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Why do we love coffee so much?

Aug 21, 2018

The recent boom of coffee roasters and the awakening of coffee specialists in South Africa drew attention to Afrikaners’ love for a cup of strong coffee. This is not a new phenomenon. Our cultural link with this dark brew has originated in Europe.

By the first half of the eighteenth century, it was customary to have coffee at the table before breakfast. So deep-rooted was this habit that nobody would leave the breakfast table before finishing at least half a dozen cups of coffee. This is surely one of the causes of bad teeth in the women at the Cape at the time. Mentzel, an early traveller at the Cape, said that the women’s teeth were worse than that of their peers in the Netherlands because of their love for coffee. Not that the coffee was to be blamed. He said it was the women’s habit to bite a lump of sugar between their teeth and then sip the coffee through it.

This habit did not die when the British captured the Cape. Lady Anne Barnard, who had a good relationship with the citizens, yet wrote down her haughty opinions in her diaries, noted that, ‘We found here what is universal in this country – a constant drinking of coffee going forward. It is to be found boiling on the table over charcoal all day long.’

By the end of the next century, coffee was the most popular drink among Afrikaners. In 1861, Rev. Lion Cachet explained in a narrative about the quarterly Communion in Ladysmith, ‘Daar was brood, beschuit, koek, vleesch en KOFFIJ. Onze menschen drinken veel koffij.’ (There was bread, rusks, cake, meat and COFFEE. Our people drink a lot of coffee.)

The outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War forced Afrikaners to be creative. General Ben Viljoen wrote in his memoirs of the war, ‘…almal weet dat dit ʼn swaar beproewing is vir ʼn Boer om sonder koffie te leef…’ (…everybody knows that it is very hard for a Boer to live without coffee…). He explained that the Boers were so desperate for a little ‘boeretroos’ (coffee) that they started making ‘maize coffee’ by grinding maize kernels they roasted on the coals and drink it with milk!

The contemporary coffee culture in South Africa also has a few high-flyers – the result of a centuries-old tradition of the dark brew. Truth Coffee in Cape Town has been named the best coffee shop in the world two years in a row.

Whether you’re brewing a cup of coffee on your grandmother’s coal stove or buying a cup at your nearest roaster, remember that it’s part of a centuries-old tradition.

If you feel nostalgic about ‘moerkoffie’ (filter coffee), look at this. The filter coffee of De Afrikander Handelshuis is specially brewed by a coffee lab to taste like the real McCoy. We ship nationwide and internationally, so continue the tradition of enjoying a delicious cup of coffee!

Visit for filter coffee and other genuine Afrikaans products! De Afrikander Handelshuis is the largest Afrikaans online store and is a proud distributor of products with culture.

About the author

Charl Oberholzer


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