Common Ground: Ingrid Shevlin

Tuesday, 27 August, 2013
Interview by Megan Pilditch

Andre Schubert (Market), Ingrid Shevlin & Darrell de Wet (Illovo)

What was your first coffee experience?

When I was given coffee sweetened with condensed milk after a day spent playing in an inter-school hockey tournament. I was tired and chilled to the bone and this was wonderfully restorative - probably more to do with the condensed milk! I was about 14 at the time and as my mother didn't believe children should be given coffee too young, being given my first cup of coffee was, in a sense, an acknowledgement that I was growing up.

As well as starting the KZN Cafe society 14 years ago, what else are you involved in?

Apart from being the production and content editor of the Sunday Tribune I also co-ordinate the Food and Travel supplements, which are like my babies and are pure pleasure to work on. There's nothing better than living vicariously through food and travel stories.

Where did the idea for cafe society originate from?

One day Ralph Bronzin, who was then the proprietor of the Arts Cafe at the KZNSA and I were talking about cappuccinos and how most coffee shop owners hadn't a clue how to a serve a proper cappuccino. Somewhere in the conversation he said we should have a cappuccino competition and use it to educate both the public and coffee shops, and the rest is history. It started humbly, but right from the start readers loved the idea and the competition element. And, of course, when Illovo came on board as a sponsor, we were able to publish our handy guide to coffee drinking in a booklet form.

How has the definition of a good coffee changed since the competition's inception?

I think our readers now know that preparing a cup of coffee, whether it be an espresso or a cappuccino, is a complex operation and that there's a wide range of beans offering different flavours, and of course that there are many different ways to serve coffee. Oh, and that coffee should never, ever be served too hot.

The 2012 Winners: 1st The Factory Cafe (represented by Arno Els, centre), 2nd Bean Green (represented by Nkosie Bhengu, left), 3rd Mark Gold (represented by Sebastian)

Why do you think coffee competition is healthy?

It's raised the stakes and for those serious about serving good coffee the competition has given them something to measure themselves against. And, of course, I like to think its has raised standards and educated the public. Durban may be the last outpost but I think we producing some of the best coffee in the country and have elevated coffee drinking into something seriously cool.

How has the competition changed over the years?

Every year it has evolved and grown and taken in more and more areas of KZN. Today, the only area we have yet to conquer is Zululand. The latest innovation is reviewing only the top 100 in KZN. That way we acknowledge only those taking the profession seriously.

What are you expecting from this year's competition?

Thanks to competitions like SCASA's Barista Championships, the competition between the top shops is hotting up even further with baristas and coffee shops vying for the top prizes.

And lastly, this could be a controversial question, but what is your favourite coffee shop?

I have a few favourites and they are usually places where I not only enjoy the coffee but the vibe. Peg in Essenwood road because I adore Naike (the barista) and his coffee and browsing through Peg's clothes afterwards; Bean Green, because of their coffee obviously and because I know Peter and Mel and they and their customers are always warm and friendly, not forgetting the irresistible aroma of roasting beans; Factory Cafe for its wide open urban-style space, earnest -looking customers and baristas who take their jobs seriously; and Cafe Jiran for always serving a decent cappy and because, finally, their service has improved. And I like the buzz on the beachfront.

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