Inspiration by the cup at Department of Coffee

department of coffee

When Department of Design was first imagined, it was conceived as a shared space for people to mingle and discuss ideas and business opportunities. From these earliest of moments, it was immediately apparent that bringing street coffee culture indoors would be a great compliment to this.

From there it was a short step for programme director Christine de Baan to see Khayelitsha’s Department of Coffee as the ideal partners who could provide that service. And from that association came the name ‘Department of Design’.

“The name Department of Design was inspired by the Department of Coffee in Khayelitsha, which I first visited a year ago. I liked the tongue-in-cheekness of the name, very official-sounding for something actually so cool and fun and it suited our vision of thinking of design as another form of service delivery to the community,” says De Baan.

Department of Coffee is the brainchild of three young men who had run other businesses in Khayelitsha, but wanted to start something new. Businesses like laundries, car washes and street traders operate in a highly competitive market, but partners Vuyile Msaku, Womgama Baleni and Vusumzi Mamile saw the need for a street café near Khayelitsha railway station.

They sought the help of Connect Community Development, a non-profit organisation that mentors and assists businesses in poor communities, to find a space and navigate their way through the challenges of starting a successful business. They now run the township’s first espresso-based coffee house.

Department of Coffee has been operating for two years, and the partners say they have seen changes in the use of the public spaces around their shop. Not only do local residents buy coffee on their way to and from the station, but tourists visit and spend money at the informal traders nearby, growing the local economy.

In partnership with Metrorail, the Department of Coffee also started up Coffee Mob, a regular event that brings visitors to the township on the tourism train. Many come with their bicycles and cycle to Lookout Hill in Khayelitsha – a tourist destination with a 360 degree viewing deck, function hall, restaurant and arts and crafts stalls. During these events, local artists are given the opportunity to provide free performances in the public space around the coffee shop.

“It goes without question that we would invite the Department of Coffee to host the cafe in Department of Design. They make the best coffee in Cape Town, and their team are so optimistic and energetic that their presence alone will be a reason to visit Department of Design,” says De Baan. “Also, they make a mean ‘red espresso,’ which is my favourite South African drink now.”

Department of Coffee will be serving its own brew at Department of Design form 8 to 27 July.

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