Category Archives: Grahamstown

Good ol’ G-Spot, EC

It’s been nearly a year since I finished up in Grahamstown. I was rather keen to leave, when the time came, but I miss it now. It’s the same as missing school though. You know, best days of your life and all that.

Now, I wasn’t particularly fond of Grahamstown. I was a city girl, from Johannesburg, and I somehow ended up in one of the most poorly run provinces of the country, in a town that didn’t even have a McDonald’s. Or a Woolworths Food. When people asked me if I was enjoying it, I would tell them how much I like the University, my course and the overall student life. I would explain how convenient being in a small town was because you can literally walk to any destination worth your while in the town. You hardly needed to worry about having a designated driver, the only time you really wanted a car was when it was raining or when you had to carry your 5L water up the hill (which is closer to 25L by the time you get to the top!). And this is where I would start talking about the problems.

We had no water. We would go for weeks with no running water. In my residence, we had 73 girls all sharing 2 toilets. There were minimal washing facilities – you could go to the gym, but that was so busy and eventually dirty and they ran out of water pressure too from trying to meet the demand. One benefit: the university paid for 2L of bottled drinking water every day. If you were smart, you would let this accumulate so you didn’t have to drink the tap water, which was sometimes brown, sometimes smelled like a chlorine factory blew up.

Water protest gif

One of the water outages was so bad, we held a march in protest. The truck that was meant to come fix the situation went missing, and then was found to have not even left Johannesburg yet. When they got to Grahamstown, they could not install the pump because there was no electricity. The electricity problem was another bad one. Slightly more liveable, because you don’t have to live in each other’s filth, but not cool when you are trying to study. Most of the power failures happened during exam time, naturally. Sometimes even in the middle of your exam. It was tedious, but I guess we all learned to live with it.

High street

The High Street, one of the most lovely views of the Cathedral and the quaintness of Grahamstown. Along this road you will find most of the restaurants, plenty of pharmacies, and plenty of dodgy car guards

I suppose, if anything, it taught us to be grateful. We learned to appreciate when we did have certain things, like water and lights on at home, because after all, these are luxuries that many people do not have access to at all, obviously in Grahamstown, but even in South Africa in general. But, you know, perspective only comes after the hard times… I’m very glad I don’t have to deal with that anymore, but I have new problems that have come about with living back in the city. Now I can just reminisce about the beauty and quaintness that was Grahamstown. I learnt a lot from being there, I had a fabulous experience, met the most amazing people, and met a lot of different people with different backgrounds and different opinions. We were all shoved into one teeny backwards town, forced to live alongside each other, and that is why Rhodents are generally so open minded and fun (but also well-rounded and responsible individuals).

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Once you get over the gnawing absence of things that were once a staple sight in a civilized town, you start to notice the beauty of the old buildings, and the heritage that came along with them. You eventually realise why people would want to keep making the trip down every year for the National Arts Fest (apart from general art-appreciation, of course).

Cnr High Street and Cuyler Cathedral with Jacarandas

Grocott's

Grahamstown is home to some lovely old buildings and some significant South African Heritage. The old newspaper buildings could have something to do with the Rhodes School of Journalism’s reputation perhaps?

High street court

Provost

Provost coffee shop was established here shortly before I left. While I wasn’t a massive fan of their coffee, their location was great – set in an old battalion-related building (or something like that), as were their delicious freshly-baked croissants

Grahamstown grows on you. But that doesn’t mean that everyone wants to stay there forever. I had an awesome time while I was there, great memories, but I am happy to be moving onto other things as well now in my life. For now, I think I will go have a reminiscent mare up in Northam.

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Grahamstown’s special blend

Hand Made Coffees in Grahamstown is hands down the best coffee shop in town. It is probably the smallest, but they have the best staff, a cute and convenient location, and they focus on what’s important: the coffee.Garvey McConnell, the owner, explained how his addiction to coffee has benefited the students and citizens of Grahamstown, and much of the rest of the Eastern Cape.

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Garvey himself has travelled the world, living and working in big cities from America to Europe, to Hong Kong, and finally decided to settle down in the small dorp of Hamburg. The assumption that the nearby city of East London would be able to the coffee needs he developed in his First World life, was futile, as many may have guessed – it is better to never expect Slummies to have much, that way you can be pleasantly surprised when they do.

Garvey needed freshly roasted beans in order to get his true fix. Anything less was a waste of his time. He started his little private roastary in his home, sourcing small bags of beans that he could prepare as he needed. Locals heard (smelled too, perhaps?) of his amazing blends, and he became the supplier for the area. This put a lot of pressure on his personal roaster, which eventually gave in, and Garvey was permitted (by the missus) to invest in a commercial roaster to support his booming business.

