FOODSTUFF: Coffee and patisserie with class at Cape Town’s Coco Safar

coco_safar_gluten_free_alfajores.jpg Cape Town is home to the first global Coco Safar in Cavendish Square. Its owners say it is not just another shopping centre coffee shop.

At Coco Safar every aspect is crafted. Croissant Benedict breakfasts can ease into lazy brioche pizzetta light lunches. The café may have a shopping centre din surrounding it, but there is a reprieve, thanks to ceiling fans, jazzy tunes and moody ambience that could be in cosmopolitan Vienna or Brussels.

Safajores chocolate-coated buckwheat biscuits. Every coffee served with a glass of water on a beautiful tray. A waitress’s descriptions of exotic fillings: colourful operas, star domes and pastries as exquisite to admire as they are to savour.

High tea for two, served in a trio of sweet and savoury waves (the Third Wave is a purist approach to sourcing, roasting and brewing coffee). A crumbly Canadian apricot streusel pecan scone; a keylime and kumquat éclair’s with perfect citrus tang. A chilled, slow-brewed coffee spiked with orange peel.


During their research, owners Caroline Sirois and Wilhelm Liebenberg sampled at Pierre Hermé’s Paris patisserie to Dominique Ansel’s cronuts in New York’s SoHo. Liebenberg becomes animated when describing Coco Safar creations concocted after many product development hours in his Willie Wonka-like Woodstock facility.

Nearly everything is created locally, from leather-stitched armchairs and crockery to eye-catching uniforms. Banquette seating below mirror panels framed by cast metal with weathered bronze effects. Dangling glass ball lights — they reminded of creamy chocolate truffles — blown by Red Hot Glass in Paarl.

At the adjacent retail capsule emporium, collections of coffee and rooibos capsules enticed behind a counter. Their packaging forming a colourful wall backdrop.

The espresso bar outside suits a quick, quality coffee stop. It is also a shrine to the iconic Idrocompresso coffee machine, a shiny steel and glass one-off with leather detailing on surfaces and handles. Says the barista: “It’s like playing with a Ferrari every day of your life.”


Why Cavendish Square as your international flagship store? We were looking for one spectacular retail space to allow us to best showcase our unique brand and business model. That is what we found at Cavendish, ideally situated in the southern suburbs of Cape Town, where no coffee capsule retail offering existed. The roll out of other Coco Safar stores in SA and key global markets is in the works.

What makes Coco Safar not just another coffee shop? The experience is about daily escapism: it is the first authentic luxury espresso bar and café that incorporates a capsule emporium of its kind, pairing Third Wave specialty coffee and rooibos with couture patisserie and cafe food. We bring the best of Paris and New York in a luxurious cafe bistro-style environment where quality reigns at every level. Our patisserie offering is like no other in SA; our breakfast and casual dining offering very different to what’s on offer in Cape Town cafés. And it’s the first time you can have a plated dessert experience in a cafe environment.

Which elements and local design input will be replicated in other stores? Our original store design is reminiscent of the French industrial era and the golden age of travel with Jules Vernes-inspired design elements. A timeless understated luxury setting that should transport anyone who steps into the store to another place and time.

We intend to almost exclusively use custom-made local furniture, fixtures, decor elements and store cabinets for the brand’s global roll out as part of a proudly South African export story.

This timeless interior design will form the basis of all future stores, but allow for some elements to be incorporated in each new location, to give each store a slightly different identity.

Why supply a global coffee and patisserie brand from Woodstock? More than a year ago we opened our central kitchen, patisserie/coffee lab and production facility there. We found the neighbourhood to have incredible creative energy with a true entrepreneurial spirit, just like it used to be in the Williamsburg district of Brooklyn, New York.

This environment is highly conducive to hosting and managing a production facility where we can train all our culinary talent, under the supervision of corporate chefs from New York, focused on producing quality sweet and savoury products daily. As part of our hub and spoke business model, where the production facility supplies several stores, Woodstock is centrally situated with easy access to Cape Town neighbourhoods.

Explain your “couture quality” concept for French patisserie. When speaking of couture quality, we specifically refer to the haute couture nature of our patisserie, which is conceptualized, designed, styled and handcrafted by teams of artisans, as designers crafting haute-couture fashion collections would do.

If capsules are the concept, why the adjacent Espresso Bar grind coffee and beans? The Coco Safar business model is truly innovative: offering specialty coffee drinks at our Espresso Bar and Cafe, made with signature beans that can be taken home. And our specialty coffee and rooibos capsules showcasing a range of single-origin, award-winning auction-lot coffees, in capsules for the first time and sold at the first retail capsule emporium besides Nespresso.

How did the custom-designed Idrocompresso machine come about? Kees van der Westen is the undisputed industry leader from a commercial espresso machine design, technology and manufacturing perspective. Considered a true visionary, he created some of the world’s most iconic machines ever to be used commercially. Kees gave us exclusivity to a completely new Spirit espresso machine, marrying lever technology from the past that he brought into the future, confirming his appreciation of our brand as an emerging coffee industry market leader.

COCO SAFAR, Ground floor, Cavendish Square, Claremont. Open daily. Tel 021-671-1607, Coco Safar

A version of this appeared in Business Day HomeFront in October 2016