Something exciting is brewing in KwaZulu-Natal: something dark with rich aromatic notes, a fuel for discerning taste buds. You guessed right, coffee.

Coffee aficionados and javaphiles will be pleased to learn that Elaleni Estate on the North Coast has set its sights on reviving an agricultural history of growing coffee that once was coastal sugar plantations. From the silky crema of an easy-drinking Brazilian blend to the intense, full-bodied Kenyan cuppa, coffee crops in South Africa are making a comeback and promise a new pour to rival them all.

This news may come as a surprise to even locals, many of whom have only ever seen the vast, rolling sugarcane fields which have dominated iconic North Coast greenscapes for almost two centuries. But long before the North Coast became known as a region for sugar, the coastal belt of Northern Natal stretching as far as Richard’s Bay was home to a rich abundance of fruit and produce farming enterprises. And, although somewhat forgotten by the history books, this fascinating past has not been lost on Elaleni’s landscape architect Lucas Uys.

The history of coffee in KwaZulu-Natal

Coffee production in KwaZulu-Natal has had its fair share of challenges. Originally introduced from Bourbon, Reunion in the mid-1800s, interest in the crop was short-lived after heavy losses due to frost, disease, unsuitable soil, lack of coffee education, inadequate labour and careless cultivation. By 1879 many plantations switched to burgeoning sugar or tea and, despite some small-scale experiments with different varieties, coffee only really returned to the soil of KwaZulu-Natal with some success some 100 years later.

It was in the 1980s that the fall of global coffee prices presented an opportunity to import coffee, an opportunity not-to-be-missed. A group of entrepreneur farmers, unconvinced by the trend of converting to macadamia nuts, supplemented their own small-scale coffee harvests. These farmers started to roast beans specifically for the South African market, which was largely overlooked by other producers and hampered by the socio-political environment of the time. Coffee production has been steadily heating up ever since, rising with the growing demand and changing taste buds of South Africans.

Coffee growers and roasters in KwaZulu-Natal

A handful of successful coffee producers in the province are beginning to really make a name for themselves. Some are stocked at big retailers, while others are growing their markets organically through fairs, events and other avenues. But all have the same desire, show South Africans that you don’t have to travel to Brazil or Kenya for a good cuppa. Local is lekker, if not better!

Some homegrown heroes include:

  • Assagay Coffee, Hillcrest, KZN
  • Beaver Creek Coffee Estate, Port Edward, KZN
  • Mpenjati Coffee, Munster, KZN
  • Thornton Coffee, Oribi Flats, KZN
  • Terbodore Coffee Roasters, Howick, KZN

Back to beans at Elaleni

Meanwhile, at Elaleni, the first exciting and tentative steps towards coffee production are underway. This development is described as an authentic estate, one crafted by nature where homeowners can live connected to the earth. With a distinctive landscape designed by Lucas Uys, the focus of much of Elaleni’s green spaces will be edible plants and communal gardens. The unique Elaleni setting will allow its residents to harvest seasonal farm fresh produce where they live within the natural coastal forest. Subsistence farming, foraging, farm-to-fork – these sustainable notions of conscious food production and consumption combine to create a distinctive lifestyle estate unlike any other in South Africa.

Making the most of harvesting at home opportunities via the onsite working farm, residents will find ‘living off the land’ a wholesome experience. By balancing residential and non-residential needs, Elaleni promotes an agricultural lifestyle and experience that helps people feel connected and comfortable with the plant life around them.

Nestled amongst groves, orchards and paddocks, coffee trees will take root as part of an initiative spearheaded by the expertise and guidance of Lucas Uys. In time, the Elaleni community will be able to take part in seasonal harvests and enjoy the full process of making coffee from berry, to bean, to cup. Beans will also be available for residents to use for their very own coffee creations or plunger at the breakfast table.