Coffee Culture, Lesson #4: Dylan Da Silva aka Mokador Man

Today’s lesson arrives on your computer screens through the work of a foreign import. A Joburg man turned coastal cuzzie.

Dylan Da Silva is the Regional Director for Joburg’s Mokador Coffees and is the type of guy whose email signature simply states “Life’s too short to drink bad coffee”. We agree. You will often find Dylan over-seeing the barista side of things at the 88 Degrees Café in Gateway, expect him and his team to start rocking the boat at Barista Throwdowns in the near future. They got plans ekse!

Loving daily caffeine fixes,
TwoSlice Dré

There’s that classic Wimpy television ad: a typically South African couple sitting on a porch, the man rattling off the names of Italian speciality coffees to his girlfriend as if he’s whispering sweet nothings in her ear, and then her punch line: “I love it when you talk foreign!”

The truth is that, while we think we’ve come a long way from the instant-coffee saturated days of yesteryear, we’re still finding our feet when it comes to the coffee industry. The concept of a “proper” (read “top-end global calibre”) coffee culture is still relatively new to South African society. This is not to say that there isn’t a large group of people who are trying their best to change all that. Anyone who has attended a National Barista Championships will confirm this – there have been quieter rugby matches.

A shiny happy tribe of people who share a passion for the power of the humble coffee bean are changing our perceptions of what constitutes a “good” cup of coffee. Gone are the days when filter coffee was seen as a luxurious alternative to a cup of instant. Coffee is no longer just another hot beverage – for many, it’s a way of life. And that’s not surprising when you consider that coffee comes only second to oil as the world’s most traded commodity.

Italian coffee companies like ourselves at Mokador, have since collectively cornered the global coffee market. Yet, despite what you may think, only about nine per cent of Italy’s land cultivated for crops is set aside for citrus, coffee and rubber. Today, South America is the world’s top coffee producing continent, with close to 10 million acres (about four million hectares) of land under cultivation. However, coffee’s birthplace – Africa – is still a major source of the world’s coffee with some five million acres under cultivation.


We believe that South Africans should drink and have a choice on which coffee they drink. Italian imported coffee, has its few dislikes from the local roasters in South Africa. One of the biggest fall backs that Italian coffee importers get from local roasters is that, “by the time it leaves Italy, and arrives in South Africa for resale, the coffee has expired”, this is not true. Years and years of passion, and technology goes into making sure the absolute freshness is contained in imported coffee.

The coffee culture is evolving quickly. Every month we hold coffee cuppings, which are similar to a wine tasting. It’s incredible how many people are interested. It’s moving into the space of coffee appreciation. People want to know more. We get people coming in here who are not just content with a cup of coffee; they want something specific. You also find websites like Barista Underground is for coffee geeks (for want of a better word ) who get together and hold competitions.

Coffee culture has definitely evolved in Durban. It’s pretty clear when you look at the amount of specialised coffee shops that have opened up. However, compared to somewhere like Australia, we’re still lagging behind. It’s very unique to find a good cup of coffee done well and done with pride (such as Colombo, Bean There and Mokador) however, we do see an increase in the amount of people buying coffee machines for their homes, but it’s still very much a niche thing. The machines come at a price, so it’s the higher LSM groups that have them.

Coffee-on-the-go is one lifestyle aspect where Durban is beginning to follow places like New York, London or Cape Town. One company that’s capitalised on this concept is The Seattle Coffee Company. Seattle was founded by a husband-and-wife team, Ally and Scott Svenson, whose inspiration was born out of their experience of coffee brands in their hometown of Seattle, where coffee drinking is considered an art form.

“When Seattle introduced gourmet coffee to South Africa, people didn’t know what a latte was, and within a few years it was a familiar item on every menu. Coffee drinkers in Durban are certainly more educated about good coffee and the ‘to-go’ concept has really taken off recently. We believe most people have a long way to go when it comes to understanding what goes into a good cup of coffee. Palettes need to be developed and a better understanding of what good coffee is and how it is cultivated and then roasted will go a long way towards improving this knowledge. From a business perspective, landlords make it very difficult for small gourmet coffee outlets to succeed. Rentals in malls are ridiculously high and this has limited how many outlets are opened. We still have a long way to go.”

“Despite what everyone says, coffee culture has not nearly achieved its full potential in SA. The few practitioners delivering above-average coffee are compromised by many factors, not least of which is a market unwilling to pay the required premium for coffee,” he explains. “Skills and cultural gaps remain the biggest challenge, and there is no real recognition for skilled baristas other than some competitions, and some so-called baristas who pay very little attention to the craft. That said, appreciation for good coffee is on the rise and aficionados support those baristas that consistently put out excellent coffee. ”

Companies like Vida e Café are on the right track. “Their growth is phenomenal. It’s not often that you see guys behind the bar who are trained to make coffee. In most restaurants they spend 10 minutes with some waiter. Baristas are skilled workers and you get a much better product from them. However, we at Mokador wouldn’t want to see a Vida on every corner. We’d like to see more people open coffee bars and different concepts. We have plans to open a chain of espresso bars. We’re not going to copy any existing chains – they will have their own look and feel.

Coffee is a very social thing. It’s an excuse to chat over a cup. I would love to see the culture change – to see people sitting on the street corner drinking a cup of coffee. You can actually compare South Africa to the US in the 1970s. Instant and filter coffees were popular then, and there were a few niche Starbucks stores. After their owner went to Italy and saw the coffee culture there, he came back to the States and worked on the concept. Starbucks introduced people to speciality coffees. Every 36 Minutes a Starbucks opens somewhere in the world.

Coffee has become a reason to meet people. A few years ago it was all the rage to have a filter-coffee machine at home or at the office. Now coffee has become an excuse to go out and to be seen in an area, drinking from a branded cup.

So, in a country that is fast learning the joys of speciality coffees, the biggest question remaining is: Is instant coffee turning into an endangered species?

Demographics seem to play a part, according to experts. We believe so, but only for a limited few. The majority of our population are lower- to middle-class citizens and cannot afford the more expensive ‘speciality coffee’ and, from my observation of many people, coffee is coffee. But, through time and our efforts, we are sure to turn that around.

At the end of the day, you can’t compare us to a country like Italy, where you have to search for instant coffee. If you look at the demographics of South Africa, you just need hot water and coffee to make a cup. But there’s been a change in the instant-coffee market though. Now you get brands like the Jacobs coffees and Nescafe Gold that offer something better than the cheap-cheap instants. In general, I think that instant coffee will dominate the coffee market for the next 10 to 15 years. It also has to do with the difference between ‘home’ and ‘out’ coffee.

All on all, Durban is on the right track, and we owe it to companies like Colombo and Mokador. For striving the passion of Good coffee. Local or Itlaian.

Dylan Da Silva
Regional Director
Mokador Coffees

If you’re into this kind of stuff, check out our other Coffee Culture Lessons.
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