DURBAN - In his family, Zamani Mlazi was always known as the odd man out. His family loved rooibos tea with plenty of sugar and lots of milk. Zimani disliked tea as a child, but loved coffee with a tiny bit of milk and half a spoon of sugar.
“They always used to tease me, but I think they liked it because I was different” says this 24-year-old with an infectious smile. “When my mum could afford it she bought me coffee. It wasn’t the best - but at least it wasn’t tea. I used to tell them that one day I would be a famous coffee maker. I used to read on the tin where the coffee came from.”
There’s a hint of nostalgia as Mlazi recalls his early years in Inanda’s New Town A township, north west of Durban and his years at the Khethokuhle Secondary School.
“They were very tough years. My parents both died shortly after I left school. I think if I did not have my coffee dream, I would have been drifting with nothing. That’s what happens when you have no parents and not much to live for.”
He believes that having a real goal when you are young is very important. I think that’s why a lot of kids fall down, because they don’t have an idea what they will do when they leave school.
“If you are not encouraged to dream of better things then it’s difficult to survive.”
When Mlazi left school, he was still short of two subjects to get his matric.
“But getting a job was what I had to do. Studies would have to wait. I wrote a CV about my life and my passion to learn about coffee and emailed it everywhere. When I got a reply and then a job interview and finally a job in a coffee outlet in Durban, it was as though I had been blessed.”
While his parents weren’t there to see their son start on his coffee journey, his grandmother was.
“She didn’t know anything about coffee but she said if I was happy with what she called ‘the funny stuff’ then I must be the best.”
Being the best is what Mlazi is determined to be as he hones his skills as a barista at the Kauai Coffee bar in Durban North. Once a month his barista skills are assessed and marked by an accredited trainer.
“Each time the examiner tastes my coffee my marks improve. It’s a long process. Making a good cup of coffee is an art and involves practice and knowledge.”
He points to his coffee machine and the glass container filled with Aribica coffee beans originating from Honduras and Uganda.
“Those are my babies” he says. “When the coffee beans are freshly roasted they have a rich aroma. You can tell. And the machine has to be treated very well, cleaned every couple of hours and serviced regularly. That’s the law of good coffee.”
He makes a cup of his special brew with the signature design carved into the froth.
“You will taste. It’s smooth and not bitter. That’s how it should be” says this upwardly mobile coffee aficionado who is also a keen soccer player. He supports Orlando Pirates at home and Barcelona because they are the most “disciplined”.
Looking on, proud of the achievements of their special barista, are the Kauai all-women staff, who Mlazi says are like his own family.
“They are an amazing team. Without their support I would not have got this far.”
Mlazi’s favourite brew is café latte, which he says is creamy, but still has the strong coffee taste.
There are still many things that he still wants to achieve.
“I think I have only just started my journey,” he says. “My dream is to one day go to the new Ciro Coffee Academy in Durban and learn about brewing and roasting so that I know everything about coffee. I would love to open my own coffee bar – maybe the first one in Inanda where they still don’t know much about coffee. Oh yes then I must finish my matric and pass accounting and business studies.”
It maybe sounds a lot for a 24-year-old who already has a busy working day.
“But I will do it all” he says with quick grin. “You see.”