A Cuppa Joe in Jozi

Note: A “cuppa joe” is an American slang term for a cup of coffee. I’ve just been informed that people outside the U.S. might not know this.

When I left Washington D.C. for Joburg, I thought I was leaving coffee culture behind. I was under the impression that South Africa, like many other African countries I’ve visited, is ruled by tea drinkers.

I was dead wrong. People take coffee seriously in Joburg. And unlike D.C., where most people (including me when I lived there) get their caffeine fix from flimsy cardboard or styrofoam containers while driving or hurrying down sidewalks, Joburgers tend to drink their coffee from real, washable coffee cups, stirred with metal spoons, while sitting on actual chairs.

A cappuccino from Bean There Coffee Company (read more about Bean There below).

South Africa is a Starbucks-free country. (Well, almost. I’ve heard rumor of a lone Starbucks somewhere in Joburg’s far northern suburbs. But I won’t believe it until I see it and I don’t get up that way much.) Coffee to go, while occasionally available, is still a novel concept here. And when you order a cappuccino at a restaurant or café in Jozi, odds are you’ll get more than an espresso with foam on top. You’ll receive a work of art.

A cappuccino from the Odd Café in Greenside, painted with a protea (South Africa’s national flower). South African cappuccinos are much creamier than American ones — similar to what we call a latté, but with more pizzazz.

Yummy cappuccino and a dull-tasting brownie from Cramer’s Coffee on Main Street in downtown Jozi.

The closest thing to Starbucks here is vida e caffè, a South African coffee chain with Portuguese flair. Vida is nowhere near as ubiquitous as Starbucks in the U.S. though. Most South African coffee drinkers adore vida. I’d say it’s comparable quality to Starbucks, which in my book means okay.

Customers queue at vida e caffè in Greenside. Has a bit of a Starbucks-y vibe, don’t you think?

One annoying thing about vida is that the prices aren’t posted on the menu boards. By the way, an average South African cappuccino will cost you between R14 and R20 ($2-$3).

Sidewalk café culture at vida. Unlike Starbucks, you can get your coffee in a real cup here. The square of Lindt dark chocolate is a nice touch.

To be honest, I don’t have a highly refined coffee palette. But most serious coffee drinkers agree that Joburg’s best coffee comes from Bean There, a coffee house in the trendy 44 Stanley shopping district. (Bean There also has a location in Cape Town.)

Bean There’s coffee is all fair trade, all African, and all “single origin”, meaning the beans that Bean There buys are never blended from different growing regions — they come from one specific region, like Ethiopia or Burundi. (I’ve probably got this explanation wrong — corrections welcome.) Bean There is a popular hang-out for business people, academics and hipsters, and features a giant coffee-bean-roasting machine in the middle of the floor.

Beans roasting at Bean There.

Motherland Coffee, in the sparkly new Zone 2 shopping centre in Rosebank, shares Bean There’s African fair trade philosophy and is also wildly popular among coffee-drinking hipsters and business types. I see a national chain in the making. The atmosphere reminds me of Caribou Coffee, Starbucks’ toughest competition in the U.S.

Massive capps at the Motherland. 

I enjoyed researching this post and sampling cappuccinos from Jozi’s hottest coffee houses. But I must confess that the best South African capp I’ve had so far was consumed on a recent early-morning visit to OR Tambo International Airport.

A capp from the airport’s illy Coffee, a worldwide chain, served in a styrofoam cup with a cellophane-wrapped croissant on the side. Yum.

I don’t think illy is fair trade or single origin. It was delicious nonetheless.

So if you love coffee and are planning a trip to South Africa, don’t despair. There is good java to be found in this country, especially in big cities like Joburg. Just know that if you stay in a private home or a small guesthouse, there’s a good chance the coffee will be instant. I find this interesting: South African coffee drinkers enjoy high-quality coffee when they go out, but usually drink instant at home. I don’t get it; I’d rather go without than drink Nescafé.

Where do you go for a cuppa Joe in Jozi? I’m open to new suggestions.

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  • Reply Ilsé McCarthy July 29, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    My favourite coffee spots are Europa in Oaklands, and ofcourse Scusi in Parkview!

