A cup of community coffee…


It’s a home away from home. A spot where paramedics have a hot cuppa after a hectic night shift, entrepreneurs plug into their laptops, moms come to breathe while baby is (finally) sleeping and bookworms drift away into a story.

Karl Desler owner of Salt Rock Coffee

Salt Rock Coffee Company is a community hangout where everyone finds their little comfortable corner to unwind, make friends with a stranger and, of course, have one of the best coffees on the North Coast – and that’s not just me saying it.

What makes this coffee shop so special? Karl Desler and his coffee. But mostly Karl. Constantly on the move, chatting to regulars, telling newbies about their coffee philosophy and really listening to people’s stories, Karl is invested in his community – and his coffee.
“I’m forever sitting on different chairs at different tables, talking to different people. It’s important. The community built this place. Without them, I wouldn’t be here and I appreciate them,” says Karl, who worked in the motor industry for 32 years before the bean called him.

“The idea started when I visited a coffee roastery in a wrecked pump station in Wellington, New Zealand. I just thought wow, this is cool. It was unique and laid-back and it made me realise that it doesn’t matter where you are, if you have a good product people will find you.”

He started selling coffee on the beach at Salt Rock in April last year. Not just any coffee. He knew it had to be sustainably-sourced coffee that wasn’t robbing the bean farmer in Africa. Research was done and he found people who were doing it right – and his customers could tell. In April he moved into a little shop in The Salt Rock Centre and became the only coffee shop to sell Durban’s famous Columbo Coffee on the North Coast.

“You can taste the difference when coffee has been hand-roasted. Through the hand roasting process, each coffee bean becomes unique, leading to the best possible quality and flavour being produced every time.”

He later met Dario Scilipoti, founder of the award-winning Blue Bird Coffee Roastery in Durban.

Salt Rock coffee serves and sells the award-winning Blue Bird Coffee from Durban

“Dario’s coffee is clean, green and sold in 100% recyclable packaging. I started stocking his coffee and, as we got to know each other, we started experimenting. Coffee is like wine – you can experiment. You never have just one grape making the wine, which is why we blend our coffee beans,” says Karl, who is currently working on creating a special coffee blend with Dario that will be sold under the Salt Rock Coffee Company label.

Karl gets a kick out of different coffee flavours and, unlike most coffee shops, he has four grinders and offers four different types of coffee. “If you look at the coffee spectrum wheel everything is based on fruit and chocolate. The science comes into finding the perfect blends. For example, you can’t mix lemon and dark chocolate, it’s too bitter, but orange and dark chocolate is great.”
Word spread about the coffee magic happening in the small shop in Salt Rock and they reached a point where they needed more space, so they moved to a bigger shop in October.
“Our customers literally built this place. One of my clients owns a tile shop and gave me all the floor tiles. Another customer built the counters for us and a local regular supplied a builder and someone else the painter. It was a community effort.” There is no menu, and the food is made spontaneously.

“We don’t have a menu. I ask my customers today what they would like to eat tomorrow. If they ask for chicken-avo wraps, no problem. It keeps things exciting. It’s like a journey.”
Their trading hours are also governed by the customers, who knock on the door from 4:45am! “Every morning I get here at 4.30am to turn the ovens on and bake bread and croissants for the day. Within about 15 minutes the first customer arrives for a coffee. So, the day goes until we close at 3pm, more or less.”
With summer around the corner, Karl has some exciting coffee ideas planned for those days when you need a cool coffee . . think smoothies, cold brews and Vietnamese coffee with ice, condensed milk and milk.

Sound delicious? It is. Oh, and if you don’t have an eco-cup, return your used coffee cups and they will recycle them.
Visit the coffee shop, phone 060 571 9769 or email [email protected]

Text: Elana Wagner