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Hand Made Coffees was started because Garvey believes there is no point in having a roastary if you don’t get to taste the product you are buying, an error that other roastaries in the Eastern Cape have apparently made. The Grahamstown branch is located in a nook under the arch in front of the clock tower on Rhodes campus, which makes it perfectly situated for the students, and also easily accessible to the rest of the Grahamstown community.

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They offer a good selection of brewed beverages, from cappuccinos to mochas, but their ultimate has got to be their iced coffee. They use a “secret ingredient” – which Sisa, the barista, unfortunately refused to divulge with me – and it makes for a refreshing Grahamstown Summer caffeine hit.

Sisa the barista.jpg

The coffee itself is also always an experience. Garvey likes to experiment with different flavours and bean combinations (blends) in his roasting, and if you’re a real coffee fundi, you will be able to taste the subtle differences. Incredibly, Garvey always gets that flavour right, so you will always get an incredible coffee flavour. He bases his coffee flavour on what he likes to drink. Most of his patrons would agree that he has good taste.

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On a good day, and if you’re nice enough to Sisa, you will be able to buy chocolate croissants (pain au chocolat), hot out of the oven. If you’re mean, you may only be able to buy a normal croissant (which is delicious too, but if you know me, you know you can’t EVER beat chocolate…)

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Hand Made Coffees is a real character in Grahamstown, and it takes after the character that is Garvey. If you don’t like coffee, they offer hot chocolate too. If you still feel like being difficult, go to Hand Made Coffees just for the awesome company and interesting conversation – you might be inspired to travel the big cities of the world, or it may make you fall in love with Grahamstown and develop an even deeper fondness for small towns.

Darren clock hmc.jpg

A bright idea – Revelations Grahamstown

It’s amazing what new management can do. In my first year at Grahamstown there was this random little coffee shop at the only shopping centre in town. Sometimes you’d hear of people going there, but mostly it felt like walking past some long-forgotten church, or the University library at the start of the New Year (when people have forgotten how much work they could actually be getting done in there). Now, Revelations Café is a go-to food-spot, especially if you like your cakes.

eat coffee tea signageThey had a great revamp and gained popularity again in 2012, with all sorts of wonderful specials to draw in the crowds. Not only were the prices reasonable and competitive, but also the quality of the food was really above the common Grahamstown standard.

Cake

Their cakes would be one of their major draw factors: they are made perfectly every time and they have a really nice wide variety. I was disappointed to learn that they don’t actually make these on site, however. The cakes are supplied by Chateaux Gateaux. Since learning this, it appears that a huge number of coffee shops have their cakes supplied by them too. So Revelations’ cakes aren’t all that special, though they are really delicious (and you can’t beat mass-produced consistency sometimes, can you?).

Breakfast specials are great on a student budget, but a real omelette is a nice and wholesome break away from res food

Breakfast specials are great on a student budget, but a real omelette is a nice and wholesome break away from res food

Their breakfasts are definitely winners. Sometimes they offer a breakfast special, though their breakfast menu options are worth spending the extra money on. They are generous with their portions, particularly in their omelettes.

Waffles are good for breakfast too... Revelations knows how to maximise on the Bar One too, which is great!

Waffles are good for breakfast too… Revelations knows how to maximise on the Bar One too, which is great!

Revelations offers lunch and dinner options as well. On a student budget a lot of the dinner choices are a bit excessive, though they are around the same price as you would expect to pay in other larger towns and cities, and the quality is good (think café burgers rather than steakhouse burgers though). Their wide range can cater for a number of dietary requirements (healthier options and vegetarian options, for example), but it does make decisions really hard.

Chicken and bacon wrap with a berry smoothie, a wholesome healthy lunch (that is also delicious)

Chicken and bacon wrap with a berry smoothie, a wholesome healthy lunch (that is also delicious)

Chicken , bacon, apple and blue cheese salad with a Mango smoothie. This was a half portion too, so they are really generous

Chicken , bacon, apple and blue cheese salad with a Mango smoothie. This was a half portion too, so they are really generous

You can enjoy their delicious smoothies out under the trees or you can cuddle up under cover on the couch with a decadent hot chocolate (complete with marshmallows, whipped cream and a flake), which makes it ideal for summer or winter treats.

