After spending a few months in Spanish speaking countries it was nice to return to Cape Town for my second time. Not only was it nice to be back in a surrounding where it was easy to understand and be understood, but also being back in a more familiar food and drink scene was comforting. For me this especially means being able to order a flat white or a cappuccino without being too concerned that I get something completely unexpected, as well as even if I have to go out of my way for it, being able to get some more than decent gelato.
As previously posted, for me, Moro Gelato was THE place to go, to get my regular gelato fix. At first this was the only reason for me to cycle, mini bus or uber it to the Mason’s Press in Woodstock. With baseline coffee being practically next to Moro Gelato I had passed it and acknowledged it, but at the same time I was usually on a gelato mission so it took me a while and multiple reminders from both Stefano and Heine from Moro Gelato until I finally stopped by baseline coffee. Since my first visit I haven’t looked back, and Mason’s Press became a perfect balls’n’beans destination, allowing me to kill two birds with one stone, getting both a gelato and coffee fix.
baseline coffee became one of my regular Cape Town spots, not just because of the great coffee, but also because I felt at “home”, both Stacy and Deon are very welcoming and friendly, the music’s good, it’s not too big, loud or crowded, so also very well suited for a coffice location, which I took full advantage of. I’d like to share baseline coffee with you, even if you’re not in Cape Town. So read below to find out about the baseline story and see what the camera shy baseline coffee team have to say about giving back to the community and coffee in SA.
First of all, how did your coffee career begin and how did the idea for baseline coffee come about? What’s your actual background if you haven’t always worked in the coffee industry?
Deon first became interested in coffee when he lived in the US – although not the speciality coffee scene (Starbucks right?!), the love of this liquid that helps all of us “non-morning people” operate was real. On returning to SA in about 2007 it didn’t take long to see that there was a real gap in the market when it came to really great, locally roasted coffee that South Africans could connect with. And so, the journey began with a goal of not only making great coffee, but also giving back. The brand was originally launched as Kupa Coffee (pronounced “koopah”, Swahili meaning “to give”) with the idea of involving local community members in the process & using an eCommerce store to sell to consumers. Unfortunately the idea was a little ahead of its time, with the average coffee drinker not yet ready to embrace online shopping & the expensive logistics costs involved. So Deon continued to run the business on the side whilst he worked in a full-time job (Digital Marketing) and instead of involving the community directly, he began working with a few select foundations to donate and channel the business’ giving. Deon took up the reins full-time with coffee roughly 4 years ago and I (Stacy) joined him 2 years later. The business was re-branded in early 2014 to the brand it is today: baseline coffee. The idea came about after a long discussion between Deon and myself about where coffee in South Africa was and where our coffee stands. A “baseline” represents both a unit of measurement and a level to strive for, and this is what we are about: our mission is to raise the bar when it comes to quality, consistency and flavour in coffee. We pride ourselves in bringing our customers the absolute best with green beans carefully selected and imported from around the world, and crafted to perfection with care right here in Cape Town.
But you can only fly under the radar for so long, so in early 2015 our Espresso Bar and roasting operations were opened to the public in Woodstock in the new Mason’s Press building, so here we are…
What made you decide to open up your own coffee shop/roaster? What challenges have you faced with owning your own business?
The growth of our business has been more organic than aggressive over the years (we don’t see ourselves as typical “sales people” and self-admittedly, are pretty bad at “sales pitches”), and because of this we flew under the radar for quite some time. When the coffee scene really started exploding in Cape Town we were encountering more and more people who didn’t know who we were. It helped that we were already partnered with a number of well-known restaurants & coffee shops, so the coffee could stand on its own, but we eventually decided that we needed to stick our heads (and our brand) above the fray. Thus, the decision to open an Espresso Bar. We searched for the right premises for about a year and a half and eventually found the space we’re in now. We were so incredibly keen to start that we began trading when the building was still a hard-hat zone and we were the only shop-fitted space, with our main customers being the construction guys!
Setting up and running the Espresso Bar, which operates like a café-style establishment, has of course not been without its challenges. With us being situated in a more industrial-type location one of the major challenges has been getting our name out there – you wouldn’t expect to turn up off of Woodstock Main Road and, amidst a number of business parks, find a Coffee Roastery & Espresso Bar! Even after we’ve been here for a solid year we still regularly meet people working/living in the area who didn’t know we were here. We love it – it’s like making new friends every day! The other major challenge is one which is shared by all operating in the hospitality industry: staffing. Finding and keeping the right staff is a challenge, especially when you’re looking for skilled staff of a higher than typical calibre. Oh, and finding time to take a break – your business is very much a part of your everyday and doesn’t always keep office hours!
