How much coffee does it take to wake you up in the morning? I do well with two cups of pour-over peaberry. My coworker likes to sip on shots of espresso. My brother will down a quad-shot latte before he goes to work.
A subgroup of coffee connoisseurs, however, are on the hunt for the strongest coffee in the world. One of the top contenders for that title is a brew aptly named “Black Insomnia” – South African Coffee.
Although we often talk about Ethiopian and Ugandan coffee, South African Coffee is totally slept on. Read on to learn more about the history and current condition of South Africa’s coffee market.
South African Coffee History
The history of South African coffee is a rocky one.
In an article for Coffee Magazine, coffee historian Dylan Cumming details the ups and downs of the local industry. He tells us that the South African coffee industry first began in 1854 when Kew Gardens in Britain sent plants in the hopes of stimulating the economy with a new crop.
Although coffee was embraced by the South African farmers, their efforts were short-lived. Just 25 years later, most of the plants in the country had died. Some plantations were ravaged by disease, others failed on unsuitable soils, and still more suffered a lack of knowledge and labor.
Farmers turned their attention away from coffee towards tea and sugar cane.
A hundred years past and nobody took it upon himself to grow South African coffee.
An experimental crop was planted in the 1930s. The industry limped along for decades and had only begun to build momentum again by the 1960s.
By the late 1980s, things were looking up for South African coffee, but high cost and an agricultural pest meant the industry had crashed again by 2000.
Today there are only a few plantations left, but interest in the area is brewing.
The burgeoning South African coffee shop culture is shifting the industry away from instant coffee to specialty coffee varieties.
The Cape Town Coffee Festival debuted in 2019 and was successful enough to encourage at least two more annual events. A new generation of entrepreneurs is looking to coffee as the new hot crop.
Coffee shops are popping up throughout the country and at least 100 roasters are providing these shops with their best products.
South African Coffee Roasters
If you’re in South Africa, how do you find the best roasters around?
Well, it’s not easy.
Two organizations who seem the most poised to have their pulse on the South African industry, are oddly lacking in roaster info.
The South African Coffee Roasters Association doesn’t seem to be particularly active these days. Their website has no content at all for 2019 or 2020 and their forum is remarkably empty.
The Specialty Coffee Association of Southern Africa, who identifies as “The only recognized non-profit organization in South Africa representing the coffee industry from seed to cup,” looks to be focused mainly on event competitions. They do, however, have a list of local roasters that you can peruse.
The oldest operating roaster in the country is Masterton’s.
They’ve been around since 1924 when the Scottish founder, Jock Masterton, opened their first shop. They are still run by the same family, now on their third generation of roasters. The business also specializes in tea, which may be the key to their continued legacy.
Most of the beans they roast, however, aren’t from the local farms. Their offerings are primarily blends of beans with nonspecific origins and their sole single-origin option comes from Guatemala.
The most popular roaster in South Africa is a coffee shop called Truth Coffee Roasting.
As you can tell from the name, they’re more than just a coffee shop. The Daily Telegraph named Truth Coffee “ultimately the world’s best coffee shop.” Located in a three-story Victorian warehouse in Cape Town, their steampunk-themed café draws a crowd.
Their beans are sourced from India and Columbia, among other places. The closest they come to a local bean is their Ethiopian and Burundi coffees.
The reason why Black Insomnia is our top pick is because you simply can’t find it anywhere else. When it comes to coffee the more exotic it is – the better.
This is the strongest coffee in the world and if you’re interested in South African coffee, you just have to try it.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a pro to enjoy the flavours and aromas of a good cup of Joe. It’s a fun way to send your taste buds on a journey around the world. To get the best of what the world’s coffee-growing regions have to offer, shake up your typical routine and taste something new.
Even if you think you won’t enjoy South African coffee, keep your eye on this promising country. A lot of exciting developments are changing the way coffee is viewed on the southern tip of the continent, developments that are sure to cause a stir.