Tribe Coffee founder and roast master chats to CTE.com coffee, culture & Cape Town.
From humble beginnings to a creative and trendy space in the Woodstock Foundry, Tribe Coffee is on the constant lookout for newer, better and more quality-rich locally sourced coffee. Jake Easton tells us about his trailblazing team.
Tell us a bit about your company, Tribe.
Tribe Coffee is a wild adventure into flavours and aromas. Our unique coffee outlook has afforded us the opportunity to grow into a space in the arts-only Woodstock Foundry. As terrible retailers, we often give away as many coffees as we sell, testing and experimenting with new roasts and coffee beans. With our 1950s 25 kg Probat Roaster (named Bertha) in the living room of an old Woodstock row-house, we’re always hunting for new collaborators. In short, we’re wild aroma adventurers surrounded by artists.
What does a typical day at Tribe consist of?
Coffee roasting, espresso designing, machine installations, client meetings, laughing often and loudly, designing cafe spaces, training baristas, training in-house roaster candidates, laughing more and, every Friday afternoon, an end-of-week down-time with staff, friends and family.
Where do you source your beans from?
As much as possible we source directly from farmers. This has led to higher green bean sales for the farms concerned and created greater local awareness for the countries with whom we have direct trade partnerships. We also source from highly respected speciality coffee traders in South Africa. We strive to offer the highest quality beans at a price people can afford, which has led us into many an odd office with strange but wonderful people, finding beans from small farmers as far away as Chiapas in Mexico or Einkhof Estate in Zimbabwe.
How would you describe the coffee culture in Cape Town?
In Cape Town we consume, at a rough guess, a little over 1000 tonnes of roasted coffee per year. Our coffee culture cannot be based on bulk sales alone, but from consistently amazing coffee. Cape Town is on par with the great coffee cities around the world, and the subtle change in the ‘café’ culture of Cape Town is a result of consumers who are more discerning and refuse to drink bad coffee. And this consumer-based change is a direct result of roasteries like Tribe who refuse to make traditional, over-roasted coffee and seek instead to find unique flavours and aromas from diverse coffees from across the globe.
Tribe was founded by a team of three. Tell us about your way of working together.
We work as a collective. The three of us –Kate Nero, Bradley Juter and myself – link in traditional business nomenclature as the COO, CFO and CEO with no one person reigning over others. This means any one of us can open the door to a new business or client; however, it also means that the rest of us have to approve the growth. This style of corporate identity means that compromise, willingness to succeed or fail and presenting a ‘whole picture’ business analysis is part of our daily interaction. To sum us up: insane, controlling, giving, understanding, driven, creative, analytical, happy, curious and, mostly, professional.
What’s been your most valuable lesson?
Poverty. Poverty is a great motivator. When I started Tribe I had only a small list of things: R40 and 20 kg of roasted beans, no grinders, no office, a bag sealer, four espresso cups, three milk jugs and enough petrol in my tank to visit three restaurants. It worked. Four years on we still provide coffee to the same restaurants. Poverty means always taking care of the things you have and not worrying about the things you don’t.
When Kate joined we had been promised a multi-million rand grant – it never happened. That was the next big lesson: make your own wealth through your decisions and hard work.
You work in such a cool spot in Woodstock. Tell us about your space…
We’re surrounded by artists. Artists of every sort permeate the Woodstock Foundry. It’s not a business hub, nor is it a designer’s retail space. The Foundry began by making art. Effectively we’re surrounded by creators of things and each of these creators inspires us to see beyond the current roast technology and look into the newest methods of roasting.
How do you keep things fresh and interesting?
By refusing to be content with the status quo. In fact, we’re always trying to find ways to grow, create and broaden the perspectives of our staff. We have an in-house motto of ‘prove it’ and that relates as much to the professional roasters as to the beginner barista. As the 3rd Wave Coffee Revolution is less than seven years old in South Africa, we have no laurels to rest upon, so we’re constantly engaging ourselves, our clients and our staff to prove quality, to prove ability and to prove creativity. It’s this and the occasional braai to balance the intensity and strain of the week.
We know you went from blending coffee in your own apartments, to owning the roastery and now running the successful cafe. What can we expect next?
More laughter, great new coffees and although we’re not yet able to divulge our plans for Tribe South Africa, I can say we should be finished with phase one in 2015.
The all-important question – favourite brew?
My favourite brew changes every time of the day. In the mornings: Indonesian pour-over because it’s filled with cinnamon, spices and candied fruits. At work we drink four or five espressos to gauge the quality levels of our single origin and our espresso blend. Further, at work, I’m cupping four or five of the previous day’s roasts and three to four of any new roast – deciding my favourite brew is tough.
I recommend Tribe Coffee Espresso as a Moka Pot, the Malawi Gold as an Aeropress, the Indonesian as a Pour-Over and my new local favourite Zimbabwe Einkhof Estate as a Cortado in the Cafe; but, if you have to hold me over a fire forcing me to scream out my favourite coffee, a wet macchiato with organic milk.
Where The Foundry, 160 Albert Road, Woodstock
Trading Hours Monday to Friday 7 am – 4 pm, Saturday 9 am – 1 pm.
Contact +27 21 448 3362, www.tribecoffee.co.za
Videography and portrait Rory Keohane/HSMimages.co.zaADVERT2