How does it feel to have your own coffee shop and what do you like most about your job?
Some days we get that “aha” moment: you look around the space and all the seats are full, there’s a queue at the bar, the music is jamming and you get this big, stupid kid-grin on your face because “Hey, this is OURS”. Owning the Espresso Bar has been different from operating our wholesale business because we spend so much more time interacting face-to-face with our customers. I think that’s one of the things we love most about it – the interactions we have every day with our community of coffee lovers.
What’s the soundtrack in the coffee shop, if you have one?
Hmmm, it’s pretty hard to narrow it down as we play a wide variety of music. It depends on the time of day, how full the shop is, who is in the shop at the time and what kind of a mood we’re in. It can be anything from liquid drum-and-base to Blink 182, to deep house. We have been known to throw it back too, and love a little Dire Straits and The Police in the early morning. If we can get our hands on good local music, we give that a spin as well, and we have some customers who occasionally bring us some cool mixes to play too.
Is there any advice you can give to people who might want to follow your foot steps and also open their own coffee shop or also start roasting coffee?
Do your research. There is a big difference between the idea of owing your own coffee shop or roastery, and the reality of owning it. Some of the things they don’t tell you when you start your own business is that you don’t get “off” days (at least not for a long time into it); no matter how you feel, you have to show up, always. One of the greatest rewards about doing your own thing is effort in = rewards out, but this is also one of the biggest challenges. Oh, and be prepared to say goodbye to your weekends J
Some people see roasting coffee as an art or a science. Is there a philosophy behind your coffee?
We like to think that artistry is one of the by-products of great passion. Think about something you’re passionate about – let’s say photography, or writing – when it’s driven by passion you endeavour to add your own mark, flair, make it your own. So, you’re an artist too in the love you take in weaving your craft.
Our philosophy, something we firmly believe, is that life is filled with moments. We fill our everyday with all of these moments, and most of them just pass by, so if we can “make” a moment for one of our customers – make it great, make it memorable, make it easy, make it an escape – then that’s our job done. And also, really great coffee should be accessible to all coffee lovers, from the “aficionado” to the “instant convert”… Because bad coffee shouldn’t happen to good people…
Is there anything in particular which you think makes your roasted coffee stand out from others in Cape Town?
You tell me 🙂 To be honest, we’ve just tried to stay focussed and real. Coffee without the pretention. We’ve stuck to a few coffees and made sure that we do them well. We’ve played a bit more over the last year and will continue to do so, especially with single origins. When we hit on something that we think is special we release it out to our Espresso Bar customers… but generally you won’t find us standing on hilltops yelling that our coffee is the greatest. Taste is so subjective – we love the way our coffee tastes and to us it’s very distinctive, but everyone is in a different space in their coffee journey and has different preferences, so all we can do is encourage people to try our coffee and decide for themselves.
How do you brew your coffee at home? Why?
Until recently we had one of our spare 2-group Wegas on the kitchen counter (which was great for the coffee, not so great for the electricity bill!). Why? Because it’s awesome 🙂
At the moment we have an old school La Pavoni that we use to extract espresso for our Americanos, mostly because bigger equipment doesn’t last long until we put it to more serious work somewhere else. Otherwise we’re still fans of the good ol French Press, especially for testing our single origins.
What about coffee inspires you? Where does your passion come from and what keeps it going?
Probably the fact that it’s always changing: new trends, new ways of roasting and brewing, new crops… We love the fact that we haven’t “arrived”. So, as long as we have more to learn, experience and experiment with, we’ll continue to be inspired!
Thanks baseline coffee team, for your time answering my questions as well as providing me with a coffice whilst I was in Cape Town.
Bad coffee shouldn’t happen to good people… So if you’re visiting Cape Town, make sure you take some time to venture off the beaten path, get to Woodstock and visit the Mason’s Press, for a coffee break at baseline coffee followed by a delicious gelato a few steps further at Moro Gelato, or a gelato first followed by a great coffee!
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