Common Ground Coffees (CGC) is an artisan roastery situated in Potchefstroom. They craft and distribute precision roasted artisan and specialty coffee. Coffee forms an intricate part of their daily lives, they always aim to provide a sought after range of amazing coffees. They source quality Arabica Coffee Beans which they roast on a Genio Roaster in individual batches to the utmost precision, consistency and flavour development.
After the roasting process, their beans are artistically blended according to secret formulas and philosophical traditions, adhering to age-old Northern Italian principles that favour darker roasts, especially for Espresso Blending.
They have the privilege to be proudly endorsed by food and beverage consultant and legend in the South African food industry, Martin Kobald of ChefMLK. Together they aim to bring precision roasted artisan coffee to the commercial food industry.
Meet Francois Vorster, owner of Common Ground Coffees and one of Genio Roasters’ first clients. We caught up with him to learn a bit more about CGC, their business and all things coffee.
1.1.How long have you worked in the coffee industry?
I have been in the coffee industry for two years and eight months now and roasting only for about a year and a half.
1.2 About Common Ground Coffees? How did it begin?
One of my close friends, Niel Hofmeyr, and I sat in a coffee shop and dreamt about being financially independent, buying yachts and wine farms and he suddenly suggested I buy a local coffee shop, Decadent. Two months later I was the rookie owner of an established coffee shop and started my journey for great coffee. Fast forward a year in the search for better coffee in Potchefstroom another good friend, Jacie van Rensburg, suggested we start roasting our own coffee. I did a lot of research on roasting, coffee, roasters and had a great meeting with Neil from Genio. Everything happened quite quickly and we installed on the 6th of February 2014 and I did my first roast. Once again I was a total newbie and didn’t really know what I was doing. Most importantly we were now on the path to creating our own fresh and quality coffee.
2. What is the most rewarding part of the coffee industry for you?
There is this amazing rabbit hole that keeps me intrigued and glued on this journey. I have this deep passion to explore coffee and introduce others to quality, fresh and flavourful coffee. I love to learn and coffee has this attribute that the more you know, you kind of find that you don’t know much at all and that there are still years of learning to come. Finding and bringing out flavour from a coffee bean is just such a thrilling exercise.
3. What do you like about roasting with a Genio roaster?
I can’t compare it to anything else as I have never roasted on another roaster. For me it is about the journey, the back story, the history and the Proudly South African product. We are creating this special, locally produced product of exceptional value and we want people to buy it and believe in it. It just made sense to do it on a roaster that was born in Potchefstroom and developed by Neil, with whom I shared mutual friends at varsity. One day when we are all rich and famous and Genio has built the years of reputation it deserves, it is going to make for one hell of a story…
4. Tell us about a special/magical roast you had with your Genio roaster? What origin bean was it, what settings did you use, what did the end product taste like, etc.
Coffee is an interesting thing. Once you realise a coffee tastes great you probably can’t remember the roasting of it as it happened a few days earlier. The best coffee I have roasted was Burundi Dohorerabarimyi. Charge temp was 220 for a 5kg roast. First crack was at about 9 minutes and roasted to a 22% development time. Dropped at about 209. There was just this perfect balance of body and flavour that was just so smooth in an Aeropress. I loved it. Can’t wait to get my hands on such a coffee again.
5. What added features would you like to see in a (Genio) coffee roaster?
Neil is great at improving and renewing his machines and most ideas are already addressed in his newer models. One thing that I can think of as a solution is roasting on the premises of a busy eatery. I unfortunately get distracted at times or have to address a customer or problem. It would be nice having a screen with the temperatures on a movable/flexi arm to keep me updated when I am on various sides of the roaster.
6. What is the longest period that you have gone without coffee? What happened?
Every now and again I get the feeling that I am drinking coffee for fuel or out of ritual and not enjoying every cup for what it is. I will then take a few days, three or so, hiatus. Usually I drink some nice teas in that time. Luckily I don’t struggle with all the headaches and other symptoms others experience. But when I get back to my coffee it is like the honeymoon all over again.
7. What is the most unique/exotic coffee/coffee experience that you’ve ever had?
What I enjoy and cherish is researching and creating drinks with the Chefs of Decadent Eatery. We design or re-think coffee as a course on its own in their dinner themed dinner evenings. Showing people all that coffee could be is wonderful. I loved developing our Cold Brew and seeing the enjoyment and confusion on people’s faces. I just love to see people loving and exploring coffee. We also had a ‘boer oom’ saying Cold Brew tastes crap which was also quite funny.
8. What makes coffee special for you?
The memories. As I think back on my coffee moments I realise that it was always shared with someone. The most special coffee experiences are those weekend mornings or after a Sunday afternoon nap when the wife and I sit feet-up and just enjoy a relaxing coffee and chat about life. Savouring coffee and life together just works. Nowadays we have a two year old that runs through those moments, but every now and then stops to take a sip of a ‘precision roasted, fresh, Aeropress brewed, black coffee’ and replying “Mmmm-mmmm, baie lekker (very nice).
9. What’s your favourite type of coffee/How do you enjoy your coffee?
I enjoy a proper Americano, black and without sugar. At home I always make my coffee with an Aeropress. The Aeropress is one of the top 5 gadgets that totally changed my life. Milk and sugar changes the taste of coffee and I don’t prefer that. I will check the quality of a shops Flat White once in a while.
10. What’s the feedback been like re: signature product/that one thing your customers just can’t get enough of?
We are getting great feedback on our coffees and especially the amount of flavour packed into them. We are developing and learning constantly and it helps that our regulars can taste it. Our Signature Series which is our ever-changing specialty coffee showing people that there is so much more than the mundane store-bought coffees. The Burundi was a great hit.
11. What’s the next step for your roastery?
I don’t really know. It feels that I need to learn so much more about coffee roasting as a whole. I am getting more and more intrigued by the ‘sciency’ aspects of the airflow, development, rate-of-rise curves, etc. Whereever we are going, it will always be in the name of better tasting coffee for our clients. I hope to expand our range of specialty coffees over time.
12. Do you think South Africa still has a far way to go in a global coffee culture?
This is a difficult question. Yes, we are lagging behind some countries in the ‘third wave of coffee’, but then again every one drinks coffee in SA. I think we are growing really fast in appreciating coffee for what it is and what it is supposed to be. I would love for SA to develop our own coffee identity and not only take on what is trending. The future is bright if you consider that I was brought up on chicory and my two year old is drinking black Aeropress brewed awesomeness.
13. What advice do you have for aspiring coffee: roasters, baristas, connoisseurs, designers, entrepreneurs out there?
Read and read and read and read and read. Do not become stagnant or one-dimensional or judgemental. There are so many ways to roast coffee, make coffee and drink coffee. Explore, change and learn. Make the best possible product that you can and can afford and always drink the coffee that you like. Try new coffees, methods, techniques, profiles and ideas. Explore how other cultures drink and prepare their coffees. And if you are making coffee in any way, please weigh the ground at the very least…
Thank you Francois for spending time with us and all the best with your coffee ventures going forward!