When you walk into Baruch’s Coffee Shop, you find yourself in a broad space filled with vintage decorations against the walls and among the small tables, complete with second-hand books and old kitchenware. When you walk past the counter and out the back door, a cosy garden section contains several benches, enough to seat larger groups or families. A glass sliding door (next to a large koi fish pond and fountain) leads to another wing of the building to the left, a gateway to the Roasting Room. It’s a quieter seating section, also decorated with teacups, old lanterns, books and other objects. Here, I decided to settle into one of the comfy corner chairs at a low coffee table.
Customers have to order at the counter and take a little red figurine number with them to their table. This is how the waiter finds you with your order. My Americano arrived steaming, while I was studying the menu on the wall opposite me. “Israeli Cuisine by Baruch’s Coffee Shop” is at the top of the menu. Options such as an Israeli vegetarian platter, a falafel, cream cheese and sweet chilli tramazinni and an Israeli breakfast – three smears of the day and a folded omelette with Israeli salad – are available. What I was more interested in at that moment, was the sweet treats at the bottom: lemon meringue, cheesecake, carrot cake and chocolate cake…
The founder of Baruch’s Coffee, Aharon Baruch (known locally simply as Baruch), is originally from Israel and still carries the accent. He’s a very friendly guy who loves sharing his passion for coffee with people, and I got the chance to strike up a conversation with him.
“The passion of coffee came in the army. I went to Jerusalem, and I bought me a packet of coffee and I put it in the bag, and when I go back to my base, everybody smiling. I said, ‘Ah, stinky soldier, probably the smiling just to not insult me.’ And after that I realise, coffee actually making you smile. ’Cause when you smell coffee, you smile.”– Aharon Baruch
Baruch came to South Africa in the ’90s. At first, he was a goldsmith. Then he started a small sandwich business called Roundhouse Sandwiches (because the house he and his wife made the sandwiches in, was round). After that, he opened a small coffee shop and started roasting coffee in 1998, but sold that shop in 2002. He opened the current Baruch’s Coffee Shop in 2009 but has been roasting his own distinctive Baruch’s Coffee brand since 2006.
This shop in Voorbaai, Mossel Bay, is now the only one under the name of Baruch’s, as he feels that a decent coffee shop should stay unique and never become a franchise. “A unique coffee shop always will be successful. If you duplicate it, you lose your unique – you’re actually taking your unique and putting 10% there, 10% there and so on… You lose what it is. You can duplicate your coffee, but the coffee shop must stay unique.” The only exception he’s made is the little takeaway coffee nook in the Langeberg Mall, a stone’s throw from the original shop.
Baruch made me a Turkish coffee. It’s made from very finely ground coffee and brewed over a gas fire with a special kit of utensils (see picture below this paragraph, top left). The Afrikaans TV program, “Koffiebone”, included his Turkish coffee on their program once. He serves it in a tiny blue, espresso-sized cup. He told me not to drink too deep because it’s “muddy” at the bottom – finally, I know the word for the bitter coffee grains at the bottom of a cup! Apparently, my bad habit of leaving the last bit of coffee in my cup is actually the correct way of drinking it (for Turkish coffee, anyway).
Other cool facts about coffee I learned from Baruch:
- Coffee beans are actually the pips of a fruit, almost like a berry. There are two pips per fruit.
- You need about 4000 coffee beans to make 1 kg of coffee.
- Coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia.
- There’s an interesting legend explaining coffee’s origin. A goat herder saw his goats running around, full of energy from some berries they’ve been eating (this was obviously the caffeine from the coffee fruit). He brought the berries to the local monks, and they started eating it because they wanted the energy from it, like the goats were getting. They called it the “devil fruit” because it kept them awake, and like with all things they thought were bad, they threw it in the fire. Later, some of the monks walked across the burned (roasted) beans the next morning, and the coffee aroma wafted out of them. After being exposed to that wonderful smell, the people of Ethiopia started making muti or a drink out of it. Ethiopia initially kept their drink a secret – since it was an era of tea drinkers – until it eventually moved to Yemen and Turkey.
- The very first coffee shop was in Constantinople, Turkey.
- Decaf beans are actually just normal coffee beans that have been placed in a tank and had the caffeine “sucked out” by oxygen and pressure. It used to be done with chloride, but now they use oxygen.
- Most restaurants charge too much for their coffee. “Coffee should not be expensive,” says Baruch. “They’re making it too expensive, it’s not fair. R30 a cappuccino? I will not pay.”
The bicycles, kitchen utensils, copper canisters, old mounted chairs, clocks and typewriters on the walls work well with the calm, instrumental background music and the constant aroma of coffee. Baruch’s is one of my favourite spots to visit for a decent cup of coffee and a relaxed, creative atmosphere.
When working from home, finding spaces like this is essential to your mental well-being. Trust me. A creative mind needs constant inspiration, and that’s not something you sit and wait for. Good artists go and find it. And what better inspiration than coffee?