Banana and almond smoothie and a vanilla milkshake. The smoothie was delicious, but it could have done well with a bigger straw because the nuts were not too finely chopped

Banana and almond smoothie and a vanilla milkshake. The smoothie was delicious, but it could have done well with a bigger straw because the nuts were not too finely chopped

Generally their service is very friendly, though relaxed enough that you remember you are not in a large town where waiters are there to pander immediately to your every whim.

They have a larger than average tea selection, and great options for teatime accompaniments

They have a larger than average tea selection, and great options for teatime accompaniments

This café is definitely worth a visit when in Grahamstown, and also good for regular treats with friends (just not on a Sunday, unfortunately).

Added bonus: they have free wifi.

Sisa the Barista

“I did a course and then I fell in love with this once I started go into roastary; the fragrance took me and I fell in love with everything about coffee.”

Sisa likes to experiment. These were a sample of a particularly interesting test involving mint and vanilla (among other secret things...)

Sisa likes to experiment. These were a sample of a particularly interesting test involving mint and vanilla (among other secret things…)

Three years ago, Sisa Mapetu started a journey that he probably never saw leading to a new life in Grahamstown. From initially working as a waiter, to potentially working for a logistics company, to ending up as the friendliest barista on our little campus in Grahamstown, his journey sounds like one of true love.

Since he did his barista course three years ago, Sisa has been developing his skills and competing in barrister competitions. The competitions involve demonstrating a thorough knowledge of coffee and its subtle flavours, as well as a demonstration of your coffee skills, requiring competitors to produce 12 espresso drinks in 15 minutes.

In his first attempt three years ago, Sisa placed second. He hopes to outperform everyone in next year’s competition by developing his signature drink early on, and ensuring he does not underestimate his competition, as he has done in the past. “I just have to know that everyone is a tough competitor, I have to respect that. The guys that are competing for the first time, I must treat them as the same level as me.” From an outsider’s perspective, his drive and enthusiasm for the coffee definitely make him winner material. We shall see what the July competition holds for him.

Sisa has filled in a wonderful niche on campus. Handmade Coffees is a great little shop, perfectly positioned, but Sisa really adds a wonderful element to the cosy nook. He is friendly, always welcoming passers by, and he really seems to connect with his regulars. His appreciation of the bean is contagious.

“What gets me about it is that there’s always something new comes out, something new motivating me.” Sisa likes to experiment with new flavours, which can be quite an experience for the testers. Mint with my coffee was definitely a first…

Another test turned out like a cookies and cream iced coffee - do you get any better?  That friendly smile, and that loving touch when working on his creations really makes him a truly super local Barista.

Another test turned out like a cookies and cream iced coffee – do you get any better?
That friendly smile, and that loving touch when working on his creations really makes him a truly super local Barista.

Sisa also likes to cook, experimenting with different food flavours as well. He hopes to open his own restaurant one day. “This barrister profession is opening a lot of doors for me to achieve that, because, especially in this company, there are a lot of opportunities where I can actually expand in future.”

“What actually motivates me more, is that every time I get to work at the machine, it’s just it’s just the fragrance just (chuckles) brings me into loving it.”

His favourite coffee drink: Espresso and Macchiato.

“Those are my best because I achieve what I want very quick into it because they are quite short and then they go straight where I want them. I get bored when I drink the cappuccinos and the lattes because I only drink them half and then I’ve achieved what I want but the espressos, the combination hits the spot.

The reason I like the espresso is because I understand every coffee that I make and how it must taste. So I’m looking for those flavours of the espresso in the coffee that I’m making. If you can perfect an espresso, then you can perfect any other drink.”

His view on latte art: It’s good.

“Latte art is good, it’s a lovely cherry on top. But when you get to understand the profession you get to know that the taste is more important. Latte art is good as there, but good coffee doesn’t need good latte art. You can make a good coffee without good latte art, but it’s there to grab the attention of the drinker.”

Best of G’Town: Milkshake hotspot

Mmmm milkshakes. I used to think that Bar One milkshakes was about as extreme and amazing as you could get (there is no disputing that they are fabulous, though). Then I found Red Café, and I was completely blown away.

Peanut butter milkshakes to blow you away, strawberry and banana smoothie (Pam thinks she's healthy). Bar One milkshake next to a peppermint crisp milkshake which tastes just like the dessert.

Peanut butter milkshakes to blow you away, strawberry and banana smoothie (Pam thinks she’s healthy). Bar One milkshake next to a peppermint crisp milkshake which tastes just like the dessert.

