Steampunk Coffee – Heaven in a Cup

“The powers of a man’s mind are directly proportional to the quantity of coffee he drank.”

– Sir James MacKintosh –

My knuckles turn white, as I tighten my grip on the steering wheel. A quick glance in the rear-view mirror confirms that the truck I spotted two seconds ago, was now almost filling it. The road feels too narrow, and my eyes keep darting to the left for an escape route, before returning to the reflection of the truck barreling down on me.

The last time I visited the Midlands in KZN, South Africa, I fell in love with the green rolling hills and quirky shops on the different routes of the Meander. The roads were quiet then, and allowed for enjoyment of the views. But now, travelling on the R103, no one seems to meander anymore. Trucks too big for the road, and 4x4s in a desperate hurry to get somewhere else, dominate the road that is narrow and winding. My nerves, instead of calming down in the presence of a beautiful landscape, are shot.

I duck left at the first opportunity, and wait until I can pry my hands off the steering wheel, before slowly pulling back onto the road. My decision to stop at places that look interesting, instead of pre-planning my stops, seems to have backfired on me. With cars breathing down my neck, it is hard to look around, and make impulsive decisions. It is too late to change my approach, so I simply keep driving in the hope that I will spot the turn-off to any place that even looks half-interesting in good time to flick on my indicator, and not have someone drive into the back of me.

At Lion’s River I happen to glance to the right, where a sad-looking petrol station squats in the dust. Just as I’m about to turn my eyes back on the road, a black and white mural shifts into view. I instinctively slam on my brakes, before, almost as an afterthought, I remember to look in my rear-view mirror. For a change I seem to be all alone on the road, and I quickly point the nose of the car in the direction of what appears to be a coffee shop in the most unlikely of places. Hugged by the railway line, and a dusty petrol station, it is as if I’ve stumbled upon a mirage. I gape at a beautiful lanky woman leaving the shop, just as the car rolls to a stop. Her cappuccino skin is flawless, and the colourful African outfit she wears, makes her look like a queen, who has just stepped off the set of an Indiana Jones movie.

I feel like a parched dessert wanderer, who happened upon a mythical oasis, and so, on cue, I stumble from the car, and into the dim interior of Steampunk Coffee. The smell of coffee snaps me back into reality, but once I’m seated outside at one of a handful of tables, taking a big sip from my cappuccino, I convince myself, once more that I must have stumbled into a dream. Velvety and smooth, it tastes like heaven, and in that moment, I decide it is the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.

More people stop to grab a take-away cup. The number plates on the cars reveal they are locals. A farmer in a dusty bakkie (pick-up truck) nods at me, before disappearing inside. He doesn’t look like he belongs in a place like this, yet, from the lengthy conversation that ensues inside in Zulu, I gather he is a regular. Just then, a tall, skinny guy with glasses and a hat ducks out of a door next to the shop, and makes his way to a gate next to where I’m sitting.

“Are you the owner?” I impulsively blurt.

“Yes.” He smiles.

“This is the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.” I sigh.

He smiles knowingly. “I am busy roasting at the moment. You are welcome to pop in.”

I thank him, and return my attention to my cup. There is no way I am willing to sacrifice this moment of pure pleasure.

Once the last sip has warmed my stomach, I slowly rise and follow the aroma of roasting beans. I find Mike next to a fire-engine red hopper; his eyes focused intently on his computer screen to ensure the beans are roasted to perfection.

“Wow.” I whisper.

My eyes dart over bags with green coffee beans, and plastic containers full of roasted ones. It looks like a laboratory and factory rolled into one, yet smells like a perfumery.

“I really don’t want to bother you. I can see you are busy.”

“You’re not.” He soothes, and formally introduces himself.

And so we talk. About coffee and life and people and philosophy and life and coffee.

Roasting his own unique blends, was not part of his original plan. Just a place where he could brew a really good cup of coffee. But life often takes us to unexpected places, and forces us to adapt and change our minds and our hearts. We grow and expand. And drink coffee. Not the instant stuff masquerading as coffee, but the real deal. Better still when it is grown organically, traded fairly, roasted and blended creatively, and brewed with a delicate mixture of love and science.


#  All coffee drinkers have their own idea of what the perfect cup consists of, so don’t take my word for it, go see for yourself.

#  Find Steampunk Coffee at Thokan’s Garage, Lions River on the R103, on your right, just before the Mandela Capture Site, if driving in the direction of Howick.

#  They have been operating from these premises for three years, which is proof that people will go wherever it takes to find a good cup of coffee.

#  Note that, although it has some seating outside, it is essentially a Take Away Espresso Bar, and not a Coffee Shop.

#  Bring your own cup, and pay less.

#  Bring your own container to buy coffee beans and pay R50/kg less.

#  Learn a new word:  procaffeinate (verb) – to delay or postpone action; put off doing something until you’ve had coffee

#  My favourite perfume, Yves St Laurent’s Black Opium, has dominant notes of coffee, before softening into vanilla, which, I guess, says a lot about my love for a really good cup of coffee.

Visited:  December 2017