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What Defines A Good Coffee Shop?

Specialty coffee shops – what are they? They are not “Starbucks” or “Seattle Coffee” at the Caltex Garage down the road. They are the independently owned and run cafes that the majority of the South African public don’t seem to be aware of.

The only people who are awake in the morning before us are the bakers that run the corner bakeries. We are up before sparrows all in the name of our passion: coffee. Our ‘purist’ nature often leaves us frustrated when people order extra hot, triple shot, almond milk lattes with hazelnut syrup.

So, in light of these frustrations we thought that we at Counter Culture would look at what defines a good coffee shop, and more specifically what we are doing everyday to progress the specialty coffee industry in South Africa.

There is confusion as to what is a good specialty coffee shop in Durban and South Africa and the truth is that we can’t blame the public. Our past coffee experiences as a nation up until a decade ago, have been Ricoffy with condensed milk or an extremely over extracted (very bitter) cappuccino with extra hot frothed milk or worse, whipped cream.

Whilst there may be people that still enjoy that, it’s not coffee. Coffee needs to now been seen for all the glory it transpires. It is a delicate and fascinating process from its humble beginnings as a bean on a farm to the incredible delights it gives us, as it passes through the machine, into a cup and into your hands.

The next time you enter what you may think is a “good place to have coffee” or read a travel blog that has rated the 10 best coffee shops, ask yourself, does that coffee shop meet the following criteria?



The number one item on our list in CONSISTECY.  Wouldn’t you be upset if your iPhone 7 worked on Monday and Friday only and the rest of the days just decided to do it’s own thing. There are a number of processes that we aim to keep constant which ensures that the cup of coffee you enjoyed on Tuesday is the same cup of coffee you will enjoy on Friday.

Consistent extraction of the coffee itself is essential. A coffee shop needs to make absolutely sure that its baristas are dialing the coffee in regularly. This is a term used by barista’s to describe the practice of extracting the coffee to its best taste balance of sweetness: acidity: bitterness, throughout the day. At Counter Culture the shot extraction is checked at minimum three times a day.

Milk temperature is another huge factor – you have all heard the joke – how did the hipster burn his mouth? He sipped on his coffee before it cooled down.
Ha ha, but it actually couldn’t be closer to the truth. Yes we are hipster, free spirits – we are whatever you want to call us, but we know that milk should be heated up to between 65 – 72 degrees. Anything over 72 degrees, the milk will burn and alter the flavor of the beautifully extracted coffee shot that we just spent an hour dialing in, while you were cuddling your better half in bed (We’re not judging – just a little jealous!).

Here is another scenario: How often have you been to your local café on a Monday and had a Flat White in a 180ml cup only to return on Thursday and receive your Flat White in a glass. What people often don’t realize is that the glass is 250ml and your Flat white now resembles and tastes more like coffee flavored milk than anything else.

Perhaps something seen on Pinterest has sparked the change in vessel in which coffee is served. Why coffee shops do this, who knows?
Coffee Shop Owners: Stick to what you originally had, your customers are coming back for it because they LIKE it.

For us consistency equals quality. If a coffee shop can produce the same exceptional cup of coffee day in, day out that for us is what defines a superb coffee shop.



When we talk about the responsibility of a specialty coffee shop, we are referring to the education aspect that every coffee shop should push forward.

As leaders in a market where coffee is consumed on a mass daily scale, the specialty coffee shops should be providing each and every customer food for thought on the coffee that the are drinking.

At Counter Culture we will ensure that you as a customer (if you’ve got a few minutes to hang out with us and chat) understand the following:

• Where the various coffee beans come from,

• How the coffee beans are roasted,

• What the flavor notes of the coffee are,

• Why the milk is heated to a certain temperature,

All these aspects play a crucial role in what we call the customer block. The majority of the South African market are not well rehearsed in specialty coffee, but by you, the customer participating with us and learning a little more about what we do, we as a team can break the barrier that home machines like Nespresso’s have created.

It is up to specialty coffee shops to tactfully bridge the gap between customer and coffee education without burning any bridges. We dig you, please let us share our knowledge with you.



Have a closer peek at the menu of your local café. Do they only offer espresso-based drinks? Or do they offer the likes of: Pour Overs / Siphon Filters / Cold Brew Coffee? Counter Culture has a strong belief that specialty coffee shop’s should not only offer alternative brewing methods, but they should be placing emphasis on these various methods. We strongly feel that hand poured coffee is the most honest method of brewing coffee – it is simply ground coffee & hot water with no fancy machines.



Ladies and Gentlemen, never over look our barista’s. They are the forefront of our cafes. A barista is a skilled profession. Barista’s are craftsman (and women) and artisans – they are required to exercise knowledge and skill whilst making your cup of coffee.

We hope the next time you walk into your local café/specialty coffee shop, you ask them a couple of questions. Check with the barista where the beans are from or what the flavor notes of the coffee are? See what sort of beverage they’d recommend. Try something new. We guarantee the added knowledge you’ve gained will make your morning fix just that much better.

Most importantly the next time you go to your local café, go with an open mind. Accept the coffee they make for what it is. We as specialty coffee shops understand our craft, we do this for a reason more then passion, we love it.

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