Coffee may not be the most drunk beverage in most African countries, but that all changes in one particular nation: Let’s jump on a plane and fly a bit north to where this all started, Ethiopia!
It was shortly after African Fine Coffees Association Expo 2017 when Craig and Fanie of Lineage Coffee and John and I went up Entoto Hill just outside Addis Ababa. We were on our way down when we saw a coffee stall making traditional coffee on the side of the road.
We stopped to have a quick cup of coffee and understand the coffee making process in Ethiopia a bit better.
Entering a small tent, we took our seats and we were treated to a coffee ceremony. The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is almost as old as coffee itself and to experience it is something that coffee people should put on their bucket lists.
It starts with the roasting of the coffee, this is done over a coal fire on a flat clay or steel concave tray. It is kept moving with a stick in the shape of an L. Once roasted it is ground in a pestle and mortar and then placed into a traditional coffee pot called a Jebena with cold water it is then left on the coals to boil. While this is happening, you are offered popcorn and there is incense that is burned to add to an overwhelming sensory overload. Traditionally only women are allowed to perform the ceremony.
The coffee is ready, it is removed from the coals and poured into the cups in one motion never stopping between cups, these cups are small, about the size of an espresso cup but beautifully painted and they have no handles.
In other parts of Ethiopia where I have had the ceremony, I have been offered a variety of condiments to add to my coffee, these have included sugar, salt and a herb that added a granadilla aroma to the coffee when dunked.
So here we are sitting with some amazing people, drinking coffee in it’s believed birthplace, overlooking Addis and that familiar question pops up in my mind… have we over complicated it?
While we are here, we might as well keep going north to Egypt.
It is 2015 and my wife and I are in the desert with a nomadic tribe called the Bedouins and we have just spent a night in the white desert with scarab beetles and desert foxes. In the morning our guide offers us some coffee. Obviously, I want some coffee! He brings out a copper coffee brewer known as a Ibrik and places it in the coals of last night’s fire. He puts four spoons of coffee and some cold water in and brings it to the boil. He asked if want sugar and we ask for a little bit. He pours it directly into our cups and the grinds mostly stay in the brewer.
Now we are in a desert in Egypt drinking coffee with an ancient civilization and there is that familiar question… have we over complicated it?
I don’t really know the answer to this question, but I will tell you that while technical information achieved with scales and TDS is nice to know in brewing, sometimes we forget the origins of coffee. Africa is a simple place with so much beauty to be found in that simplicity. Some of the best examples of this can be found when we stop to pause and have a coffee on the side of the road, leaving our preconceptions at home. Maybe for your next brew go for a walk in a park and leave the scale at home. Go make coffee outside, following simple African tradition.
We love the original moka pot, Bialetti. It is still a frequently used brewing method and gives us some of our most satisfying cups.
And we love the ocean. In Durban, we are so lucky to have access to a warm ocean every single day and we try to make the most of that.
So we were thrilled to see a partnership between Bialetti and Oceana to promote environmentally sustainable coffee making.
We know that waste around coffee is exorbitant, with coffee cups and capsules and packaging all contributing to the flood of plastic that ends up in the ocean. But we can help but making different choices in our brewing and drinking practices. As futile as it might feel, every bit counts!
There are some great local programs that you can support to help our oceans like The Litterboom Project and The Jbay Recycling Project that are doing such great work with litter that has already found its way into the system. Bialetti is aiming to encourage different choices in coffee making so that that waste is not created in the first place. It will be interesting to see if this campaign can have an effect.
Coffee. Pizza. Ice Cream. Three points of the golden triangle that make up a profitable food service business. And we could all use a little extra money coming through our businesses during this crazy time.
Many of the stories we’ve heard through C-19 have been that coffee has kept businesses afloat. The Roasting of coffee was deemed an essential service early on and we published a list that grew daily over April and May 2020 of places that had re-opened and were supplying coffee to local businesses. Pizza was another - because deliveries of pizza is a firmly established practise and base ingredients are easy to find and cost efficient.
But Ice Cream? We learned a thing or two about ice cream recently, thanks to one of the Dons of coffee… Mr Alessandro Morrico, who needs no introduction to most in this industry, but ice cream? Who knew? Alessandro introduced us to the ICE TEAM, who gave Coffee Magazine a full tour of their facility, showed us how to make soft serve, gelato and sorbet (and we got to eat it too!).
Ridhaa Abrahams and the ICE Team are exclusive suppliers in SA of some of the world’s best brands when it comes to all things icy and delicious.
