The cultural phenomenon of people lining up in long queues outside coffee shops, especially Starbucks, to get their morning coffee fix, is something mostly seen in Europe and in the United States.
And though you probably won’t see that in South Africa, the popularity of coffee shops has boomed over the years, particularly in Johannesburg, leading to the city producing some really great coffee shops.
We went on a journey this past year to hunt down the top coffee shops around Johannesburg, that have built a loyal following amongst coffee lovers.
Our search included finding the most affordable, most luxurious, all-rounder (great coffee and food), and the best commercial coffee shop.
This is what we found.
Watch: Our hunt for the best coffee shop in Johannesburg:
All-rounder, Manaka Coffee
An ambitious and successful local coffee café brand Manaka Coffee has been leaving its footprint in the coffee scene over the last few years and has goals of opening more stores, particularly abroad.
One of the co-owners Brad Symons says their goals are big.
“Our intention is building the biggest coffee brand abroad, because why not?”
This business started from a friendship that has lasted 25 years 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 is a sign of wealth, a sign of wellbeing, and a sign of respect for the ancestors.
The men come from different backgrounds, but when they are in Manaka they have a perfect synergy. Brad and Neo have experience in advertising, whilst Phumlani is a top roaster, with 17 years of experience.
This translates to coffees which are complex, rich in aroma, and full-bodied. The coffee isn’t too bitter and not too sweet, making their Manaka scarlet chai latte and the mocha cappuccino our top choices.
The business flourished during the Covid-19 pandemic as their business strategy included picking the right locations, as people congregated in coffee shops due to the alcohol bans.
Receiving our top honours as an all-rounder, Manaka’s food isn’t an afterthought. Yes the coffee is the star but the food has been given much thought as well. The menu is impressive, making the coffee shop a good venue for breakfast, lunch, and meetings.
For comfort food, the Magwinya (vetkoek), is stuffed with Cape Malay lamb, and my companion couldn’t stop gushing as she devoured the whole meal.
I have had a fair share of poke bowls in my lifetime and Manaka’s is fresh, filling and delicately balanced. On the sweet side, the Manaka coffee-infused cheesecake is a must-try, as well as their wild honey cake.
Their shop also sells top African and South American coffee beans from Kenya, Tanzania and Colombia.
If money is no object – Cortado
Located along the strip of Melville’s restaurants is a small coffee shop Tilt, that comes highly recommended.
The double espresso shot is not for everybody, which is why the Cortado is a great drink option for people who are not really coffee lovers. The Cortado comes in a much smaller size and contains expresso and warm milk at a 1:1 ratio (about half espresso, half steamed milk).
The milk reduces the acidity of the espresso and among coffee fanatics, it has become quite popular because of its simplicity. Tilt’s Cortado follows a similar structure, but definitely has an espresso hit, it is strong and bitter, but the microfoam of the milk really adds a necessary creamy texture.
The Cortado costs around R33.
If you are looking for a quiet coffee spot that has delicious treats and amazing staff, Tilt Coffee is a gem.
The best commercial coffee shop – Starbucks
Any coffee conversation or debate always includes the iconic Starbucks.
They have managed to keep some of the buzz surrounding the brand since opening in South Africa in 2016. It is still the hippest place to be for a coffee, especially Starbucks in Rosebank.
As the festive season is in full swing, locals are enjoying the taste of an American favourite, pumpkin spice latte (PSL) and iced pumpkin spice frappucino.
The PSL is a handcrafted espresso with a pumpkin spice infusion, creamy steamed milk, and cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove. It’s then finished off with whipped cream and more pumpkin spice on top.
The spice latte is indulgent and decadent. Their holiday beverages also include gingerbread latte and the toffee nut latte, a new caramel waffle latte, and a festive reindeer cookie, available until 31 December.
A special mention to Flight in Rosebank Mall, in the SOKO District. Iced coffees may be divisive but for an African summer, they are a must. Their ice coffee is top-notch.
Most affordable- Xpresso
Famous for being the R10 coffee shop, Xpresso in Killarney Mall, Johannesburg, has gone viral a few times, with patrons in disbelief that all the 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 coffee shops anywhere in the country.
The takeaway coffee shop is a good place to grab a good cappuccino, we were pleasantly surprised. There is also a delicious display of pastries, pies and muffins, but these weren’t as good as they looked.