At the southern tip of the great continent of Africa is a city known for its natural wonder, sandy beaches, and friendly, beautiful people. Cape Town should be on everyone’s list of a dream holiday destination, but the city's residents have also quietly helped to spearhead an exciting and progressive coffee culture in South Africa. From humble beginnings of burnt Lavazza and Aussie-inspired flat whites to eventually respecting the origins of each bean, the Mother City has been on a mission of coffee discovery. Slightly alternative Haas Coffee entered the picture on the movement’s heels, with a perfectly added kink.
Haas, meaning “rabbit” in Afrikaans, is part of Haas Collective, which comprises an art space, an advertising agency (opened under the umbrella by best friend and co-owner Glynn Venter), and of course the coffee shop now in the city center. Before this alchemy came together, they were based across town in an up-and-coming neighborhood, Bo-Kaap. But to really understand and appreciate the warm fuzzy appeal of the word “Haas”—playing on many Afrikaans colloquialisms—one needs to spend a few weeks all over town.
“Vanessa Berlein and myself opened a little art and design shop on Rose Street in the Bo-Kaap in the beginning of 2010, but pretty soon we realized the need for a coffee shop where our clients could meet with like-minded people,” says Francois Irvine, co-founder and Managing Director of Haas Collective. Enter Haas Coffee, where Venter and Irvine then expanded their offering, but soon the space just wasn’t big enough to house all their dreams, fantasies, and endless cups of coffee. “Now we have three delightful businesses that run side by side and beautifully complement each other,” says Irvine.
“Our new location was informed by the actual building which was clearly just too gorgeous not to buy. But then came the realization of where we were and a brief period of panic,” says Irvine. However, all doubt soon dwindled once they completed renovations and realized that they were in the heart of what is now the thriving, developing East City Precinct area, surrounded by artists, designers, courtroom buildings, universities, and offbeat eateries. The best a city can offer.
“We saw the need for coffee and desserts, so we approached a friend who had his own roaster, Hanno Schwartz of the legendary brand Strictly Coffee,” says Irvine. “Soon, he was teaching us how to roast, make coffee, and tell the difference between a flat white and a cappuccino.” Today, they get coffees from all over the globe: Guatemala, Ethiopia, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Jamaica. “We even import the world’s strongest coffee from New York State, called Death Wish,” smiles Irvine.
The city has responded with glee—finally a place where the art all around was mesmerizing, and could actually be purchased. People were interesting, and interested. And best of all the space and its citizenry spoke directly to the inclusive hearts of the ever-present owners. “The brand fits in completely because it doesn’t fit in at all,” says Irvine. “Our design sensibility is quirky, authentic, and unexpected, with a passion for local talent and the slightly marginalized.” And the gang that keeps it all full speed ahead—“We employ staff primarily for their kind and gentle nature,” says Irvine. “For us this is extremely important in an environment where people work side by side under pressure seven days a week.”
Coffee culture has changed radically over the last 10 years in Cape Town and South Africa, and Haas is riding on the new exciting wave. “Before, an average cup of coffee was either instant coffee or a watery, bitter extraction from a paper filter which had been stewing on a hot plate for a day or more,” says Irvine. But the arrival of micro-roasters and designer equipment in town meant there was suddenly an appreciation for the art of coffee making and its multiple nuances.
At Haas they serve mostly espresso-style coffees and also plunger or French press, but the pour-over method is finally taking hold with their captive audience. “The response to our coffee has been overwhelmingly positive, we have repeatedly been voted as one of Cape Town’s top five coffee destinations,” says Irvine. And so the rabbit smiles.
But of course, the team just can’t stand still. They are already planning new exhibitions, underground dinners, a range of healthy snacks, a tremendously exciting but secret cake project, and a new Haas-inspired lounge eatery as part of a boutique hotel. “There are even discussions underway for an AirBnB type project and dare I say it,” says Irvine, “Haas New York.”
Daniel Scheffler is an international freelance journalist whose work has appeared in T Magazine, Travel And Leisure, Monocle, Playboy, New York Magazine, The New York Times, and Butt. Read more Daniel Scheffler on Sprudge.