Blue Crane Coffee Company in Stellenbosch – Not Just Another Coffee Shop

Words: Jess Spiro

Coffee is seriously having its moment in the sun and we’re not complaining. The coffee industry in Cape Town has never been more exciting and it seems like new independent roasteries are opening up every day. We sit down with Michael Jones, the owner of the newest kid on the coffee block, Blue Crane Coffee Company in Stellenbosch. These guys are definitely one to watch.

Established in Stellenbosch in 2016, Blue Crane Coffee Company – better known by locals and curious coffee lovers as BCCC – has made its name as the bustling, historic town’s ‘newest bird in town’, producing the ‘genuine roast’.

This is the real stuff, made from 100% Arabica coffee, sourced from El Salvador, it gives just the right balance and kick, offering a subtle, rich mouth-feel and flavourful taste.

The new roastery, slash experimental coffee laboratory, has certainly made a lasting impression with a versatile coffee that gives hints of nuttiness and citrus fruit undertones. Situated in a historic Cape Dutch building on Dorp Street, the oldest street in town, BCCC’s headquarters adds a modern twist to the town’s traditional architecture and heritage.

With founder and owner, Michael Jones, also owner and chef at popular neighbouring fine foods café, Blue Crane and the Butterfly  taking the reigns at BCCC, and co-owners Henniel Smit and Wilhelm Fismer (co-owners of international strategic brand agency, LIMBIK  plus experienced roasting and lab lead, Charles-Napier Joubert forming BCCCs backbone, there is little doubt the roastery is backed by a talented, innovative bunch who are simply passionate about crafting exquisite coffee.

How did you come up with the name?

We would have been crazy to ignore the fact that Blue Crane Coffee has a significant tie to what we originally produced at The Blue Crane & The Butterfly. In Stellenbosch and the surrounds we became known for Blue Crane Coffee (sister coffee shop across the road in Stellenbosch), so it was a very natural progression to take that and run with it. The Blue Crane & The Butterfly’s name originated from a bedtime story I wrote for our son just before moving to South Africa, there is a moral to this story, but you have to read it for yourselves. Or have a sneak peak HERE.

How did you get into the coffee business?

I always loved a good cup of coffee. However, my love for coffee reached a new level after we started to roast our own beans. This came along with the knowledge about and appreciation for what really goes into making good coffee. Looking back, I started loving coffee, much like anyone else, when I got the good stuff from the age of 21. I began working with my sister who runs a little bakery and deli in Glasgow, Scotland. When we started roasting our own brew at about the year 2007, I was amazed that there is so much more to coffee than its aroma, bitterness and how ‘hot’ it is. By roasting, we learnt more about the subtlety of flavours, how to punctuate flavour, developing the ideal mouth-feel, and generally, create a wonderful coffee ‘tasting’ experience.

What do you love about the coffee industry?

Passion. People involved in this industry have a true passion for what they do. They turn into complete coffee ‘geeks’, and there is nothing wrong with that! I think passion brings out the best in people.This can be noted in the development of the coffee industry, which is becoming more ethically operated. Many industries act in the complete opposite way. There is real importance attached to sustainability, not only of the crops, but the human beings at the root of production. I love that! In terms of my own interest, I don’t think I have a bigger smile on my face when I have my first sip of our coffee. Okay, maybe also when I get a glimpse of a customer doing the same thing. The satisfaction of creating something that brings that expression to somebody else’s face is wonderful.

With so many options for coffee out there, how do you set yourself apart?

I don’t think of coffee as a beverage. In my mind, it should be savoured as a dish or culinary event. It’s far too often that you can have a fantastic meal ruined by a terrible coffee afterwards. Food and coffee have to complement each other. We believe in that mantra, and that is why we invite people to come to BCCC and experience it for themselves at our lab. We are not pretentious about it. We’re simply there to help our customers recreate a great cup of coffee (buy purchasing a take-away filter or bean bag) at home that can become part of their daily routine. I think that is pretty special.

What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced establishing the business?

The usual issues, time frames, cost, etc. However, we are fortunate in the fact that  “The Blue Crane & The Butterfly” was already a relatively established name in Stellenbosch. We were fortunate enough to open the doors of the roastery and people came. I guess that is a blessing but also difficult, in a way. The restaurant and bakery will always be the initial starting points of our coffee brand. However, it is separate, and the roastery will develop to a unique and individual identity.

What has been the best thing about starting your own roastery?

Growth, not from a business point of view, but from a personal one. I feel that my creative side has developed a great deal since we started the roastery. Being able to be involved in all creative aspects with my partners and brainstorm together, as well as in the roastery and laboratory have been amazing.

Can you tell us a little about the beans you use? Where do you source them from? Do you stick to a single origin or do you like to mix it up with a blend?

Our brand is born from our Original House roast, 100% high altitude growth beans from El Salvador. A wonderfully smooth coffee that has just the right notes of acidity and bitterness. A delightful coffee with or without food. The beauty of the roastery now is that, for four years, we were pretty set on roasting one type of coffee only due to capacity. However, now we have a variety of beans we can offer the public, and which will be available end-July.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to start their own roastery?

You have to love it. If you don’t, it will come across in the bean.

How do you advise people to drink their coffee?

That is an impossible question to give a simple answer to. At BCCC, we talk our customers through the experience until they find what they like. My personal favourite is a Cortado. A short, punchy coffee with a lovely smoothness. It is quite a strong coffee and maybe not for everyone, so it’s necessary to give your customers a bit of a preview before they settle on something.

What is the one thing you wish the average coffee drinker would understand about coffee in general?

I believe people’s understanding of coffee is getting better as the industry grows. If you had asked me that question five years ago, I would have answered: “iIt should not be piping hot.” However, I think people are starting to find that flavour is so much better than it was five years ago and that burning your mouth and a bitter taste can spoil your coffee. If you asked me what I think today, I would say that “it doesn’t have to be complicated”. I still think people are nervous about investing in a little stove top pot and a burr grinder to make fresh coffee but will soon add this to their morning routine.

Quickfire Questions

When you’re not drinking coffee, what are you drinking? Some fantastic beers are being produced in the Western Cape. CBC Amber Weiss has to be my go-to drink. In front of a warm fire on these cold winter nights, I have to raid my Whisky collection.

Favourite treat to enjoy with a cup of coffee? A nice nutty piece of nougat dipped in rich dark chocolate

Ultimate comfort food dish? French toast with bacon and maple syrup (honestly anything with bacon).

Best place to travel to for coffee? Dorp Street in Stellenbosch, if you can’t make it there then I would head to London. Fantastic spots such as Kaffeine, Climpson & Sons… the list is endless. Closer to home, Truth in Cape Town is an experience and certainly worth a visit.  | 141 Dorp Str, Stellenbosch

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