East African Coffee: The Journey
A man tips the brim of his top hat at the entrance to Truth Coffee Roasting. His outfit is a throwback to Victorian times with a hearty splash of the future - steampunk style. He gestures towards the room behind him; a hand points towards a café bustling at 8.15am. Cape Town’s locals, workers, hard-earners, students, visitors and everything-in-between wait to get their daily dose of Truth. Brass and gold piping glints in the sunlight filtering through the floor to ceiling windows. A mix of carefully placed couches, tables, chairs and benches cover the floor. Sculptures and artworks hang thoughtfully around the space. In the background, steam hisses, orders are rattled off, machinery clinks dutifully and spoons clatter providing a lively backgrounds score for the morning service. Baristas move quickly and expertly; roasting, pouring and perfecting.
Steaming cups of coffee complete with foamy illustrations are placed in front of eager fingers. The coffee on the tables has taken a journey – from bean grown on plantations in East Africa to Roasteries and cups in Cape Town.
Safari365 sat down with David Donde, founder of Truth, to discuss his love of African coffee. We also were able to hear tales of his travels through Africa, and across the rest of the world, over a couple of Flat Whites.
Truth Coffee Roasting has become increasingly popular since it first opened its doors. The Telegraph announced that it was The Best Coffee Shop in the World in 2016. “We started in 2009 and we built this in 2012. The whole idea was a coffee place built on philosophy,” explained Donde, “and that philosophy today is the joy of extraordinary truth.”
Coffee has a long history in Africa, with the beans having beginnings in the plateaus of Ethiopia. Since then, African robusta and arabica coffee has been well-known, much-loved and held in high esteem. “We use a lot of African coffees. Africa is the birthplace of coffee. My favourite coffee in the world is African and I don’t know a single coffee expert that I judge with that doesn’t have an African in their top three coffees,” said Donde.
As is the case with wine, the quality of coffee depends on the terroir (the soil, topography and climate in which it is grown). Coffee trees only thrive in tropical and sub-tropical climates. These areas stretch across the equator forming a ‘coffee belt’. Africa’s many different coffee regions produce beans known for being fruity, sweet, and floral. Some of the most well-known regions are Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.
After planting, once the coffee trees and coffee fruit (known as coffee cherries) have flourished in the favourable climates, the coffee cherries ripen to a lush red and harvesters know the fruits are ready to be picked.
The fruits are then processed, dried, milled and hulled before being sorted, polished and made ready for export. At this stage, the coffee beans are green.
Once the coffee beans arrive at their destination, the next stage is roasting. During roasting, the beans will become the aromatic brown beans coffee connoisseurs know and love. During roasting the green beans are exposed to high temperatures and produce a fragrant oil – caffeol - which provides the flavor and aroma of the coffee we drink.
“I love a variety of African coffees,” Donde shared, “My first love will always be Ethiopia just because it is the birthplace of coffee and Ethiopian coffees are just so different, so spectacular. Each region has its own individual expressions - its own terroir. Far more so than any other country I have judged in coffee competitions over Africa.”
Along with his extensive knowledge and experience of coffee, Donde has significant experience traveling to many destinations across the globe, “For utter relaxation, I think the Maldives are an experience to be contemplated. There’s so much that to have one place that sticks out is impossible; food in New York or Culture in Brazil.”
“Even just the Western Cape I go nuts for. There are a lot of small areas that are intense and stunning. Further out, for me the Wild Coast and the Transkei are hidden gems. There is just so much (Africa) has to offer,” he added.
Travelling leaves people with unforgettable memories and a lot of life lessons. For Donde, a valuable lesson he’s learned has been learning from other people, “I think that my life is centered on creativity so the more difference I’m exposed to, the more natural creativity there is, the more solutions to problems.”
To travelers visiting new destinations Donde suggests they immerse themselves in local culture as much as they can, “I think the important thing about travel getting into the local version of the world. Go and embed yourself into the local stuff – not the obvious tourist stuff - and it might not be the cliché of what you are expecting to find there. You are going to find the extraordinary and the brilliance of interesting people,” Donde explained, “Everywhere has its own joy.”
Are you keen to embark on your own adventure through Africa? Start planning the trip of a lifetime today!