“In 2018 we evolved into importers and distributors of Top quality Italian Gelato production equipment and ingredients, with excellence in aftersales service and support still at our core.” Says Ridhaa. “Ice cream is one of the products that can really help food retailers during this tough time, because we have made it so easy, and the mark-ups are over 500% per portion”
We witnessed Ridhaa and his team take some of the Pregel products, measure them into a container, stick them in the machine and 8 minutes later, out comes a mango sorbet, the likes of which we have never tasted before. Creamy, but totally vegan and absolutely delicious. The same with the soft serve - but we’re talking beautifully smooth, incredibly textured, rich soft serve, not the ones we’re used to buying on the beachfront promenade which are typically watery, melt in a few seconds and lack authentic flavour. This is a whole new ball game! Finally, we were shown the gelato (Mel did a happy dance right there in the showroom) and this time it was pistachio, which transported us straight back to Milan eating pistachio gelato from a real Gelateria! It was divine!
Ridhaa reckons a machine can set you back as little as R120 000 and they have all of the Pregel products and recipes to go with them. Training is minimal before you can literally start serving top quality ice cream products, meaning business owners can make their money back very quickly. They're also running a great special for counter top units, specifically designed for the cafe and restaurant market, where gelato is never going to be the focus, but can be a great value-add to the business.
Summer is coming folks… people are gonna want ice cream! And just imagine the affogatos!!!
Words by Dr Alessandro Craparo, Science of Coffee
Originally published in Issue 30 of The Coffee Magazine
People still read Goldilocks, right? Remember the great little fairy tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, in which a little girl chooses from sets of three items, ignoring the ones that are too extreme (large or small, hot or cold, etc.), and settling on the one in the middle, which is "just right". Well that’s kind of what growing coffee is like. It really enjoys a Goldilocks zone. One that isn’t too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry.
Coffea arabica is one of only two species of coffee – the superior of the two - used for consumption. Native to the cool tropical highlands of Ethiopia and South Sudan, Arabica grows throughout the highland tropics typically between 1000-2300 metres above sea level (masl). Grown predominantly by smallholder farmers, coffee is usually intercropped or grown with other subsistence crops such as beans, maize, bananas and a host of other fruit trees. If Arabica is the goodie, then Robusta is the baddie (I think I’ve been reading and playing with my daughters too much). Nevertheless, this is generally how the world views our two species of coffee. The goodie and the baddie. Robusta is native to the Congo Basin and is [was] thought to be more resilient “robust” of the two and suited to warmer temperatures. Whilst this is more or less correct, the world as we know it, is not completely black and white and the baddie can sometimes be quite nice.
Too many people, or too little coffee?
Unfortunately, trouble is brewing in this perfect little habitable coffee sector. A wide variety of complex issues - environmental, social and economic - risks the future of coffee production and the farmers reliant on it. Price volatility is a major issue which has intensified recently, and climate change threatens an increasing global supply of good quality coffee (the goodie and even the baddie coffee), while consumption and therefore demand, is expected to increase. We will come back to this supply and demand issue shortly.
Something happens to coffee at night
While everything including Donald Trump’s hair is blamed on climate change at the moment, coffee is unfortunately another species which is lumped into that group. We don’t necessarily subscribe to the alarmist views and suggest coffee will disappear, but the plant is definitely Goldilocks-ish. Within its happy growing environment in the Tropics, the plant (the goodie) is comfortable in a marginal temperature bracket ranging between 18-21°C. Outside of this envelope however, the plants metabolic processes begin to change and this can have a negative impact on coffee quality and production. The interesting thing about this, is that it seems to be mainly driven or influenced by night time temperatures. While the plant seems to be able to tolerate high daytime maximums, the warm night time temperatures are negatively influencing quality and production. By preforming a number of experiments on coffee in Tanzania and using decades of data, we found that increasing night time temperatures (as a result of changing climate) is reducing the amount of yield, or fruit, that trees are able to produce. This was the first evidence globally, indicating that the changing climate may be impacting coffee. More specifically, every 1°C rise in minimum or night time temperature will result in annual yield losses of approximately 137 Kg per hectare – this is roughly 60% of the average smallholder farmer’s current production in Africa. Now 5 years later, we have run several models on data from Vietnam on Robusta (the baddie) and it seems to tell the same story. Not only are the changes in climate impacting coffee yields and production, but different combinations of conditions, i.e. warmer temperatures and higher humidity makes it easier for pests and disease to (well, have sex) and affect coffee. For instance, the coffee berry borer and coffee leaf rust disease that struck farmers in Central America, Colombia and Peru nearly decimated an entire industry. Countries like Brazil and Uganda are predicted to lose more than 60% of their suitable coffee areas by 2050 and even the countries expected to see the least losses - like Colombia and Ethiopia - are predicted to lose up to 30% of their land suitable for coffee. However, this is only a guide and is dependent on a number of factors. The point is, people should be aware and the industry as a whole needs to make changes.
