Returning to the land of plenty

Friday, 5 April, 2013
  All words by Joanne Sarah Berry

Coming back to coffee in South Africa has become an enticing part of my coming back home; I am always excited to see what has been developing and what has changed. From the spaces people are creating, the way they are choosing to serve their coffee and communicate about it to customers, the differences in roast profiles, to the kind of coffees that are being chosen. All of these aspects of what we do are changing in an industry that is so young and I believe still has so much scope.

I by no means consider myself any kind of authority but as my experiences continue to grow in coffee, new parts of it open up to me and become more valued where I may have overlooked them in the past.

In how we serve and deliver the experience that coffee offers and the role it plays in our customers minds, I have come to value diversity. Even in cupping, one of the best human beings in coffee once said to a crowded room I was in, that no coffee can be cupped in isolation. I have come to believe this even more firmly the more I have cupped; context becomes essential. I believe this is true even more so for the consumer.

Cupping is the tasting process, normally directly after the coffee has been roasted, to determine flavour profile and quality of the bean.

The South African coffee industry has expansive diversity and although there are more and more roasters, cafes and more of a coffee culture developing at a rate that seems scary, I believe there are many that hold very tightly onto their own sense of who they are and what their aim is. This in itself, is an accomplishment when it is so easy to look at the rest of the world and place such great value on what happens there, there is the danger of many replicas of the same thing. Having a strong identity and following through with it in every aspect of your business helps over time to provide definition for your customers, they are on their own journey as we in the industry are. I have so slowly unraveled some of the different aspects of our industry and continually learn new pieces to build with. I hope I always will be doing so.

Creating definition within coffee is so important and doing it in a way that still allows individuals to have their own exploration is a skill. In order for those coffees we’ve all tasted, the kind of coffees that can either sit on your palate balanced and quiet in their perfection or on other occasions can jump right out and grab you, to continue to exist we have to create an understanding of them. After which they will do the work themselves.

There are obvious issues with misrepresentation, issues which I don’t wish to address here. Only to emphasize these issues occur all over the place, not just in South Africa! I believe the most convincing argument is to maintain your integrity and engage with the people drinking your coffee. It's about education.

Every experience I have had so far in drinking coffee and sitting in the spaces serving me, makes coffee seem the same but different. Those of us working in any of the diverse aspects of the coffee industry love what we do and still find struggles within what we do, in every context that I have come across this has been true.

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