Department of Coffee – on Coffee, Culture and Community
This article appeared in SAA Sawubona Inflight Magazine, September 2013
The morning crowd moves in a purposeful, steady stream to and from the Khayelitsha train station. The scent of strong coffee brewing, rich and distinctive, has become an unmistakable feature around these parts.
The Department of Coffee or DOC, the hip acronym, housed in a bright orange building outside the station, is the culmination of the vision of three young residents: Wongama Baleni, Vusumzi Mamile and barista Vuyile Msaku. The project, funded and guided by a social entrepreneurship organisation called Ministry of Service Delivery has been on an upward trajectory over its first year.
Leaders of the Pack
Up until this point no coffee shop selling premium coffee existed in Khayelitsha where food and drink is widely hawked to residents and visitors. The obvious implication is that the venture has a unique selling point by being the very first. Locals sniffing the brew would stop by and ask questions. DOC is Khayelitsha’s introduction to a global coffee-culture. Additionally, it is run and co-owned by Baleni, Mamile and Msaku, which ensures a community buy-in. But the project was not without risk. The three explain how they had to forgo their regular salaries during the planning phase and pay cuts were essential at the start. Securing the venue was also not without hassle. In the end, DOC’s well researched business plan was vital in nabbing the premises.
Down the Hatchet
Orders for takeaway filter coffee, cappuccinos, espressos, tea and muffins are taken through a hatch, with seating at umbrella-shaded tables outside. A delivery service takes a supply of coffee to employees at the nearby court and hospital. On Saturdays a band plays, the atmosphere loses the work-day briskness. Patrons linger and other vendors gather outside.
Operational efficiencies have ensured that prices are kept affordable for the community. Filter coffees cost a mere R6.50, cappuccinos R8.50 and muffins R3. A single, specially blended Arabica coffee is used. While coffees are popular in winter, DOC hopes to introduce locals to their ‘secret recipe’ iced chocolates and coffees in summer.
To encourage visitors living outside Khayelisha, DOC together with Metrorail hosts a monthly open-day. In this way one can commute from Cape Town and enjoy a cuppa as well as various activities such as guided cycling tours of the area.
Patrons are encouraged to become involved in supporting the community by purchasing ‘vouchers’ for muffins. After a significant number of vouchers is collected, a DOC team takes a batch to a local orphanage or creche.
One gets the keen sense that the trio aims to grow the township’s commitment to coffee. When asked if they’ve received any requests for soy milk, they reply, amused, “Not yet. But we did get an order for a cappuccino with 12 spoons of sugar!”
Open: Mon- Sat