Grown in Africa, glamourised by celebrities donning boots and trench coats, clutching their cups on the streets of London and New York, but now there’s a homecoming of sorts…. yes, coffee culture is brewing in Durban.
It was this strong love of all things caffeine that attracted celebrities, socialites, journalists, bloggers and marketing executives to the media launch of the city’s first Starbucks store this week.
The location had a lot to do with the buzz around the launch. Florida Road is an iconic street in Durban.
It exudes fun and carefree living. This is the one street where time doesn’t really matter. Starbucks is a perfect fit into this lifestyle. For the on-the-go workaholics, business meetings, a meet up with friends or a chilled day with the family, it’s designed to accommodate everyone. Oh yes! The design itself is beautiful. Wooden and earthy, with customised seating both inside and out – you are sure to find your comfort zone to enjoy your cuppa.
Now before you start thinking this is all sounding way too promotional – let’s stop there.
This article isn’t just about Starbucks – it’s about why good coffee matters in my city.
Durban – for all its international accolades and ticks as a top travel destination – often gets left behind when it comes to dining, the outdoors and entertainment. That Starbucks chose Durban first over Cape Town to open a store says a lot. It means we take our coffee seriously. And Durbanites now have a wider range of choices with Starbucks. Those trademark frappuccinos captured my attention that night – I mean everyone was flaunting them. But, I was down with the flu so opted for a cappuccino instead. It was strong and smooth, very smooth. I missed out on the Aged Sumatra though. This is part of the reserve bar selection, which simply means it is rare and limited.
Another plus for Durban is that the high-end reserve bar is only the third in the country and is found in just 5% of Starbucks stores globally.
(Picture: Hafsa Mkhize)
Yes, high-end. No, I’m not a coffee connoisseur, nor a coffee snob. I love coffee brewed to perfection from rich, flavoursome coffee beans, but I will equally admitting to enjoying a cup of instant chicory-based coffee. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about … it’s the brands most office spaces stock up on and they remain firm favourites in many South African households too. I prefer my coffee black, often with no sugar. But, sometimes I cheat and add a dollop of cream too! My coffee intake depends very much on my mood. The more deadlines, the more I have to do, the more coffee I drink. It puts me on a high, a natural high and energises me to keep my focus. If I want to put an end to procrastination, as I have been doing with this post, I make myself a cup of coffee to get the task done. Yes, the cup is at my table as I type this.
How many cups of coffee do I drink a day? Sometimes I cannot count. To those who have told me I drink too many cups a day (and there have been many who tried to get me to cut my coffee intake) the research proves that I’m not drinking my way to disease. In fact, the opposite is true.
An umbrella review of over 200 studies published in the British Medical Journal this week found that drinking three to four cups of coffee a day can have significant health benefits. Read more about it here
My love for coffee also has an obsessive streak. Once, I ran out of a building during a fire drill gripping my cup of coffee because it tasted so good and I didn’t want it to get cold. And, my friends and family know, I’d rather have coffee before anything else, staying true to the slogan on my T-shirt – BUT, FIRST COFFEE.
But, back to the Starbucks launch. As I walked through the store, with the smell of coffee wafting through the busy room, and of course, people excitedly waiting to hear their names being called in true Starbucks tradition, something caught my eye. It was a board with the words “Ethiopia – the birthplace of all coffee”. I remembered the rather delightful story of how drinking coffee in the fashion we do today, came to be.
“Legend has it that coffee was first discovered by a young Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi, who noticed his goats behaving excitedly after eating red berries from a nearby bush. Kaldi then tried some himself and discovered that it gave him a fresh burst of energy. This was in about the eighth century AD. Up until that time coffee had only been used as a foodstuff and it was only after 1000 AD that coffee began to be used as a hot beverage. The habit of drinking coffee was then adopted by monks who boiled the berries and made a drink that kept them awake during long religious services.
From the cradle of coffee in Africa, coffee then spread to the Middle East, Persia and Turkey, then to Italy and the rest of Europe and finally to the rest of the world.”
At that moment, I smiled. Yes, this is the homecoming of sorts I referred to in the beginning.
You may try Starbucks and love it, or you may still prefer another brand. But the lovely part is that you now have another international brand to choose from in Durban. Critics, I know, will raise their voices in protest, as some already have. There are conflicting statistics about Starbucks actual Fairtrade commitment versus what it claims on its website. But, then again, even the fairness of Fairtrade is being called into question. So that’s a debate I would steer away from.
I’d rather focus on the homecoming. The public opening of Starbucks is on Saturday, 25 November and social media is abuzz with expectation. I anticipate there will be a long queue – that’s if you’re not queued out from Black Friday! But, it’s one queue that will have a sweet reward at the end, with an eye-popping selection of cakes to accompany your coffee. Given the dramatically changing weather patterns in Durban, I won’t be surprised to see people in boots and trench coats, posing with their names on their cuppas.
Ah, the things we do for the love of coffee!
P.S Starbucks is at 233 Florida Road, Durban. Another store opens at the Gateway Theatre of Shopping in December.