The Coffeenist Manifesto (2/4): Democracy

(The Second of Four Trends We Should See in the Coffee Industry in 2017 and Beyond)

Coffee democracy: Department of Coffee Township Coffee Shop Khayelitsha

Department of Coffee Township Coffee Shop in Khayelitsha. Photo courtesy Cape Town Magazine

Just over two weeks ago I began a mini series on a movement I believe will be extremely beneficial to the coffee industry in South Africa and beyond called Coffeenism. A movement which drives ethical and uplifting coffee trends instead of following the herd, even if they are heading for the edge of a cliff. Ultimately, it is a movement of people wanting to see excellent quality coffee become the norm instead of the exception. Read the first article here.

Not vive la France: good food but bad coffee

I was very surprised to discover recently that in France -the very country I praised before for being a world leader in good food and wine- sub standard coffee is predominant. It is only lately that good coffee culture is starting to gain ground. Aleaume Paturle, who owns Café Lomi, a Paris roastery, declared to an American journalist last year, “My objective is really to democratise speciality coffee.” (source)

Democratising good coffee is exactly what I want to discuss today: the second of four trends we should see for the good of our coffee industry and culture in South Africa and beyond.

Coffeenism: not communism but democracy

Considering the challenges faced by French coffee lovers, we as South African Coffeenists, faced with prevalent “Ricoffy and Koffiehuis” culture, have good company when we hope to democratise good coffee here.

Democracy, ideally, gives every citizen of a country the chance to have an input in building a good collective future. Every person has a vote and equal opportunity to take part in the process of governing their region. Some choose not to exercise this right but it is theirs, none the less.

Likewise, everybody should have the opportunity to have a hand in shaping and enjoying the future of good coffee. I am not saying everybody is obliged to make use of that chance but everybody has to have that chance, not just the well located or rich. But of course, this means that everybody will have to be able to afford it.

Coffee the people can afford

Thankfully, good coffee does not have to mean unaffordable coffee. Yes, as mentioned in the last article, it is impossible to price excellent coffee as low as coffee that bottoms out on the quality scale. (In the next article you will see why it should, in fact, be more expensive - for the good of often struggling coffee growers and the environment.) However, the great thing about the coffee business is that even coffee made with high-quality beans and equipment can still have a significant margin left after costs. So, it is possible to run a profitable coffee business in a township, using the same quality coffee beans that are used in a rich suburb’s mall.

And this is exactly what coffee shops like Masi Cafe in the township of Masiphumelele (est. 2013) and the Department of Coffee (DOC) in the township of Khayelitsha (est. 2012) are doing in Cape Town. DOC, for example, has a range of quality coffee based drinks priced under R10. Such businesses are pioneering the township artisan coffee culture and have proven the concept. Universal coffee democracy is a possibility. In other words, it is possible to bring high-quality coffee to every person. As an aside, I wonder what impact it would have on our townships if prevalent taverns began to be converted to coffee shops instead?

Coffeenism in your own kitchen

But, coffee democracy is not only to be enjoyed at coffee shops; good coffee can obviously be enjoyed at home too. Small local roasteries are the places where one very often finds the freshest quality coffee at the most reasonable price (see this article, under the heading "buy fresh coffee," to find out why buying coffee at a supermarket is not ideal). So, fellow Coffeenists, let us start more of those and support the ones in existence. The first artisan township coffee shops are up and running, who is going to have the vision to start the first township coffee roastery?

But, if we are going to see more people enjoy good coffee at home, we also need the availability of good quality, affordable coffee making equipment. Ironically, it is a supermarket, Checkers, who have in my estimation been doing the most good by carrying excellent quality plungers for a mere R50 and stovetop espresso makers for under R100.

Another piece of equipment which is a little more expensive but greatly improves home coffee making is a conical burr hand grinder (I believe Pause online shop stocks the best priced decent one on the SA market at R390, the Hario mini mill). Read more about why I would not recommend a blade grinder here.

One step up: pour over equipment

If you can afford a little more than the bare basics, but don’t want to overspend completely by getting a proper espresso machine, an excellent brewing method, which has taken the speciality coffee world by storm, is the pour over. This micro brewing method is currently the best way to enjoy all the tasting notes in speciality coffee and is really simple to do. For starters, you’ll need a cone shaped dripper and paper filters. To do pour overs like a pro, you can also get a thin spout kettle, a scale, a server, a dripping station as well as a drip thermometer.

Bialetti, plunger, pour over or espresso – whatever method you prefer at home, one thing is for sure…once you’ve experienced the simple pleasure of a good cup of coffee, there is no turning back. And that is how you can know that you are part of the Coffeeinist movement!

Conclusion: We all need good coffee

If only a handful of us enjoyed and supported good coffee, it would not benefit all of society, and it is not going to become the norm. Which, if it were the norm, would naturally lead to so much more industry development and variety for us all to enjoy.

So to summarise, a trend we should be seeing is one of good coffee culture spreading to all people, not just an exclusive few. So let us encourage it!

And, if all that was not convincing enough, there is one more vital reason we should democratise good coffee. Remember, good coffee not only tastes good, it is also good to the conscience. In the next article in this series, we will look at the oppression of workers and harm to the environment which very often takes place in the production of mediocre coffee. The sooner good coffee becomes the norm the sooner these evils can be ended.

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