Not so long ago Mbonisi Bamala was ignorant to the joy of coffee and clueless of the monumental part it would grow to play in his life. Based in South Africa with Zimbabwean roots, coffee for Mbonisi was a distant phenomenon and a traditionally luxury commodity; the limited experience he did have involved tasteless powered brews which never caught his interest.
However, one hungover morning changed the path of his career in a very unexpected way. Mbonisi was looking for a needed pick me up on a Saturday morning when he decided to venture into a coffee shop for the first time ever. Soon, the hungover was a forgotten thought as he came immediately fascinated by the aromas of coffee and the skillful work of the baristas. He fostered his first coffee connection with one of the café’s barista and from there on Mbonisi’s future was solidified. Soon, he learnt that there is “more to coffee than making a basic cappuccino” (South Africa’s most popular order). In fact, Mbonisi felt encouraged to delve deeper into the journey behind each cup:
“The whole story from bean to cup inspired me to focus more on the craft and execute the job properly”.
The work of farmers, roasters, producers, and baristas was all equally inspiring for Mbonisi who wanted to acknowledge the wealth of individuals involved in the finished product.
In order to grow his knowledge and experience, he began working for one of South Africa’s top roasting companies where he met some legendary figures within the industry and was lucky enough to be mentored by a champion. This opportunity coupled with Mbonisi’s enthusiasm allowed his career to accelerate.
“I worked with the best and I did my research”.
A simple yet effective philosophy, Mbonisi was more or less self-taught; the intricacies of his coffee knowledge developed through hard work and studying. However, what enabled him to grow into such a magnetic figure in the community was the invaluable guidance he received from his mentors- he accredits much of his success to them.
From speaking to Mbonisi, there is no doubt that he is passionate about coffee but what makes him unique is his motivation to inspire the general masses to be more interested in the drink. He is enthused by the notion of teaching those who know little; he wants to inspire the average person to understand and appreciate coffee as much as possible. So many people care to buy and drink coffee but seem disinterested in learning about this commodity- this is what Mbonisi hopes to change.
This vision is already being put to practice in South Africa. Mbonisi explained that coffee culture in South Africa varies by region. Cape Town is perhaps where the culture is most established, unlike other cities like Johannesburg where it is still growing. He expanded that coffee in South Africa was once a luxury commodity and often still the only experience people have had is with instant coffee. Hence, when people notice espresso machines for the first time they can often be dubious. Therefore, the conversation between barista and customer is even more important in order to explain the process, flavours and vision behind the drink. Once people here this, they become hooked.
But how can we spread the joy of coffee? This question has become all the more pertinent given the effects of Covid-19; people are no longer able to have those valuable face to face conversations, but Mbonisi has a solution. Instagram has allowed him to continue to share his knowledge with like-minded people from complete novices to coffee masters. Instagram is completely free and available across the world. Often people just want to learn the basics and cannot afford an online course and this is where Mbonisi’s work is making a real difference. He is continuously answering questions, request,s and queries via social media and each answer add a piece of inspiration to a coffee lover somewhere around the world.
Instagram can be the key for regular people to fall involve with coffee and form durable connections with like-minded people.
Outside of coffee, Mbonisi is a family man. He loves spending time with those who know him best and when he’s not enjoying his speciality V60 pour-over, you might find him relaxing with a cold beer. He is enthused by encouraging baristas to stick with their trade, despite difficult conditions and more often than not a distorted balance between working hours and pay. Ultimately, Mbonisi resonates with the notion that if you truly love coffee and feel inspired by sharing that with others then you should persevere with your career as a barista. When asked what his message to baristas is, Mbonisi’s answer was simple: “Don’t give up”.
“It is not easy but eventually you will come across the right people who will be interested”.
This closing sentiment reflects Mbonisi’s feelings towards the industry. His enthusiasm for coffee is infectious and through a short conversation with him, it was evident how inspired his job makes him feel. Thus, for any barista lacking the motivation to carry on in the current global climate, heed the optimism of Mbonisi because you are making a difference. To capture this inspiration, look no further than the I’M NOT A BARISTA Instagram to witness his stellar effort in our #coffeemoustache challenge last November. The future for Mbonisi looks very exciting and whatever ventures land in his path, it is without doubt that he will continue to share positivity and joy into the global coffee community.