With music by Cyndi Lauper, several Tonys and a Laurence Olivier Award
Turkish Coffee Culture at Byblos Trading Co in Woodstock
This new one-of-a-kind Cape Town café is all about exotic java, baklava and backgammon
I’ve never tried Turkish coffee before, so I’m buzzing with excitement when I step into Byblos Trading Co, a new Woodstock-based coffee shop that is anything but a regular java spot in that it invites people into a world that stirs a rich cultural experience into the age-old hot cuppa. And from the minute I see the baristas in action preparing the steaming brew using the oldest method known to man and catch a glimpse of the light Mediterranean snacks, I’m convinced that this venue is far from ordinary.
The owner of this one-of-a-kind café, Lebanese-born Mikhael Bou Rjeily, is no stranger to the coffee scene as he is not only an award-winning barista but is also the founder of another popular caffeine haven in Sea Point called mischu (this also happens to be his nickname). Byblos, though, takes things a step further by fusing the exotic allure of the old Ottoman Empire with Mikhael’s personal memories and passion to create one enticing offering. The shop is named after the ancient Lebanese city Byblos, which is argued to be the oldest continually inhabited town in the world. It’s also the very same place that Mikhael first got a taste of the hospitality business and began his journey as an entrepreneur – a start that ultimately led to the opening of this new gem at The Palms shopping centre on Sir Lowry Road.
“I’m going to give you three different beverages to try so you can get a feel for the place,” says Mikhael as he hands me the first item on the list, a classic flat white. “Remember to do the clockwise and anticlockwise swirl just before you drink it. That way, you’ll get to access a perfect combination of happiness, joy and love in the first sip,” he continues to explain, laughing. The delicious cup is made from the coffee expert’s newest blend, which is titled ‘The Palms’ and comprises vibrant, delectable hints of cloves, apricot, caramel and chocolate. It is this very same fusion that is used to create the second, and perhaps most intriguing, drink that he wants me to try: Turkish coffee.
The 500-year-old method used to prepare this golden liquid has its roots lodged in the Ottoman Empire period (both Lebanon and Turkey fell under this state). The beans are ground very finely and are then mixed with spices, sugar and water in a pot to be carefully brewed and nurtured to perfection. This procedure differs from the mechanical preparation process that we have come to know in that the coffee is not filtered, and so the sediment remains right up until the steaming concoction is poured into your cup and makes for a richer and denser taste. “You know, people always say Turkish coffee is too bitter and strong, but the magic of it actually lies in the way that you brew it, and if you do it right, you can make something amazing,” says Mikhael passionately. As I take a sip of the beverage and its flavour and warmth envelope my insides, the enthusiastic owner begins to share memories from childhood of his parents brewing the enchanting elixir every day in his home back in Lebanon.
And for a moment it really does feel as if we’ve somehow been transported to the Middle East through Mikhael’s tales. He continues to tell enthralling stories about shop owners who invite passers-by for a game of backgammon over a cup of coffee (a custom that’s inspired him to do the same at Byblos) and he recounts how being warm and friendly is entrenched in his culture, so it’s his mission to share that everywhere he goes. “People think that Lebanon is just a desert, but when you start showing them the real images of the place and you start sharing stories over a cup of coffee… now that’s a winning formula,” he says.
Another winning formula is behind the third and final drink that I try: yerba mate, a South American tea that is also very popular in Mikhael’s home country. The caffeine-rich drink is made from the dried leaves and stems of the yerba mate plant and is served in a clay pot. As I savour this last brew and ready myself to leave the new spot, I find myself thinking about how, in many ways, the drink sums up what Byblos Trading Co is all about: serving not just coffee and tea, but a warm, rich pot of culture.
Tip: Byblos Trading Co also boasts a small retail section that sells Mediterranean items like baklava, rose water, Damascus rusks, pickles, yerba mate tea and even imported backgammon boards. For more information call +27 (0) 21 461 2612.
The Bill: Byblos Trading Co is reasonably priced. Regular coffees (like Americanos, mochas and flat whites) are priced between R15 and R24, alternative brews, like Turkish coffee, range from R40 to R80 (depending on size), cold beverages, such as iced mochas, ring in between R21,50 and R33 and teas (including yerba mate) cost between R16 and R20. Items in the retail section range from R55 to R280 and backgammon boards start from R800.
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday: 8am – 4pm; Saturday: 9am – 2pm
The Palms | 145 Sir Lowry Road | Woodstock | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 461 2612
by Dudu Luthuli
Looking to read more about Mikhael’s other coffee shop? Here’s the 411 on the mischu Coffee Showroom in Sea Point.
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