Not so many years ago, you battled to get a really good cappuccino, latte, espresso — even filter coffee — in Durban. Then the Sunday Tribune, KwaZulu-Natal’s largest English-language newspaper, which runs a good weekly food section and travel section in its magazine, started running an annual “Best Cappuccino Contest" (or cappy, as the quaintly call them in this sprawling and diverse Indian Ocean port and resort city).
The contest and accompanying coffee guide is now in its 14th year. And wow, the city’s coffee culture has undergone delicious and delightful changes and flourished.
Each year, how that they’re on a roll, more great coffee venues open; more baristas get trained; and the coffee options become more plentiful.
The current Top Ten Places to Drink Coffee in Durban — and I thank the Sunday Tribune team of tasters and the 14th annual Tribune Coffee Guide for their selection (the descriptions are mine), are in alphabetical order: (Followed by two of my personal favourites right on the beachfront, which many would argue is Durban’s best asset.)
1. Antique Cafe
91-93 Churchill Road in Morningside.
Browse the antiques then sit in a charming eclectic setting or out in a shady “untraditional” courtyard garden and drink excellent coffee. Ask too about Carole Paxton’s cakes when you’re there. She’s a local Durbanite who bakes for passion, small, artisanal, custom. Makes her own Tartine bread each week if you’re lucky enough to know her but here it could be her flourless chocolate cake, her orange and chocolate cake — oh, and her homemade mayo that they offer with some of their savories.
2. Bean Green
147 Helen Joseph Road, Glenwood
One of the best coffee shops you’ll find Durban. Ongoing and ever since it opened. They import the beans themselves from Ethiopia and roast them right there, which might be the norm in places like the San Francisco Bay Area but not in Durbs. A father and daughter team opened Bean Green. The daughter has now making coffee at Durban Surf (see below). A few freshly made things to eat. Great place to hang out. Free WiFi. Small. Only open during the day and not on Sundays.
3. Corner Cafe
197 Brand Road, Glenwood
One of suburban Durban’s most popular hang-out spots, ongoing, for brekker, light lunches, anytime snacks (and sometime there’s entertainment) — and a good cup of coffee (and WiFi). Their food fare continues to change They now have a few bakery items. Menu offers all that is fresh, locally sourced. Delish cakes not too sweet. Lots of attention to being enviro-friendly. Always a good barista pouring. Lovely light-filled space with interesting touches and a courtyard for when you want to sit outside.
4. Factory Cafe
369 Magwaza Maphalala (Gale Street), Glenwood
This is the other place that imports and roasts their own. Great industrial space with WiFi and huge old coffee roasters, some retired, others roasting beans to sell to the public and also, to many of the better coffee outlets in the city. They have done more than their fair share to up the ante on good coffee in Durban. They have trained many of the baristas and they give coffee classes. The “mother company” (in which they are located, in an industrial part of Durban although “right there” — easy to find, easy to park) is the historic Colombo Tea and Coffee Company that’s been importing and roasting coffee beans since I was a child — and way, way before coffee became “fashionable and trendy” in Durban. Not a restaurant but you will find a few tasty things to eat. And the warehouse space is sometimes used as a gallery space and for more offbeat music events and happenings.
5. I Want My Coffee
Mayfair on the Lake, 5 Park Drive, uMhlanga Ridge
Out in the suburbs and near the Gateway mall on the uMhlanga ridge. Good baristas. Home-baked bread and muffins. If you’re in the uMlanga area and want a good cuppa, perhaps check it out.
6. Jacksonville Coffee
Moses Mabhida Stadium
This is a kind of kiosk in an exercise space grandly called the Human Performance Institute in the truly grand Moses Mabhida Stadium www.examiner.com/article/how-ex-sa-communist-party-leader-moses-mabhida-.... It’s sort of tucked away and you’ll go here for a take-out coffee when you’re doing something at the stadium like riding the skycar or visiting the monthly I Heart Market. They don’t roast their own or have any sort of cafe ambience but for some reason the coffee judges felt they deserved a spot in the Top Ten and the cappy I had there was good.
7. Lineage Coffee at Stretta Cafe
Shop 8, The Colony Center, Old Main Road, Hillcrest
Roastery and coffee bar. Located in a cafe known for its pizzas, the owner apparently imports his own single origin beans, many from South America. Award-winning baristas. This is out of Durban, in Hillcrest, which tourists can pass through en route to some of KwaZulu-Natal’s attractions, so if this is your plan, make it a route stop if you feel like a good cuppa.
8. Mark Gold
469 Innes Road, Morningside
This is where you go for jewelry and coffee. True. It’s a trendy little upscale custom jewelry design store across from Mitchell Park next to a new charcuterie and a Vada E Caffee, a branch of an upscale coffee chain that serves pretty good brews — but not as good as Mark Gold. They have about four tables and recently they added a short menu of pretty delectable items.
295 Esther Roberts (Frere) Road, Glenwood
People are hot for this one, which is pretty new and right next to the also new Glenwood Bakery. Some of my friends have suggested they’re a little precious but so what. Fresh fare, good coffee, suburban residential venue. It’s a dime a dozen sort of place for major foodie cities but Durban can do with all the pretty good new eateries and coffee shops it can get.
210 Stephen Dlamini (Essenwood) Road, Berea
From the outside it looks like a surf shop given the racks of skateboards and beachy items. You could drive right past and miss it too as its in an unprepossessing location opposite a boys high school and near La Bella, one of the local pubs frequented by a legion of well oiled regulars. But it’s all fresh and young with a small delicious menu and great coffee. Hmm. Haven’t had one of theirs for a while. I better get back there soon.
Plus two of my favorites — right on the beach:
11. Cafe Jiran
152 Snell Parade, North Beach
Locals and visitors hang out here and morning regulars often include a contingent of just-out-the-water surf skiers. It’s on the beachfront promenade and for a while was the only spot serving good coffee on the beachfront. Good menu with specials and excellent food as well as a limited cake selection to have with coffee. I usually hit the Mugachino, which is a double cappy. Service can be slow but that’s the only complaint — but who wants to rush their coffee anyway?
12. Durban Surf Lifesaving Club, North Beach
Across from the beachfront Wimpy Bar, to get into Durban Surf for your coffee you will need to ring a bell outside and wait for someone to buzz you in. It’s a club but non club members are welcome. You just pay a little more for breakfast items on the limited menu. This is a Bean Green offshoot and Durban’s newest good coffee outlet as of January 2014. From the upstairs balcony of the long-time surf club you get great views of the Indian Ocean and the beachfront up and down the promenade. Cool place.
Just by the by, you still have to ask “what sort of coffee” when someone offers you a cuppa in their home in Durban as it’s likely to be instant. Funny because some people have been grinding their own beans and doing the espresso thing for years. But now, same as San Francisco and London and many other cities, good coffee is becoming a bit of a religious experience.