Curated Coffee Culture at Rosetta Roastery

Words: Jess Spiro

What is a fair price for a cup of coffee? We ‘re guessing you probably said something like “R20”, “R15”, “R25”. Does that cost take into account the nearly 5000 cherries (for 1 kg of coffee beans) that need to be expertly grown, picked, sorted, washed dried, re-sorted, packed and shipped halfway across the world? And that’s before they’ve even been and roasted, packaged and sold. These are all the steps that the coffee bean embarks on before it makes its way to your cup. So, we ask again, what really is a fair price for a cup of coffee? Cape Town’s coffee culture is on par with the rest of the world, with nearly 100 independent roasteries across the city. In such a small, close-knit community, with colleagues and confidantes who are also competitors, Rosetta Roastery has managed to make a name for themselves, by ensuring that they source only the highest quality, best-tasting beans available.

How it started…

Rosetta owners, Jono le Feuvre and Rob Cowles, met each other in ubiquitous Cape Town fashion – at UCT, where Jono was studying Journalism and Rob was studying Business Science. As digs mates, and general university students, they shared many interests (including a successful band that was, according to Jono, “on the brink of stardom”) but a common one was always coffee. Rob always knew he was keen to break into the coffee industry at some point, and similarly, while working as a journalist, Jono was getting a firsthand glimpse into the then-small industry when interviewing coffee shop owners, roasters, baristas etc. So, instead of just writing about it, talking about it and drinking it, they decided to go for it and open their own roastery.

The business of coffee

The road to opening your own roastery, however, is not a straightforward one, and they realised early on that they would have to explore all aspects of the market. Surprisingly, opening a café wasn’t their priority. They wanted to immerse themselves in the wholesale side of the industry, as a way of learning more about coffee itself.

While in consultation with respected roaster, Lucien Verrezen, at Lourensford, the guys were encouraged to start roasting their own beans. So they did and embarked on two years of researching not only everything they could about coffee but also the process of roasting. This journey presented a whole new problem – the varieties of green (unroasted) beans that were being imported into South Africa at the time were limited. There were perhaps, two or three different providers bringing in mainstream beans that were guaranteed to move, but weren’t particularly delicious tasting or exciting.

No one in South Africa was offering the quirky, niche beans that Rob and Jono wanted, so they had no choice but to forge their way and establish their own chain of suppliers. This was a serendipitous move, however, one that helped them cement Rosetta’s identity with an ethos of sourcing high-quality, interesting and rare coffee beans.

What makes Rosetta Roastery unique?

The Rosetta difference is that they’re continually importing these unique green beans in small quantities, from places far and wide. It’s expensive, Rob admits, but it’s the only way to ensure that they’re always buying quality varieties. They also use these special beans as a means of informing the consumer about different varieties of coffee bean. They explain this by comparing coffee to wine, as the two share a lot of similarities. They both start off as a fruit (wine comes from grapes and a coffee bean is actually a pit that grows inside a cherry that grows on the coffee plant), that develops character according the terroir, soil, climate, altitude and seasons.

As we know with wine, all of these factors affect the taste of the grape. A recognisable framework exists with wine, where the average wine drinker knows that a Bordeaux wine will potentially be made of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and from there flavours become discernible. The drinker is then able to build up their own database of wines, varietals and flavours.There is no easy-to-recognise framework like this that exists within coffee, but there are lots of words associated to it. Mocha Java, Kenya, Colombia, 100% Arabica are strewn like confetti in conventional coffee marketing, but they don’t empower the drinker with any further knowledge.

There is no easy-to-recognise framework like this that exists within coffee, but there are lots of words associated to it. Mocha Java, Kenya, Colombia, 100% Arabica are strewn like confetti in conventional coffee marketing, but they don’t empower the drinker with any further knowledge.

At Rosetta, Rob and Jono don’t just want you to drink their coffee, they want to help you to understand coffee as a whole.

Curating the best coffee possible

By offering an intelligently curated range of beans from specific regions, Rosetta enables you to try specific bean varieties, for example, a special Colombian bean, and begin to discern what you like (or don’t like) about that variety. This takes you a step further towards trying another Colombian variety they may bring in, or once you’ve established all your favourite (or least favourite) things about that region, you then move on to a new geographical area. The different origins are identified on the packaging by simple symbols. Central and South America are noted with a circle, African varieties are marked by a diamond and Asia with an inverse triangle.

The process of sourcing specialty coffee is an interesting one. Despite romantic ideas of Jono and Rob trekking through coffee plantations to find these specialty beans, this is not necessarily a logical way to do business, given the scope of the industry. Trusted green bean suppliers are the experts in this field, and they help set up initiatives to empower the farmers and coffee cherry-pickers, which makes for a better product that ultimately tastes better in the cup.

With this serious consideration for the people growing the beans, there is similarly a respect for the people who make the coffee at Rosetta.

One sideshow that has popped up with the independent coffee movement is that of latte art, and Rosetta is trying to move away from that. Not to say that it’s not pretty to look at, or that it’s not a skill, but there is more to know about coffee than how to draw a face on it. That’s why Rosetta looks to further their baristas’ craft by teaching them about each unique and individual bean that comes in the roastery. Buy a coffee from them and anyone behind the counter will be able to engage intelligently with you about it,  all the while drawing a flower onto your flat white’s foam. By choosing to source high-quality beans, Rosetta not only sets themselves apart in terms of the interesting coffees you can buy but by also being able to fairly compensate their staff so that they’re motivated and incentivised to keep performing. Being a barista is a career, not just a job, one that always starts in a café, and Rosetta treats it as such.

What is the right price for a cup of coffee?

Inversely, however, all this going the extra mile can add a couple Rands onto the price of a cup of coffee. Funnily enough, this is still something that people complain about. Where someone doesn’t mind paying R60 upwards for a glass of wine, they’ll complain about R25 for a coffee. Again, the reasoning for this is because wine is respected as a premium good; it is accepted that it can vary in quality depending on where it comes from and how it’s grown, but somehow coffee isn’t. Even though the principles are the same. You wouldn’t state that all glasses of wine should cost R60, so the same shouldn’t be done with coffee. The next time you come across a coffee price that surprises you, chat to the barista instead of complaining about it, ask why the price is what it is. There’s probably a good reason for it.

Rosetta celebrates the nuances that differentiate each bean variety, forgoing commodity coffee that looks to keep things in bulk and tasting the same. Rob and Jono sell coffee that they like to drink, which is important because it speaks volumes about how they conduct their business.

This is echoed in the choosing of the name Rosetta. While commonly known to refer to the fern latte-art design, it also relates to the Rosetta Stone, (the stone that aided in the decoding of modern hieroglyphics) and how Jono and Rob are looking to demystify good coffee. And while there are misconceptions that some artisanal coffee shops will judge you for how you take your coffee, this one won’t. As long as people are buying good coffee, Jono and Rob are happy.

The team at Rosetta will advise what beans you should be buying, how you should be grinding them (ideally by hand using a grinder with strong rotating burrs) and how you should drink them (ideally brewed by Aeropress) but ultimately, they’ll never judge you for how you go forth and enjoy it. As long as you’re enjoying it. |  Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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