    • Reply 2summers July 30, 2011 at 9:40 am

      I’ve eaten at Scusi but never had coffee there – must try as that’s very close to us.

  • Reply Joni Beach July 29, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    I have only gotten a cup of coffee one time with artwork on top…and would love to have a place to get it regularly! They would have my business always…My Best, joni

    • Reply 2summers July 30, 2011 at 9:42 am

      It’s interesting…coffee artwork is very rare in the U.S. Here it’s practically commonplace.

  • Reply Jeroen July 29, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Love the smell of coffee, never been bowled over by the taste, so I’m a 100% tea guy. Funny you never hear leaf lovers moaning about good or bad tea, is there so much more variation in the roast bean drinks?
    Out of curiosity, how does the SA price you mention compare to the US?

    • Reply Jeroen July 29, 2011 at 9:57 pm

      Oh, I also hear many South Africans seem to like the coffee at Wimpy’s – but after trying their “food” just once I can’t imagine it to be swallowable 😉

      • Reply 2summers July 30, 2011 at 9:50 am

        Hmm, I didn’t know about Wimpy’s. I’ll try it the next time we’re on a road trip and have no better options.

    • Reply 2summers July 30, 2011 at 9:44 am

      I think there are some discerning tea drinkers out there, actually, but you’re right — not as common as discerning coffee drinkers. Cappuccinos are cheaper here than in the U.S. A regular cappuccino from Starbucks in DC is about $3.50 I think.

  • Reply Historic District July 30, 2011 at 12:28 am

    I tried to go to Bean There last time I was in Jozi, and unfortunately it was closed at the time…I had their coffee beans when I was in Cape Town in 2009 though – fantastic. I’d like to think that your coffee tastes were refined at the end of your DC stay by our many trips to Filter and Dolcezza…so it looks like you left out your coffee place in Melville! I remember we had a pretty good cappucino there…

    • Reply 2summers July 30, 2011 at 9:56 am

      Yes, I forgot to mention that’s one of the complaints I have about Bean There — they close on 4 every day and they’re also closed on Sundays. This is a common problem with many business establishments in South Africa. And you’re right — I did forget Love & Revolution. Truth is there are just so many places and it was hard to narrow down which ones to profile.

      I definitely developed a refined taste for coffee from all of our morning stops at Dolcezza at Filter — I should have credited Historic District with that. Please give Rasheed and crazy blonde Dolcezza girl my best.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough July 30, 2011 at 2:00 am

    I’m a tea drinker, myself, but I do enjoy coffee from time to time. These cappucinos are, indeed, works of art–how lovely–especially the heart! Thanks for this great run-down on coffee in SA. Have a great weekend, Heather!

    • Reply 2summers July 30, 2011 at 9:58 am

      I do like a good cup of tea from time to time too, but coffee is where my heart is. Pardon the pun – ha!

  • Reply Slowvelder July 30, 2011 at 2:10 am

    I’m with Jeroen on this one – smells nice – tastes blah, I drink coffee once in a blue moon and prefer instant over filter ( I’m a peasant, i know). However, I do still love going to coffee shops and then i normally order a Chai. It’s the coffee shop vibe that reminds me a little of Europe.

    • Reply 2summers July 30, 2011 at 10:02 am

      I need to try chai again sometime when I’m not having coffee — haven’t had that in forever.

  • Reply thirdeyemom July 30, 2011 at 3:20 am

    Ok…I’m a coffee freak, especially the real deal such as you are describing above. I fell in love with cafe cremes and caps back in my days living abroad in France. I still believe that the French have perfected their coffees and cafe culture to a dream. We are getting more coffee shops like your pictures above in Minneapolis which is very nice. I love it when they make a design on top with the foam. I could almost pick up your picture and take a huge drink!!!! Mmmm….

    • Reply 2summers July 30, 2011 at 10:07 am

      I agree with you — French coffee is divine. And there are more and more coffee shops like this popping up in DC, too, which is great. My favorite coffee shop in DC, Dolcezza (mentioned by my friend Bob in one of the comments below), recently opened up right next door to a Starbucks. Bob and I always laugh when we walk out of Dolcezza and see people rushing past with Starbucks cups. They are soooo missing out on the real thing.

