For the size of the city, Cape Town is blessed with an unfair number of fine coffee emporia. In one of those “where the hell did the time go?” moments, I was recently reminded that Origin Coffee Roasting, the epicentre of “Third Wave” coffee in South Africa, was started 12 years ago, in 2006.
In coffee parlance, “Third Wave” represents the point in the evolution of modern coffee culture that the artisan roastery takes a central place after the traditional coffee scene, which is the First Wave. In South Africa the First Wave was “coffee” from chicory granules and weak drip brew in hotels and restaurants (and in the USA it still means weak drip brew). The Second Wave is marked by the arrival of the branded stand-alone coffee chains, which we got a decade before the Third Wave hit, in the form of Mugg & Bean (est. 1996 in the V&A Waterfront) and Seattle Coffee Co. (also 1996, in Cavendish Square). The most famous international chain, Starbucks, only arrived here well after our Third Wave (April 2016, ten years after Origin) – testimony to us being blessed with quality.
Of course, all these waves co-exist in the coffee sea, but in Cape Town the sea is full of third waves, and even our supermarkets are now being stocked by locally roasted beans, while our better restaurants have been supplied by local roasters for some time.
The thing about coffee, however, is that there is a skill to roasting and an art in interpreting the raw beans – not to mention sourcing quality beans to begin with – and then there is a skill and an interpretation in how you turn those beans into a satisfying cup of coffee. There are dozens of potential mis-steps in the way.
Unfortunately that’s why you aren’t guaranteed a quality coffee at every turn, despite the promise of quality beans and even though they’ve spent the budget of a family car on a fancy espresso machine. And that’s why we go to a shop with well-trained baristas for a really good coffee, notwithstanding the decent cup we can hopefully can make at home. Well-trained baristas tethered to a great on-site roastery is an even better space.
So this got me thinking that here and there I’ll explore some of our great local coffees in a series, starting with my first taste of Truth Coffee’s Black Honey, a new roast in their lineup.
According to the site’s tasting notes, this blend is the result of a two year-long search for more sweetness, instead of more acidity, to define the hallmark of a good coffee. Prepared as an espresso, I found notes of molasses, blueberry, dark cherry, hazelnut and 80% chocolate – and certainly a sweetness mostly in the lingering aftertaste. Most palates today are tuned to seek sweetness (especially without the “sin” of sugar), so I imagine this blend will deservedly find many admirers.