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There are only a handful of coffee producing farms in South Africa. Such a valuable commodity, it is traded on the stock exchange. The trees need simple and yet increasingly rare conditions to thrive. They need rain, protection from hungry beetles and dedication; sweaty hot painstaking dedication.
One coffee tree takes 4 -5 years to grow. There are tricks and trades on how to grow the beans. If you plant the bean too deep within the soil it battles to push its way to light and you discard it, thinking it has died. If it doesn’t get enough water it dies. The more water the coffee tree gets, the more coffee beans it produces. It’s a stressful and passionate production, worth time and acres and perseverance. Some farmers use pesticides and some grow organic. It’s a romantic job turned to hours of work with soiled fingernails and muddy feet. The toils of this hard work is delivered to trendy city bars and then brewed and served by men in shorts and beards.
As we twist our way down the Panorama route in Mpumulanga, we are on our way to visit the Austrian Coffee Estate. Walter, owner of the coffee farm’s story is simple. Owning a truck company in Mpumalanga and ready to retire, his wife told him. “You will not sit around, you must make yourself busy,so Walter saw an ad for a coffee farm in the newspaper and a few days later presented it to his wife… “there we go…we will not sit down. I have bought a coffee farm.”
As we twist our way down the Panorama route in Mpumulanga, we are on our way to visit the Austrian Coffee Estate. Walter, owner of the coffee farm’s story is simple. Owning a truck company in Mpumalanga and ready to retire, his wife told him. “You will not sit around, you must make yourself busy,”So Walter saw an ad for a coffee farm in the newspaper and a few days later presented it to his wife. “There we go…we will not sit down. I have bought a coffee farm”
It’s a “small” coffee farm, and yet is one of the largest in South Africa. They grow Arabica trees and harvest almost 2.5 tons per hectare. Walter is sweaty after taking people around his farm in the scorching sun. Dressed in grubby denim shorts, a pale blue shirt and slops with socks, he starts our tour. Compared to other commercial coffee farm tours, Walter is real. This farm is organic. They do not spray pesticides, which means the stress is higher. A certain caffeine addicted beetle burrows its head inside one tree and sends allergens to the crop. If you don’t catch it in time, your entire crop will die.
We walk, we smell the beans, we are shown a small insight into the life of a coffee farmer. It’s not all beautiful sunsets and nights on the veranda smelling the rain. A few years back the entire farm was devastated in a drought.
The next Coffee Estate we visit is In Port Edward, 1 km from the bridge over the river Transkei, – Beaver Creek Coffee Estate. Winding banana plantation roads take you up into a rural Africa so beautiful you forget the lights of the foggy city. Quite contrary to Austrian Coffee farm, there are visitors, lots of them. The son of the owner of the farm takes the tour. At Beaver Creek they produce their own varietals and also blend from coffee produce from around the world. It’s cool, it’s December, there are lots of tourists listening to the facts, but I feel removed. Coffee is a passionate thing. A lady asks about Instant coffee and is subliminally shunned from the group. There is 10% coffee in a brand like Ricoffy and mostly made up of Chicory. This is not the stuff of the Espresso Diaries.
Two of the bigger coffee farms on the list I have yet to visit is Assagay Farms in KZN and Crown Coffee in Tzaneen. There are hundreds of different roasteries in SA, but owning and growing the crops is a rare thing.
I enjoy it in the mornings. I enjoy a coffee bean in my super white sambuca. I enjoy the freeze of a cold brew during work hours and mostly; I enjoy the fact that it’s back to the ground, and the earth and what nature has provided. I will always remember Walter with his no pretension passion, his loyal dogs and the fact that he is the one with the filthy fingernails, the sweat on his brow and the lingering smell of coffee in his socks.