I must have walked past Kaldi's Coffee at least 100 times before going in. I was under the impression that it was just another Joburg coffee shop, and my list of favorite Joburg coffee shops is already far too long thanks to the saturation in Braamfontein. But oh, how wrong I was about Kaldi's.
Kaldi's Coffee was founded eight years ago by an Ethiopian guy named - you guessed it - Kaldi. An Ethiopian coffee house/sandwich takeaway shop in the middle of Newtown (right across Mary Fitzgerald Square from Museum Africa) is an interesting concept in itself, but the story gets better.
Two years ago, Kaldi's Coffee was purchased by South African vegan Mmabatho Mokwena and her husband. Mmabatho kept the old Kaldi's coffee and sandwich menu - "South African" and "vegan" are two words that don't appear frequently together, and Mmabatho didn't want to chase away the shop's regular clientele - but added a new vegetarian/vegan menu alongside the traditional toasted sandwiches and tramezzinis.
I am neither a vegetarian nor a vegan, but decided to play one when I went for lunch at Kaldi's. I ordered the "Jamaican hot jerk tofu wrap", which came with a large side of chips and salad with pureed spinach dressing, all for R45. The wrap was excellent - spicy, sweet, and stuffed with veggies and tofu. The tofu could easily have passed for chicken. (Tofu has a way of morphing itself into the flavor that your mouth expects.) I accompanied my wrap with a "nutty banana smoothie", which was too thick to drink through a straw and rivaled the milkiest of milkshakes.
Despite its new vegan flair, Kaldi's is still a coffee shop and it doesn't disappoint in that regard. I ordered a café au lait (with soy milk, of course - I stayed in character for the entire meal), which was lovely, and then went to check out the retro coffee-roasting machine in the back room. Kaldi's sells their own blend, including beans from Ethiopia and other parts of the world, and roasts beans on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
In addition to the funky food and coffee, Kaldi's has a quirky atmosphere, with both indoor and outdoor seating and a small lounge in the back. Mmabatho also offers vegan catering and runs an events/entertainment company called Matlombe, offering musical artist bookings and venue hire.
Kaldi's Coffee is a shining oasis in the middle of Newtown's culinary wasteland. Go.
Where? 1 Central Place, 30 Jeppe Street, Newtown
Tel: 083 757 0277
by Heather Mason