They have your traditional chocolate and vanilla, but then they also have Milo, Horlicks, and even peanut butter milkshakes! It’s like a perfect peanut smoothie, but it’s a milkshake, so it’s better. Then they have Dessert Milkshakes, which include peppermint crisp (Peppermint Surprise for those students who live in res at Rhodes University), Bar One and Oreo (cookies and cream is always a winner). They also serve smoothies if you would prefer to appear healthy, but they taste so great that it’s hard to believe it’s healthy fruity ingredients.

They have a charming breakfast menu, but the food menu is dominated by tramezzinis and baguettes. Their tramezzinis are definitely the better option, though, as they crisp up nicely, while the baguettes are rather bland… They also do salads and cater for certain fussy diets.

Breakfast wrap and a breakfast tramezzini, same filling, different outside. The wrap itself was somewhat bland, so it is better to have the cheese, scrambled egg and bacon in it's crispy tramezzini form.

Breakfast wrap and a breakfast tramezzini, same filling, different outside. The wrap itself was somewhat bland, so it is better to have the cheese, scrambled egg and bacon in it’s crispy tramezzini form.

They have a charming breakfast menu, but the food menu is dominated by tramezzinis and baguettes. Their tramezzinis are definitely the better option, though, as they crisp up nicely, while the baguettes are rather bland… They also do salads and cater for certain fussy diets.

Darren enjoyed a chicken mayo tramezzini, which was full to bursting with more than just a chicken mayo filling - there was cheese and I think they even crammed some mushrooms in there. The chocolate brownie was one of the greatest in Grahamstown for sure

Darren enjoyed a chicken mayo tramezzini, which was full to bursting with more than just a chicken mayo filling – there was cheese and I think they even crammed some mushrooms in there.
The chocolate brownie was one of the greatest in Grahamstown for sure

My first port of call, though, is the sweets and treats, obviously. Brownies, millionairs shortbread and an assortment of cakes go down a treat. My latest delight there was a chocolate brownie that was delicious. I couldn’t figure out if it was a especially gooey brownie, or slightly under-done; either way, it totally worked.

Red Café is definitely under-appreciated, though it does receive a steady amount of business by the sounds of things. It’s a pity about their open times, but it is understandable for a café to not be open for dinner; their menu doesn’t lend itself to that as much. Their food is consistently improving, providing reliable deliciousness – keep it simple and you’ll definitely get it right more often. Their location and set up is also ideal – the balcony overlooking the high street is quaint and cool (under the shade at least) for a hot summers day with a shake or a smoothie.

They have a unique balcony with a charming view. Here I enjoyed a roast chicken and cheese baguette with an Oreo milkshake.

They have a unique balcony with a charming view.
Here I enjoyed a roast chicken and cheese baguette with an Oreo milkshake.

The Homeground Advantage

Homeground Coffee Roasters: delicious, authentic and exclusive. And pretty much just not suited to Grahamstown. You would think that with their prime location right near campus, a cute little hole-in-the-wall that’s perfectly suited to the small-town that is G’Town, they would cater for one of their nearest consumers. Alas, the drive for excellence comes with a price, and if it’s not pay-day, most students are unable to afford it on a regular basis.

Homeground Coffee Roasters

Homeground Coffee Roasters

The have done very well on their branding and image, using quirky decor all around their coffee kiosk

The have done very well on their branding and image, using quirky decor all around their coffee kiosk

Homeground coffee is good. It has a unique flavour, and it is certainly prepared with lots of love, skill and attention to detail, which is highly commendable. You can really taste the subtleties in their flavours that they pride themselves on. It’s not my favourite flavour, but it is pretty great coffee in its essence.

Café mocha/chococcino ? You choose

Café mocha/chococcino ? You choose

Their menu is thorough and caters for the common coffee drinker, that is, those who do not appreciate the art that is coffee. There is almost an attitude of “Fine, I guess I will have to put milk and sugar in your coffee, Peasant… Oh, you want cappuccino art with that? Of course you do, Hipster.”

Latté art and a mocha-nut truffle slice. Only 15% flour in that brownie chunk of gold

Latté art and a mocha-nut truffle slice. Only 15% flour in that brownie chunk of gold

They also have a delicious range of baked goods. You can grab a packet of interesting flavoured biscotti biscuits which do well for a car snack (if they make it that far…). They do huge scones and muffins, spinach and feta flavoured and blueberry respectively. They like to change it up a bit as well, which is quite nice. That is the joy of being a small independent business in a close-knit town, I suppose.

Cappuccino and a great big blueberry muffin for breakfast to go please!

Cappuccino and a great big blueberry muffin for breakfast to go please!

