The coffee scene is Cape Town incredible. We'd heard whispers and rumors, covered strong South African competitors at international barista competitions, and even seen heaps of photos shared online – but it wasn't until our Perth-based contributor Charlie Stewart approached us with a Cape Town coffee guide that we really understood the full breadth of how deep that scene is. Mr. Stewart, who originally hails from SA, is the author of the feature you'll read below – a convincing document as to Cape Town's status as a world-class specialty coffee city.
The cafes profile here are not meant to be a comprehensive or definitive list to Cape Town; rather, like all of the city guides we've published over the years, it is a snapshot of one person's individual experience with a selection of cafes in one city, hopefully yielding a wider sense of place and identity. We think Mr. Stewart has done just that, and we're proud today to present his Cape Town coffee guide here on Sprudge.
6 Roodehek Street, Cape Town
Deluxe Coffeeworks is an espresso bar disguised as a hotrod garage. With a deconstructed motorbike on one wall and flame detailed Giesen W12 down the back, you might be expecting a couple of wrench wielding grease monkeys behind the counter. You’d be wrong. Possessing a kind of ‘skater’ cool I could never dream of (due to my own personal lack of balance and love of linen shirts) the baristas at Deluxe are that special sort of laid back professional cool. You know they know their stuff; they know when you’re too hungover to speak, and how to quietly offer a glass of water.
I sat down the end of the bar, between the stacks of green coffee and the shelves of vinyl records. That bar runs three quarters of the length of the shop, and is made from a solid piece of bluegum, complimented by fixed high stools of the same wood. Two espresso stations, each equipped with a doserless La Marzocco Vulcano and a 2 group La Marzocco GB5, are run simultaneously. The service system here is much like what you'd get from a regular barman: the barista takes your order, then makes and delivers your coffee to you. It’s this bar style service that charecterises Deluxe and forms an interesting bond between barista and customer. I like it.
Between the two owners at Deluxe there is a gentlemen’s agreement: no food. It's not really an issue, due to the cafe's unique location on a multi-use alley. A revolving restaurant concept called YARD anchors the space, featuring several menus and food identities under one roof: “Mucky Mary’s Hubcap Breakfast” in the morning, ‘The Bitches' Tits – World Famous Sandwiches’ at lunch, naturally, and ‘The Dog's Bollocks’ at night.
This is Deluxe's second store; their first location is at 25 Church Street. Both are sincerely recommended.
The Old Biscuit Mill, 373-375 Albert Road
True to its name, Espressolab is an exercise in clinical coffee precision. Upon entering one is greeted by a long white-tiled bench positioned in front of a white-tiled wall, below a white ceiling. The initial sterility of the venue can be off-putting but persevere. The baristas are welcoming, well informed, and happy to guide you through the cafe's extensive ordering options.
The plinth-like front bench is adorned with two Mazzer Robur E's, sandwiched between two 2 group La Marzocco GB5s. I sampled both the seasonal blend and the Brazil single origin on offer, before getting into a nice cup of their natural Ethiopian Konga, brewed on a Hario V60. Espressolab served this filter coffee to me in a conical flask alongside a timer, allowing the coffee to cool and the flavors transform. Their brewed coffee menu matches V60, Aeropress, Chemex, and Espro press brewing methods to a wide variety of coffees, as determined by regular taste-testing. This sort of attention to detail is unusually progressive in Cape Town.
When I visited Espressolab, owners Renato Correia and Helene Vaerlien were attending the Nordic Barista Cup, an annual pilgrimage for the couple and a good excuse for Helene to visit her home country of Sweden. The Scandinavian influence is clear in the design and fit out of the cafe, but also in their coffee philosophy.
When it comes to sourcing, Espressolab is a font of information on the traceability of their coffees, far more so than any other roaster I visited in Cape Town, and clearly influenced by similarly transparent roasters in Scandinavia and beyond. Their roast profiles, too, take after the Scandinavian light roast style – the coffees I tried were crystal clear and bright. The overall effect is thoroughly modern, scientific almost (it is an “Espressolab”, right?), and yet still run through with warm hospitality.
