Cape Town coffee school lays down grounds for change
Woza Coffee School targets local young adults, turning them into top-flight baristas
When 21-year-old Chadley Abrahams dropped out of school, he didn’t expect to re-enrol in classes – but rather than grinding away at books, he began learning to grind coffee beans.
Abrahams is one of 131 baristas who have been trained by the Woza Coffee School in Imizamo Yethu, a township in the Cape Town suburb of Hout Bay, since it opened in 2016.
The school was born out of the Woza Coffee Company, which supplies beans to businesses around the country. It targets local young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, helping students secure employment as baristas once they complete a three-month session of courses.
“Before I did the courses, I didn’t have a lot of other options,” said Abrahams, who graduated in the top of his class and was the first to find work as a barista, at a café in Muizenberg. “The courses taught me about how I see things in life, to never give up on myself and how to move forward.”
The courses, which are offered for free, teach life skills, basic coffee terminology and professional barista skills.
“[Coming in,] almost all of them have never tasted a cappuccino,” said David Bassett, founder of both the company and the school. “But just with a little bit of trust and training, they get behind the espresso machine and make beautiful coffee. Not having a matric shouldn’t be a barrier to that.”
Abrahams said his favourite thing he learnt at the school was how to make latte art.
“It took me a while at first, but now I can do hearts, swans, ferns, flowers,” he said. “When I make coffee for girls, I like making teddy bears.”
Students graduate upon completing job shadowing, gaining work experience in coffee shops that often end up hiring them. About 70% of the baristas trained by the school now work in cafes around the city.
“The barista is the person who makes you happy at the end of the day, so people will choose a coffee shop based on the barista,” Bassett said. “Being a barista is something to be proud of. If you find a job that you’re proud of and people value you, I think that’s part of the reason why it works.”
Abrahams and Bassett will man Woza’s booth at the Cape Town Coffee Festival on June 1 and 2. The two-day event, the first to be hosted in the country, is set to be held at the Castle of Good Hope. Five other cities around the world host similar festivities, all organised by the Allegra Group.
“Cape Town is a creative and cultural city with a lot of history,” said Jeffrey Young, CEO of the Allegra Group. “There are a lot of phenomenal roasters. We’re in a unique part of the world, with a lot of African coffees.”
Young expects anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 attendees over the weekend, from industry leaders to coffee fanatics. All of the profits made from the festival will go to SA charities, including the Woza Coffee School.
The school will receive either R60,000 or half of the profits, whichever amounts to more.
“This can give [Bassett] the opportunity to create a holistic coffee training centre, and puts them in the same room as a lot of the big guys who need great baristas,” Young said. “We’re raising awareness for the industry to invest in the townships and the future of coffee in South Africa.”
Bassett sees the festival as an opportunity to showcase the power of coffee beyond caffeine.
“Coffee is a vehicle for change,” he said. “Do you know where your coffee’s coming from? Do you know who’s making it?”
While networking or funding for new equipment is a priority, Abrahams’s wish for the festival is simple: “I would like to teach people how to work behind a machine and be a good barista.”