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Barista Moses Lebofa talks coffee

Barista Moses Lebofa talks coffee

14 May 2019
Moses Lebofa

His delivery is smooth and easy and contains words like “nutty”, “caramel”, “bold” and “chocolatey”. Then the conversation turns serious and we’re talking “Colombia”, “fair trade”, and “superior beans”. Welcome to the world of Moses Lebofa, East City barista-par-excellence.

On the day I stop by to chat to him at Coffee By Moses, his micro-business in the concept store Just Like Papa in Harrington Street, his is a busy world with a steady stream of clients appearing on the steps to order “the usual”.

Moses greets each one personally and knows exactly what their “usual” is, whether it’s a latte, cortado or flat white. In between, he explains his passion for coffee and why he only uses certain kinds of beans when making his signature drinks that are becoming a feature of the East City.

“My coffee is single origin. I use Geisha coffee beans that come from the Huila region in Colombia,” he explains. “I like their depth of flavour as it is beautifully balanced and gets nutty and chocolate notes when it’s roasted.”

COFFEE BY MOSES

Moses buys his coffee from Theo Snyckers of Camissa Coffee Co. in Maitland where it is roasted to his specifications. “He sources beans from micro-roasters, which guarantees their quality and that fair-trade practices are used when buying it.”

While he personally prefers a strong cup of rooibos to start the day and only has his first Cup of Joe at 9 am, Moses is in tune with his customers’ needs. And as the day progresses, he changes the character of his coffee. The early morning crowd that has been streaming in since 7am get what he calls the “cosy” brew. He then changes it to “something stronger that is different, bolder and opens conversations”.

Moses’s own conversations are characterised by an easy banter. Extremely personable, he is interested in his clients’ lives and it’s clear that he is an integral part of their day. “Getting coffee from Moses in the morning puts me in the right frame of mind to tackle my day,” one client confirms. Another says: “Moses makes a damn fine flat white.” Another recommends a hip-hop podcast to Moses as he grabs his cortado.

The fact that he has built up this committed community of coffee-lovers in only four months (Coffee By Moses opened in January) is impressive even though he has been working in Harrington Street for a while – he worked his way up to becoming a barista at a neighbouring establishment, called Chop Chop, before it recently closed down.

TOUGH START

While Moses is now on a well-deserved roll, his first years in Cape Town were “a rollercoaster ride”. He arrived in the city from Hertzogville in the Free State in 2008 with a suitcase in his hand and a whole pile of dreams. “I knew nobody, I had no money and no skills,” he says. “I had had to give up my studies in education at North West University due to financial problems and I was very naïve … I thought I could arrive in this city, having been lulled by its beauty, and find work, get a flat and buy a car.”

The reality was very different and his first few years were “the toughest time of my life”. A turning point came when found a mentor in Pastor John Philmon, who was setting up the NGO Youth Solutions Africa, one of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) partners, at the time. “Pastor John became my support system, he taught me a lot and through him I gained a lot of confidence,” Moses explains.

Pastor John introduced Moses to The Carpenter’s Shop (now called The Hope Exchange) where he learnt carpentry skills and was able to earn money by doing odd jobs in the construction industry. “Coming from the Free State, you assume that is a real job,” he laughs.

He then met Jesse Laitinen of Khulisa Social Solutions, another CCID partner, and started working on a Streetscapes project, building the NGO’s vegetable gardens. After six months, Jesse helped him to find work at Chop Chop and he was on his way.

HUNGRY FOR OPPORTUNITY

While the job itself was relatively mundane, washing dishes, doing deliveries and the like, Moses grabbed the opportunity and ran with it. As Jesse points out: “He was hungry for an opportunity and what struck me about him was his high level of motivation”.

Soon he was helping the resident barista make coffee and proving that he was very good at it. Ironically, he was not a coffee-lover at the time. “I had a very stereotypical view of people who drank coffee back then, but then the bug bit and I took myself off to Tribe Coffee Roasting in Woodstock to work-shadow and improve my coffee-making skills.”

Back at Chop Chop, he took over as the barista and, in true Moses style, quickly developed a rapport with the customers, including artists from Sea Monster animation and game studio who helped him develop a logo (he went by Moses Coffee when he started out) and Just Like Papa co-owner Thomas Ferreira. “Thomas and I had a great relationship and he understood why I loved coffee. Next thing he invited me to launch a micro-business inside this cool store and he and co-owner Davide Locatelli-Rossi set me up." Moses Coffee became Coffee By Moses with Rick Traviss from Just Like Papa developing a new logo for him.

PART OF THE JL PAPA’S TRIBE

Part of the set-up at Just Like Papa’s is an impressive Fiorenzata espresso machine that enables him to make between 70 and 100 cups of coffee every day. It’s just the start and Moses is taking it in his stride.

Thomas Ferreira says Moses earned his spot at Just Like Papa. “It’s not so much that we gave him an opportunity, it’s more like he earned his place here. We were all his clients next door and he won us over with his personality and attitude before he won us over with his coffee – even though he makes better coffee than anyone else! He fitted into our tribe perfectly as we are all about quality and service and that is what he is about as well. He is a unique individual.”

While he became a barista by chance, it’s clear that for Moses the sky is the limit. Thomas agrees. “The aim is for him to grow his business and be independent one day and expand his brand…”

Armed with his passion, knowledge, charm and determination, Coffee By Moses has the makings of a great success story.

IMAGES: Scott Arendse, CCID online coordinator

Tags: coffee Coffee By Moses Moses Lebofa Just Like Papa East City Harrington Street coffee roasting