If you’re passing through this Eastern Cape market town on the R62, make sure you stop by at The Sweaty Dutchman coffee shop and Bistro.
Words: Fiona McIntosh
Pictures: Shaen Adey
My friend Herman Nieuwoudt from Plettenberg Bay was quick to reply that it was one of his favourite eateries in the area. “It serves the best coffee for miles, and excellent pancakes too. Let’s have a break.”
We’ve just pulled into Kareedouw, a small market town on the Eastern Cape stretch of the Cape Route 62 that is known for its grand Dutch Reformed Church, and as the final resting place of former prime minister and state president, BJ Vorster.
From the road, The Sweaty Dutchman Coffee Shop & Bistro looks unprepossessing, but the interior is warm and inviting, with artwork on the walls, and traditional wooden clogs and other decor hinting at the owner’s Dutch heritage.
A tall man in an apron and bandana opens the door to let us in. “Are you the chef?” I quiz. “No,” comes the heavily accented reply. “I’m the owner. Hans Pragt. Welcome to The Sweaty Dutchman.”
I comment that ‘The Sweaty Dutchman’ is hardly an alluring name. “So why are you here?” asks Hans. He’s right. Quite apart from Herman’s recommendation, I was curious, as are many travellers on the road. And, in truth, there’s not much choice. This section of Route 62 between Joubertina and Port Elizabeth is something of a backwater. There are no farm stalls, delis, wine farms or quaint dorpies to entice you to pull over. We’re driving along the Langkloof fruit route, but haven’t seen a single farm stall along the road.
Suretta Manie brings over our drinks. Hailing from Kareedouw, she’s worked for Hans for seven years and is a barista of note. Shaen, a caffeine addict, inhales deeply, enjoying the aroma of her latte before taking the first sip. We’d left Plett on the southern Cape coast early, and this is her first fix of the day. She smiles. The latte clearly meets with her approval. “I’m pleasantly surprised, as generally the further from the cities you go the worse the coffee gets,” she teases Hans. “Where did you learn to make such a good latte?”
“It’s a long story,” Hans begins, pulling up a chair. “But I’ve been in the food and coffee trade for years.” And so begins our lesson in the art of making good coffee. “Coffee is a complex product with many variables that affect the cup quality,” explains Hans. The roast, the blend and the ground are but a few.
He’s quite a purist, he tells me, in the sense that he’s not into the frills and decorative niceties such as ‘latte-art’. “I’ve nothing against it, but for me the core of a coffee is its aroma, flavour and body. Those are the enduring qualities: a pretty image of a flower in the milk-foam does not make the coffee.”
At his insistence we put in an order for typical Dutch fare, cinnamon pancakes. Originally from Holland, Hans came to South Africa in 1983 to learn a little about the wine industry. Having completed a wine course, he spent most of his career in the food manufacturing, import and distribution industries before deciding to master the art of coffee roasting.
In 2005 he relocated from Gauteng to Kareedouw to escape the rat race. A year later he bought the coffee shop. At the time it was called Café Gourmet. “But there was nothing gourmet about it,” he recalls. Dreaming up a new name wasn’t easy but after thinking long and hard he decided on ‘The Sweaty Dutchman’.
I raise my eyebrows as Hans launches into the entertaining tale. While in Pretoria he spent the day roasting coffee, which can be a heated affair at times. So he would arrive home hot, bothered and covered in coffee. His wife would greet him with the words, ‘Welcome home you sweaty Dutchman. Go and have a shower before I kiss you’.
Although I suspect it’s the excellent coffee and food, along with Hans’ reputation as charismatic and gregarious host, that really draws the crowds, The Sweaty Dutchman moniker certainly turns heads. “If you call your place something intriguing people stop and do a U-turn,” Hans says.
Hans has never looked back. He loves living in Kareedouw. “The Eastern Cape has always been regarded as the poor cousin, the lost child,” he tells me. “It’s the poorest province in the country, but it’s the one with the most scope. Nature is unexplored, unspoilt here.”
We fall into conversation with Gustav Barnard, a philosopher from J Bay, who seamlessly moves from talking about the scenic beauty of the area to a discourse on states of consciousness. “A lot of artists and philosophical types stop by,” Hans says. “Most of my customers have become friends.” Which is not surprising, given his warm, Karoo-style hospitality.
The pancakes, which are light, tasty and beautifully presented, exceed expectation and the warm fire makes us reluctant to leave. “You must have a look at our lovely church on your way out,” suggests Hans, before reeling off a list of other must-dos, as we take our leave. Clearly The Sweaty Dutchman is just one of many hidden gems in Kareedouw.
- The Sweaty Dutchman: 042 288 0056, [email protected]