Rosenview, Strand Road (R44) – Stellenbosch
No trip to Cape Town would make sense without a day out in Stellenbosch, South Africa’s best wine growing region. Coffee is certainly not the main attraction out here, but at some point, your body and brain might ask that you balance out the effects of the extensive wine tasting. Legado is the place for it. Housed in the old wine cellar on the Rosenview guest house, Legado goes where no café roaster has gone before; this place is rocking some kind of Cape-Dutch warehouse-cellar chic vibe. It looks good on them, and the result is one of Cape Town's loveliest and most intimate cafes.
More of a roastery HQ that serves coffee than a busy café, the intermittent stream of customers means the service at Lagado is personal and attentive. When I visited, two of the three business partners were on hand to chat with me between dropping roasts on their Diedrich IR7. I was impressed by the filter options on the menu here, including Chemex, Syphon, Aeropress, and V60. I chose the latter, prepared for me by a co-owner, who then sat with me at Legado's four-meter long communal table while we both talked coffee. See what I mean by intimate? A two-group La Marzocco GB5 handles espresso extraction, paired with an Anfim Caimano grinder, whose hopper is home to a constantly revolving selection of blends and single origin coffees. These include some interesting micro-lots, something still uncommon in South Africa.
Legado is a great little coffee bar and roast works tucked into a cellar in wine country; what more do you need? Go here to enjoy one of South Africa's most personal and charming coffee experiences. And when you do, your winery options nearby are endless, including the excellent (and biodynamic) Vergelegen Estate Winery. I can imagine quite a few worse fates than to lose a day out this way, drinking wine and coffee in concert and taking in the bucolic scenery.
Woodstock Exchange – 66 Albert Road
Situated in the recently renovated Woodstock exchange, Rosetta Roastery opens out onto a sun-filled courtyard. It is two-thirds roastery, home to a Diedrich IR, and one-third café. The small café space has a clear focus on the coffee, your eyes are immediately drawn to the wall advertising coffees and brew methods on offer.
“We've used a range of identifying devices to help people on their own coffee journey outside of the cafe,” I'm told by Rob Cowles, one of the cafe's co-owners. He went on: “We use basic regional segmentation with metallic stickers of different shapes and colours, with quirky flavor profile descriptions. We leave more technical information on our website.” Mr. Cowles, who started Rosetta with his business partner Jono Le Feuvre 3 years ago, is spot on about the quirky part. Dig this one, for a coffee marked as El Salvador El Zapote: ”The ferris wheel was the sweet spot of the fairground. Cherry red and towering, it was the brightest of attractions.
Perched on the timber bar is a 2 group Kees van der Westen Mirage with two Mazzer Super Jolly grinders, each housing a contrasting single-origin (blends are uncommon here). Mssrs. Cowles and Le Feuvre differentiate themselves, and their roasting company, with the genuine ease and grace with which they engage with their customers. I observed both to be highly approachable, and wholly removed from the pretense and “fronting” that so often attends specialty coffee in underdeveloped or emerging markets. It is difficult and endlessly important, to connect with customers regardless of their interest/experience/knowledge of coffee. They're quite good at it at Rosetta, and if the opportunity arises to have a yarn on your visit, I strongly advise it.
When visiting Rosetta, allocate an extra hour or two to wander the floors of Woodstock exchange. Filled with designers studio/retail spaces, a bike shop, and some other cafes you could get engrossed for hours. I can personally recommend a beard trim with Jodie the barber at the Barnet Fair, or some of the handcrafted leather goods from Wolf and Maiden. Like many of the great cafes in Cape Town – and around the world, really – Rosetta is a wonderful entry point to exploring the neighborhood it serves.
36 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town
Likely the most internationally known of all the Cape Town specialty roasters, Truth is an all-encompassing scene for the senses. We jumped the gun on featuring this cafe before publishing Mr. Stewart's full Cape Town guide. Can you blame us? Read Charlie Stewart's full feature here, originally published in late September.