Obviously this exclusivity comes with a price. I understand that they are teeny and probably have substantial overheads for their location and the fact that they don’t sell much to the local community – they serve as the coffee supplier for their other branches in Kenton and Johannesburg – so high prices are to be expected. But R22 for a tiny slice of truffle brownie something? It’s a bit excessive. Though it is made with top quality ingredients and it is absolutely delicious. That’s probably why I am complaining: I just can’t afford to eat as much as it’s deliciousness warrants!

Carrot cupcake with orange cream cheese frosting. Dinky and delicious!

Carrot cupcake with orange cream cheese frosting. Dinky and delicious!

Their open hours are also a bit of an issue in my life, but I feel the same way about most of Grahamstown’s other businesses: how can you only be open half-day on Saturday and not at all on Sunday? Those are treat days!

White chocolate almond and cranberry blondie bar. This was delicious, though I do think the cranberries were a bit overpowering of the other flavours. (Cranberries are great though, right?)

White chocolate almond and cranberry blondie bar. This was delicious, though I do think the cranberries were a bit overpowering of the other flavours. (Cranberries are great though, right?)

It’s a classy little spot, great to have a little chat with a cup of good quality coffee and a slice of Blondie, unless you’re living within your budget. Definitely worth the occasional treat though, so certainly do yourself the favour whenever you have the opportunity.

Lovely setting with a lovely coffee

Lovely setting with a lovely coffee

Eastern Cape life – Grahamstown Flower Festival

Who doesn't love a goodie bag of free stuff?

Who doesn’t love a goodie bag of free stuff?

My gran lives on a farm. My mom seems to love the farm. My brother wants to live on my gran’s farm in England because it is so clean. And I’m over here like, “Ooh look! A plant!” Meanwhile it’s actually a weed, not even part of the flower show.

All the pretty flowers

All the pretty flowers

Ok, I am exaggerating, but I consider myself to be very much a city girl, and this farm-life is not one that I am used to. I went to the flower festival motivated by the fact that I knew that a certain coffee company was coming to town, and their coffee is pretty amazing. I figured that if they were going to be there, there was bound to be other delicious goodies and interesting stalls selling loads of useless things that I will fall for and spend far too much money on. I was not disappointed, but I was also pleasantly surprised by some of the things that I found.

Some girls were selling some hippie pants

Some girls were selling some hippie pants

There were flowers, of course, and a number of other plants that I won’t even try begin to name. In short: plants. Some local Eastern Cape greenery in celebration of summer (the first day of the festival was a real stunner) as well as some flowers that I do actually recognise.

This is an example of the types of sales-folk surrounding the local Botanical Gardens

This is an example of the types of sales-folk surrounding the local Botanical Gardens

Gorgeous sunflowers being sold out of the sun...

Gorgeous sunflowers being sold out of the sun…

There were getups that I know would look great in my house… My house that I don’t have… So I settled for a cute succulent in a teacup and saucer. It now belongs on my windowsill, and is the closest thing to a pet that I have ever had to look after independently. Writing that just reminded me that I have yet to water it. Clearly it’s not looking too good. It is cute, nonetheless.

My new plant!

My new plant!

There were R5 pancakes (sold by a dear bunch of women), bacon and egg butties [‘rolls’ for those of you who need the translation] (that I purchased from the Dean of Students, and they were amazing!), and a Chip’n’Dip too (which I thought was majorly out of place, but hey). And then there was the coffee of course, truly splendid coffee.

Unfortunately I did not buy another bag of their coffee because I haven't opened my first one - their sample sachets were great, though, and they also supplied Lindie's brownies, which can be seen on my Instagram feed

Unfortunately I did not buy another bag of their coffee because I haven’t opened my first one – their sample sachets were great, though, and they also supplied Lindie’s brownies, which can be seen on my Instagram feed

I also ended up buying myself a few necklaces, and a gift for a bestie back in Jo’burg.

New jewellery! Because I basically have none

New jewellery! Because I basically have none

I did not attend any of the talks because I do not own a farm and I don’t garden just yet. I probably won’t for a while, and whatever I need to know when I do decide to make my plants all pretty (and keep them alive) will probably be available on the Internet. I do think the presentations most likely went down a treat in this little town of Grahamstown, because there is quite a substantial farming culture in the Eastern Cape, from what I have gathered.

Lovely water feature and plants for my house of the distant future

Lovely water feature and plants for my house of the distant future

These are just adorable to look at

These are just adorable to look at

Overall it was a lovely day. Day 2 was a bit wet and rainy, but a decent event overall. Farmers’ markets are quaint, but I look forward to returning home to my Metropolitan Johannesburg in the next seven weeks.