  • Reply Joburg Expat July 30, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Ha, I always love coffee culture posts. And to shed more light on the “Starbucks in Northern suburbs rumor” situation read my post from some time back: http://joburgexpat.blogspot.com/2010/08/is-there-starbucks-in-south-africa.html.
    Oddly, I had one of my better cappuccinos here the other day at the McDonald’s McCafe on Rivonia. Huge cup and really good. No art though, I think…

    • Reply 2summers July 30, 2011 at 8:59 pm

      I’ve been wondering about those McDonalds coffee drinks. Will have to try one sometime. Along with the coffee from Wimpy’s.

  • Reply Hayley July 31, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Love, love your blog! So glad I found it…I am Jozi girl and love it so much…its so awesoem to see it through someones elses eyes!

    And yes Starbucks is here, have had it in a few places across Jozi 🙂

    • Reply 2summers July 31, 2011 at 5:37 pm

      Thanks Hayley, great to hear that you’re enjoying the blog. Yes, Joburg Expat forwarded me her blog post explaining that there are some hotels and other places serving Starbucks in Joburg. I figured it would happen eventually — this is a great market for them.

    • Reply 2summers July 31, 2011 at 5:41 pm

      PS – I love your blog too! I want to go to the bunny park. And your photos are fabulous.

  • Reply Jaco July 31, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Guess who is back in town Heather?

    • Reply 2summers August 1, 2011 at 8:30 am

      Hey, welcome back to chilly JHB! Let’s get together soon. Do you guys ever do tours with the Parktown & Westcliff Heritage Trust? There’s an interesting one coming up this Sat.:


      An early Spring walk through these wonderful indigenous gardens, crossing the bridge from east to west with the Suikderbossie coming into bloom. The stone paths are well made and the views are very fine. We will have security with us to ensure no unpleasant surprises. This is one of the City’s treasures immediately north of the new Gautrain Escape Tunnel. We’ll be sticking to natural wonders. Unfortunately no dogs are allowed so you can concentrate on the plants.

      MEET : Deanna Kirby and Esmé Wiesmeyer
      TIME : 14h00
      PARK : Park in the Teachers’ parking at St Johns College cor Joe Slovo and St Patrick’s Road, Houghton
      DURATION : 2 hours – Wear good walking shoes
      COST : R60.00 for members and R80.00 for non-members
      MAX No : 40

  • Reply abernatzky August 1, 2011 at 11:16 am

    If you ever by some chance manage to make your way down to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape we have a wonderful coffee shop here called Home Ground that does coffee blends and single origin beans. It really is some of the best coffee i’ve had and the best part is they roast on site and will grind the beans to your specification or just sell you whole roasted beans if that’s what you want, as well as doing take away coffee for you as well.

    • Reply 2summers August 1, 2011 at 11:20 am

      Thanks for the tip and thanks for reading! I’ll definitely check this place out whenever I make it to Grahamstown. Haven’t been to EC yet!

  • Reply miadidthis August 2, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Yay for coffee! I have to say my personal favorites are Bean There and Motherland. I love having Bean There coffee at Wolves in Illovo though. Last time I checked Fournos in Dunkeld also made a decent cuppa. I think one of the big differences between SA and USA is that Americans buy ordinary filter coffee more often than cappuccinos. I might be wrong, but that was my experience.

    • Reply 2summers August 2, 2011 at 3:02 pm

      That is true. I definitely bought filter coffee more when I lived in the States. But cappuccinos are so good here, and I feel like the price difference between a capp and a regular filter coffee is often not very great. Plus, I think I have a subconscious fear that if I order filter coffee I might get instant 🙂

      Welcome back!

  • Reply laurenbarkume August 2, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Yum, I haven’t been to all these places. You really must try the place in Parkhurst though! It’s great and already has a following.

    • Reply 2summers August 3, 2011 at 8:59 am

      You know, I actually did go to the Parkhurst place a week or two ago, but I wasn’t happy with the photos I took and didn’t manage to work it into the post. It was very good though!

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