The cultural phenomenon of people lining up in long queues outside coffee shops, especially Starbucks, to get their morning fix of coffee, is something that is mostly seen in Europe and the United States.
And while you probably won’t see this in South Africa, the popularity of coffee shops has exploded over the years, especially in Johannesburg, which has led the city to produce some really good coffee.
We took a trip last year to hunt down the best cafes around Johannesburg which have built a loyal following among coffee lovers.
Our research was to find the most affordable, the most luxurious, the most versatile (great coffee and food) and the best commercial coffee.
This is what we found.
Watch: Our hunt for the best coffee in Johannesburg:
Versatile Manaka Cafe
An ambitious and successful local café-café brand Manaka cafe has left its mark on the coffee scene in recent years and aims to open more stores, especially overseas.
One of the co-owners, Brad Symons, says their goals are ambitious.
“Our intention is to create the biggest coffee brand abroad, because why not? “
The company grew out of a 25-year friendship between Phumlani Sibeko, Neo Moleko and Symons, and currently has four locations in Midrand and Waterfall.
Manaka is the horn of an animal. Cattle in African culture are a sign of wealth, a sign of well-being and a sign of respect for ancestors.
Men come from different backgrounds, but when they are in Manaka, they have a perfect synergy. Brad and Neo have advertising experience, while Phumlani is a leading roaster, with 17 years of experience.
This results in complex, aromatic and full-bodied coffees. The coffee isn’t too bitter or too sweet, which makes their Manaka Scarlet Chai Latte and Mocha Cappuccino our top picks.
The business flourished during the Covid-19 pandemic as their business strategy was to pick the right locations, as people gathered in cafes due to alcohol bans.
Receiving our top honors as an all-rounder, Manaka’s food is not an afterthought. Yes, coffee is the star, but the food has also been given a lot of thought. The menu is impressive, making the cafe a good place for breakfast, lunch, and meetings.
For comfort food, the Magwinya (vetkoek), is stuffed with Cape Malay lamb, and my partner couldn’t help but gush as she devoured the entire meal.
I’ve had a fair share of poke bowls in my life and Manaka’s is fresh, filling and delicately balanced. On the sweet side, Manaka’s coffee-infused cheesecake is a must-have, as is their wild honey cake.
Their shop also sells the best African and South American coffee beans from Kenya, Tanzania and Colombia.
If money is not an object – Cortado
Located along Melville’s restaurant strip is a small cafe Inclination, which is highly recommended.
Double espresso isn’t for everyone, which is why the Cortado is a great drink option for people who aren’t really coffee lovers. The Cortado is much smaller in size and contains espresso and hot milk in a 1: 1 ratio (about half the espresso, half the steamed milk).
Milk reduces the acidity of espresso and among coffee fanatics it has become very popular due to its simplicity. Tilt’s Cortado follows a similar structure, but certainly has an espresso shot, it’s strong and bitter, but the microfoam in the milk really adds a much needed creamy texture.
The Cortado costs around R33.
If you’re looking for a quiet cafe that offers delicious treats and amazing staff, Tilt Coffee is a gem.
The best commercial coffee – Starbucks
Any conversation or debate over coffee always includes the iconic Starbucks.
As the holiday season is in full swing, locals are enjoying the taste of an American favorite, Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) and Frozen Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino.
PSL is an artisanal espresso with an infusion of pumpkin spice, creamy steamed milk and cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. It’s then finished with whipped cream and more pumpkin spice on top.
The spice latte is indulgent and decadent. Their holiday drinks also include Gingerbread Latte and Caramel Nut Latte, a new Caramel Waffle Latte and a Festive Reindeer Cookie, available until December 31.
A special mention to Flight in Rosebank Mall, in the SOKO district. Iced coffees can divide, but for an African summer they are a must. Their iced coffee is top notch.
The most affordable – Xpresso
Famous for being the R10 coffee, Xpresso in the Killarney shopping center in Johannesburg has gone viral a few times, with customers incredulous that all food items in the store are R10.
We visited on the last day before the price adjustment to R12 which is still unheard of for many cafes across the country.
Take out coffee is a good place to have a nice cappuccino, we were pleasantly surprised. There’s also a delicious display of pastries, pies, and muffins, but these weren’t as good as they looked.