Friday, 12 February 2016

Assagay Coffee Farm

This year we intend to do more coffee related activities and next up on our list was to do the tour of the Assagay Coffee Farm. We have for many years seen their calico bags of coffee in our local Spar and we have of course bought their already ground coffee (that was when we didn’t have a grinder).  I had liked their Facebook page at the end of last year and was thrilled to see that their first open day was on Sunday 7 February. I asked and found out that Neil and I could join the tour of the farm at 2pm. The open day started at 9am and you could have breakfast there until 11am but we decided to go just after 1pm. My son, Caleb drove us all there as he has his learners and needs to get a lot of practise driving before he takes his test.



Assagay Coffee Farm is not in Assagay at all but in the Harrison Valley near Inchanga.  Rick James had purchased a 7 acre smallholding in the Assagay Valley in August 1991 with the intention of doing poultry farming. There were existing coffee trees on this smallholding and he decided to try coffee farming instead. With help from Sapeko Coffee Estate and the Institute of Tropical and Sub-Tropical Fruits in Nelspruit he was able to harvest when the trees began to bear. The Natal Coffee Growers Association graded the raw beans and offered them for sale through brokers. Rick built a small roaster out of a tumble dryer and sold his roasted coffee at Heidi’s Farm Stall and Richdens Spar in Hillcrest. A year later he received a cheque for R500 for his first sale of green coffee. He was still not farming coffee full time but at the end of 1994 the coffee was selling well. Rick roasted at night and his wife Lesley packaged the coffee on the dining table after work. Their distinctive calico packaging was their way of keeping packaging costs down and a way to use Lesley’s sewing skills. When sales outgrew supply Assagay Coffee bought the 100 acre farm in the Harrison Valley and relocated there in 2002. There are approximately 30000 trees on the estate.

We arrived at the farm at about 1:30pm by following the directions I had written down off their website (easy). I gave my name and paid for the tour for Neil and I. The kids were just going to wait for us and drink milkshakes which they were happy to see on the menu. But first my daughter insisted we go and see the two horses in the field down below the coffee house. I wasn’t so keen for the walk even though I love horses. So very glad I did go down with her as the horses were wonderful and smelled so good. We were able to touch them and hug them and they didn’t mind at all. We went back to the coffee house and then just after 2pm the tour started.

Love the vintage decor at the coffee house

We were taken on the tour by Rick and we started in amongst the coffee trees. The trees flower in the rainy season and used to flower in October but with the changes in the weather it usually happens at the end of February. The flowers are white and they last 6 days and then fall off leaving the green coffee cherries. The cherries are picked when red and are picked from May till December. Assagay coffee is grown organically, so they use only organic fertilizers and sprays. In winter they use drip irrigation to water their trees. Coffee trees start bearing after 3 years and Rick showed us some of his 7 year old trees. He grows a dwarf strain of coffee tree so that it is easier to pick from and the trees are also rust resistant. He had three different trees growing on the farm – trees from Zimbabwe, Brazil and Kenya. The Caturra tree from Brazil is different in that the coffee cherries are yellow when ripe. Assagay Coffee does not make coffee from their dried out coffee cherries.

After seeing the trees in the field we were taken to look at the pulping machine. The red cherries are loaded into the top and the flesh around the coffee beans is scoured off. The beans are then washed to get the sliminess off them. They are soaked for two days and rinsed until the water is clear. After they are clean they are put on the drying racks in the sun. They dry for 2 to 3 weeks and are covered at night and when it rains. The dry paper like shell is then rubbed off by use of a machine to reveal the green bean. The beans are then sorted into different sizes as they can’t roast them all together as the smaller beans will burn. There can be up to 9 different sizes in a crop. Assagay Coffee has a 12,5kg roaster and it takes between 15-20 minutes to get a medium roast and about 2 minutes more for a dark roast.  They produce 1 ½ tonnes of roasted coffee per month. There are 13 full time workers and they also employ 10-20 pickers between May and December.

Coffee trees and Caturra coffee cherries

Pulper, dried beans & a green bean, machine that removes the skins
and the 12,5kg roaster


Their coffee is available in 4 different roasts (100% Arabica) :

Medium Roast : lightest roast for those who don’t like their coffee very strong
Dark Roast : their strongest and most full-bodied roast
Select Roast : a special blend of medium and dark and their most popular roast
Espresso : roasted and ground for the Espresso machine

The two ranges of coffee are their “Assagay Coffee” which is their local range and “Zulu Brew” which is more for the tourist and international market.

Assagay coffee range (images taken from website)

After seeing the roaster we made our way back to the coffee house and had a surprise on the way as one of the horses had come up from the field for some shade. It was time for the coffee testing and we tried 3 of their coffee roasts – medium, dark and select. Loved the table set with vintage espresso cups. After trying all the coffee Neil and I decided to buy the Medium roast coffee beans as that is the one we enjoyed the most. There is a lovely little shop inside the coffee house with their beans and ground coffee, coffee liqueur, calico bags and even some coffee beauty products. It was a wonderful tour and I can highly recommend it. Look on Facebook to see when they have their next open day. You can go for a coffee tour during the week but you need to pre-arrange as they are a working farm. You can also go and buy your coffee there and have cup of coffee, just make sure you phone to see that they are available.

The wonderful horses and coffee tasting


Interesting shop


The coffee tour costs R50 per person but if buy through Groupon it will cost you R89 for 4 or R119 for 6 (valid until 31 March 2016).

Telephone : 031 7821268
Mobile : 0844326345 / 0845062239 / 0836402223

#lovecoffee

Rick James with his favourite coffee - Assagay Select

View from the coffee house



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