Most frighteningly, and this brings me back to the “too many people, or too little coffee” section above, new crop land is created for coffee production every day. As temperatures increase, producers within the growing band of 1000 - 1300masl in many areas of the globe, are struggling to maintain sufficient quality and yields. Even farmers at 1500masl, such as those on Mt. Kilimanjaro are becoming marginal. Moving upslope in pursuit of cooler temperatures is rarely feasible though. Despite the fact that most highland areas are already overpopulated and that most of these regions are encroaching on protected forests/biomes, who could just pick up their farm and move anyway? We are all very happy to shun the palm oil industry and avoid products that use this oil when forests are destroyed for its production, but what about when its coffee? Unfortunately, coffee cultivation also reaches more remote areas and deforestation is of particular concern in these regions since coffee lands are home to some of the world’s most delicate ecosystems which therefore threatens irreplaceable habitats of particularly high biodiversity and may damage critical ecosystem functions.
In order to meet the growing demand for coffee by 2050, we would need to double, or even triple the current 10,5 million hectares of land used for coffee production. However, more than half of this land is currently forested. In addition, only 20% of this is under any formal protection. Data on coffee land use change suggests that apart from Brazil, where increases in production are driven by technology, in almost all countries where coffee production is expanding rapidly – e.g. Vietnam, Indonesia, Ethiopia and Peru- new coffee crop lands are predominantly created by deforestation. Forests are converted into lightly shaded or full-sun coffee production systems with few or no trees. The annual increase is likely to be over 100,000 ha which is equivalent to an area of 548 football pitches deforested every day! The exact figure is difficult to assess, however we are getting closer by using new remote sensing technology. The demand for coffee is increasing and the changing climate makes it difficult to sustain production, but maybe, there are also just too many humans on this planet. Food demand, increasing greenhouse gasses, deforestation, pollution, water scarcity are all products of over population, if we solve that, we solve many other issues. I digress, maintaining coffee production sustainably, without impacting any further ecosystems is possible. Its not all doom and gloom and Goldilocks can adjust a few things here and there to get it “just right”.
Climate smart coffee
Enter climate smart coffee, sustainable intensification and agroforestry etc. We have many strategies, techniques and books of science to throw at the situation. And many of these are successful. Unfortunately, a substantial area of coffee production worldwide is being produced without shade. Only less than a quarter of coffee plantations have multi-layered, diversified shade systems. Planting and managing shade trees in a coffee agroforestry system can provide a multitude of environmental benefits, including carbon sequestration, ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation.
Shade-grown coffee is a common agroforestry practice which benefits ecosystems and biodiversity as shade trees provide a habitat for native birds, insects and wildlife. Agroforestry systems also provide benefits such as recycling of nutrients and soil organic matter, improved coffee quality and importantly, cooler temperatures. Shade-grown coffee also benefits the farmer through crop protection and diversity, thereby strengthening their livelihoods. However, each coffee growing region exists within its own unique niche and system, we can’t just take one strategy as a blanket solution and apply it globally. In order to be effective, we have developed many different models and tools in order to provide site-specific adaptation strategies or tailored solutions for each unique area and country. The potential to produce more coffee on the same land without harming the environment (or sustainable intensification) is also a very valuable solution in many areas of the globe.
Other adaptation strategies such as breeding more tolerant varieties (which often involves adding some of the baddie to the goodie, so to say) is an ongoing process and we are currently part of a multinational projects called BREEDCAFS - Breeding Coffee for Agroforestry Systems. While it is great to have newer varieties that are high yielding, pest and disease tolerant and still taste good, this unfortunately takes several decades to achieve.
Similar to many of the global issues we face today, it’s the small changes that eventually lead to a difference. It can’t, and won’t happen overnight. One thing is certain, if we want to keep Goldilocks happy, we need to attempt to reduce our ridiculous burden and necessity we place on our planet in every way. Remember to ask your barista to make your coffee “just right” tomorrow morning.
Dr. Alessandro Craparo is a climate scientist and owner of Science of Coffee in Durban. He holds a position as a postdoctoral fellow at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) where he works on climate change, plant physiology, adaptation and mitigation mechanisms, predominantly on coffee and related tropical crops.
The first time I met Gerald Charles he was competing in the SA National Barista Champs in 2012. It was my first gig as a coffee competition Emcee and Coffee Magazine was about to launch its first ever issue. Everything coffee industry was new to me back then.
I listened and watched this guy’s routine, thinking to myself that he he probably knew more about the technicalities of coffee than anyone in the world. He peppered the judges with so much technical information, while his hands worked at the speed of light preparing beverages and he moved with the precision of a karate sensei moving through a well known routine.
Turns out that most of these first assessments were pretty accurate. “Doctor G” as he is affectionately known in the community is one of the leading coffee technicians in the country, a roaster who worked with Union hand Roasters for many years, a Martial Arts disciple and now, business owner of Rock & Roller Coffee Culture in Cape Town.
