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Cape Towns Curious Coffee Culture

Compared to major cities in Europe, coffee culture is something that Cape Town seriously lacks. But perhaps only on the surface of things. For what do you call the hoards of good looking people who gather on trendy Kloof street on a daily basis, religously succumbing to that dark brown, aromatic caffeine injection?.

Although there is no standard way of ordering or drinking coffee in Cape Town ? it could be tall black or flat white; skinny with wings, or grande Americano con panna - there is no lack of coffee, coffee shops or coffee drinkers. It's just a matter of knowing what you like and where to find it.Cape Town has recently experienced a steady rise in the popular American-style coffee shops similar to the Starbucks phenomenon that hit the United Kingdom not too long ago.

These establishments have streamlined the coffee drinking experience into a kind of Macdonald-esque drive-through-on-foot, where reasonably good coffee is prepared super fast and sold at above average prices. Simply decide on the origin of the coffee bean, intensity of the roast, the fat percentage of the milk, whether you want a cup or a mug, 'eat-in' or 'take-away'. Then place your order on the one side of the counter, pass the glass display with a choice of numerous pre-prepared and packaged sandwhices, biscuits and muffins, and pick up a scaldingly hot drink on the other end. Easy as pie.The problem is, even though these establishments offer you a 'tailor-made' drink, in probably less than a minute, the supposed "speciality" coffee that arrives at the end of the counter is nearly always an utter dissappointment ? even the cocoa or cinnamon they make you sprinkle over yourself, somehow contribute to the overall blandness.

Gone are the days of grand establishments with white tablecloths and eloquant waitrons, serving aromatic coffee in elaborate china. Or are they?.At the stately Mount Nelson hotel in Orange street, Gardens, the splendour of this bygone era is still very much alive. Here, high tea (or coffee for that matter) is still served in the colonial lounge every afternoon, accompanied by a feast of sweet and savoury treats prepared with beautiful attention to detail.But if a humble street cafe is more what you had in mind, a stroll through the city centre will certainly satisfy your need.

Walking up St. Georges Mall and surrounds will provide you with ample quaint coffee shops serving anything from stale filter coffee to decent espresso ? so make sure to choose well. Try the realy strong and aromatic coffee from Crush ? a favourite with business people wanting to kick start their day. For the health conscious, they serve suberp gourmet sandwhiches as well as fragrantly spicy Chai Latte.Round the corner from Crush, in Church Street, close to Greenmarket Square, is the charming Cafe African Image where exotic coffees from all over the African continent can be enjoyed in the colourful surroundings of Pan-African art and crafts.In Bree street there's the quirky Birds Boutique Cafe, where proper South African-style"moerkoffie" (Afrikaans for ground coffee) is complemented by freshly baked biscuits, muffins and scones with such decadent combinations as dried figs and chocolate.

Long street also has it's fair share of Coffee shops. There's the tiny, although bustling, Tribe Cafe with delicious coffee and delectable sandwhiches. Two blocks further up Rcaffe serves decent espresso and freshly baked sweet and savoury patries, while DeliZioso on the next corner whips up anything from cappucino's to espresso macchiato, accompanied by a mouthwatering Italian-style lunch buffet.In the nearby and trendier Kloof street, franchises like Seattle Coffee Company and Mugg&Bean compete with one of Cape Town's most popular coffee shops ? the impossibly cool Vida e Caffe.

In a way, the arrival of a designer coffee shop like Vida e Caffe, is a small miracle. Because somehow, it captures the efficiciency of a drive-through-style shop without compromising the quality of the coffee or the drinking experience. The shop's sleek interior is as aesthetically pleasing as it is practical and comfortable. But the biggest drawcard, is without a doubt the exceptionally flavourful and consistently good 100 % Arabica coffee that they serve with such friendly passion.Until recently, I thought the best coffee I've ever tasted was in Melbourne, Australia.

I had been told what a refined coffee culture Melbourne possesses and subsequently headed for a coffee shop on arrival. Without hesitation, I ordered 'filter coffee' - hoping to sound as universal as possible. The look on the waitron's face was a mixed expression of complete confusion and utter disgust. My Australian companians quickly saved the situation by ordering a round of "latte's" for the table (short for 'caffe latte'), explaining that 'filter coffee' is not a concept anyone in Australia is familiar with, as Melbourne's coffee culture draws on the strong Italian presence in the city. Soon after my tiny faux-pas, the most beautiful drink arrived, served in a short glass on a saucer.

No funny-eared cup or grotesque glass mug - simply deliciously strong, creamy espresso, topped with slightly frothy milk, served in a glass.On my return, I frantically searched the streets of Cape Town for a coffee shop where latte's are served the way they are in Melbourne (or Italy for that matter). I searched numerous trendy coffee houses, obscure Italian restaurants and dodgy canteens without any success.

Thousands of cups of coffee and endless nights of insomnia later, my salvation arrived in the pure white bliss that is Manna Epicure. And they even get it right down to the short latte glass and saucer. Coffee as good as this, in such a beautiful, modern setting (perhaps with a little toasted brioche, poached pear and milk jam, on the side) turns coffee drinking into one of the most refined earthly experiences. No wonder my coffee drinking journey's always seem to end there.But no matter what your preference or pretention might be ? from stale filter to strong 'moerkoffie' or authentic Melbourn-style lattés ? if it's coffee you're after, Cape Town will surely satisfy the need.

.Kobus van der Merwe is the editor of CityGuideSA - a comprehensive online travel resource with up-to-date information on where to Eat, Stay and Play in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and the Garden Route.

By: Kobus Van Der Merwe



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