We were lucky enough to visit Doctor G and his team on a recent visit to Cape Town, and were truly inspired by his vision and where he sees his company going in the coming years.
Our visit started with a catch up and a tour of the Rock & Roller facility and meeting the team. Now, one of the things you need to know about Doctor G is that he wants to do it all! Despite just becoming a Dad for the second time, it is clear that he has a lot of energy and a BIG vision! On one side of the facility is the technical workshop - there are parts, spares, tools and disembowelled espresso machines neatly stacked together. Then there is the roasting facility - with not one, not two but 3 roasters, one of which is an absolute MONSTER! Plus a packing machine, and a few other bits and bobs.
On this note, it was this team that roasted the coffee for the meteoric rise of the Black insomnia brand and is currently also roasting for the 7th Psychopath label, which does some mind boggling numbers. Gerald is big on safety too - he spent a good while explaining to us the fire risks of roasting coffee and how meticulous he and the team are and urged us to spread the word to others in the industry about the importance of prioritising anti-fire measures in the roastery.
Finally, we got to see his front-of-house - the shiny, new equipment and the showroom part. Dr. G has taken the bold move to import a new brand called “XLVI” and they are simply beautiful. Each unit is custom finished and attention is given to each customers needs, which is something we truly believe given Geralds expertise as a technician and master of his craft.
It was a wonderful experience to see Gerald in his own space - one of the new generation of coffee professions with a real passion, vision and aspiration to great things on a big scale.
They've also just launched their online store, so you can get some Dr G goodness across the country!
He can also out-eat anyone in the world when it comes to margarita pizza.
On the 10th of October 2020, Tribe Coffee turned 10! We can clearly remember meeting Jake Easton, the founder. It was in Johannesburg, Tribe was but a foetus and Jake was there to hustle. There were drawings on napkins. There were tales of the circus. Big ideas were shared. And every conversation we've had since then has been no less interesting.
The business has evolved and changed and people have come and gone through the years, but at its core, the energy and passion have remained the same.
Jake Easton had this to say, "10 years ago I made my first sale of 5kgs of coffee to Cafe Paradiso on Kloof Street, and after 10 years of madness I'm stuck with a fantastic group of people, who make every minute that I work and every minute that I'm at work as if I'm not working, and more like it's fun all the time. South African coffee roasters rock!"
We couldn't agree more!
A very happy 10th birthday to this wonderful team. If you go into Tribe this week you can get a free filter coffee on them!
The Team! (captioned by Jake below)
Back row: Linda Gwe, Christopher Gaag, Ndomiso Maqubela, Trust Zindoga
Middle row: Matthew Faber, Jake Easton, Ken Machenje,
Front Row: "Thick" Siddeqa Waggie, Kawthar "Coco" Waggie, "BigBoy" Lesley Mubala
Ground: Mlambo "King Lulu High Priest of All He Surveys" Mlambo
The Founder. Jake Easton.
The Partner in Crime. Chris Gaag.
The gorgeous bespoke packaging for their retail coffees.
The Wholesale good stuff that goes to their partner cafes.
The location. Visit them in Woodstock, 160 Albert Road, The Foundry.
Theo Snickers is one of the stalwarts of the Cape Town coffee community, so it was a real privilege to meet up with him at his Camissa store in Maitland, Cape Town, to taste some great batch brew and catch up. He has a really wonderful vibe, like no matter what comes his way, he's unflappable. Even flow...
The Camissa Team: Sipho, Theo and Sikulule.
The first thing that you notice when entering the store is how big and roomy it is. There is a real sense of space and peace about the L shaped layout. A nice big retail area, the espresso bar, then the roasting on the opposite side and around the corner a really cool work space with high tables, a few low tables and a comfy looking couch with a coffee table. They have a great range of equipment for sale too.
The team of 3 on the floor are highly proficient in every part of the business, from brewing coffee, to roasting and everything in between. The star of the show is the dual setup moccamasters on the bar, which Sipho uses to brew us a rich, sweet and wonderfully smooth Rwandan from Baho coffee.
At Camissa you can enjoy a coffee and read all about it at the same time!
Theo tells us about his travels to meet Emmanuel, the producer (we covered Emma's story in the current print issue of Coffee Magazine, pictured above) and the relationship he has formed with him and other coffee farmers over the years. “The goal is to get something completely unique that no-one else has” he says. “My home customers love getting something new, but most of my customers are businesses and like to keep the consistency of the coffee they know!”
If you are in Cape Town looking for a really comfortable, quiet and chilled spot to get a bit of work done, enjoy delicious coffee and need any kind of coffee insights, from origin stories, to roasting, to brewing or anything else, Camissa is where you need to be! They also launched a Comeback Coffee campaign to support coffee businesses coming out of lockdown.