Cappuccino Quest: Visit The Top Of Table Mountain In Cape Town, South Africa, For The View, Not The Cappuccinos
Table Mountain is situated in a nature reserve in the middle of Cape Town, South Africa. It's the city's pride and joy and it serves nearly a million visitors a year with staff members who offer impeccable, friendly service. The cappuccino making is not yet up to scratch however but hopefully that will change.
Table Mountain Café is the restaurant and café on top of Table Mountain, arguably Cape Town's biggest tourist attraction. (Well, literally, it's Cape Town's biggest tourist attraction.) It can be reached via the cable car or, for the fit and more adventurous, via a hike up the mountain and is a short distance from the main cableway building with a westwards view that overlooks the sea at Camps Bay and Bakoven. The view is perfect for sunsets, although you can get brained by the sun's glare in summer.
If you want a cappuccino it's one of only two places where you will find one, unless you bring one yourself. The other is the new Wi-Fi Lounge
in the Upper Cable Station building, which launched in April last year
and which I only discovered exists during my trip to the mountain a few weeks ago so I haven't investigated it yet. (Interestingly, the Wi-Fi Lounge's menu
lists its cappuccino as being R1.50 cheaper than what's currently on offer at the Table Mountain Café.)
I'm going to do something a little unusual with this Cappuccino Quest entry and include two reviews in the article. The reason is that I didn't post the original review and now a year has gone by and I've done a second review so I thought I'd combine them for comparison purposes. I usually try to go up Table Mountain at least once every December (warm weather, longer daylight) so in future I will post an entry after every visit so we can see how the cappuccinos change (or not) over time.
Even though I've been on top of the mountain many times the first time I actually went into the café was in 2015, specifically in search of a cappuccino to test. I recall the café being rebranded or refurbished at some point before that, just from what I could see from the outside, but it has definitely been refurbished inside in the past year. There are new tables and chairs (that look less comfortable than the old plush, high-backed seating, but I was so busy writing notes this year that I didn't pay much attention to what I was sitting on) and at least one more coffee machine has appeared on the counter.
The café uses eco cups - a sign on the wall in 2015, which was also printed on the cups, read as follows: "We have chosen to conserve water and minimise pollution by using compostable containers for our food and some of our beverages instead of using washable crockery. These 100% compostable containers are made from organic material that turn [sic] into nothing but water, CO2
, and compost."
I'm not sure if the sign was there again this year (and the cups are now just printed with generic branding, rather than the previous custom branding) but a similar note was attached to the serviette holder on my table (the notable difference was the first sentence changing to: "We have chosen to conserve water and minimise pollution by introducing eco-friendly containers for our food and cold beverages.")
Above: The Upper Cable Station building after sunset.
This means that no matter whether you take the coffee away or sit down and drink it in the restaurant it's served in an "organic material" disposable cup and not a traditional coffee cup (which would be preferable for the purposes of the Cappuccino Quest but not necessarily for the environment). The cups are made of Ingeo
, a bioplastic originating from corn that's manufactured by NatureWorks
in the USA and supplied locally
I don't know how the Ingeo based products are disposed of by Table Mountain Café (via an industrial composter Ingeo's water molecules get released back into nature; in a landfill they do not) so I can't comment on the "conserving water" aspect of organic disposable versus porcelain in this instance. Nevertheless I do acknowledge and respect the attempt at eco friendliness.
Above: The city centre at night.
As for the coffee itself, the branded sugar packets indicate that it is from Truth, which is headquartered in the city centre. It's a specialised coffee shop that's received international acclaim due to both the (steampunk) decor and the well trained baristas. Truth also supplies third-party establishments with coffee (I noted one such example in my review of The Twankey Bar
My two experiences with the cappuccinos at Table Mountain Café have led me to believe that the staff have not received advanced training, however.
Above: Sunset on 20 December 2016.
In future posts I'll talk more about what there is to see and do on the mountain but if you're visiting the city in summer it's something you must add to your itinerary. The views are beautiful both during the day and at night. The last cable car goes down after sunset so it's best to set aside a full day to enjoy all that the mountain has to offer. (Absolute necessities, though, are a water bottle, sunscreen, and a jacket as you will fry when the sun is out and the weather can turn very quickly and get icy, especially after sunset if there isn't a warm breeze.)
Above: The view of the city from the Lower Cable Station.
brainwavez.org Opinion: 2015
I had to pay at a pay point and then my order was sent through to the coffee station, which notified me when the cappuccino was ready. If you want any extras, such as sugar or a stirring stick, you have to grab them at a different station.
The cup size was 250ml and the cappuccino filled it completely, so it means that it was slightly too big for a standard cappuccino, although the foam was quite deep so the foam-coffee-milk ratio wasn't as skewed as I was expecting but I still think this drink was technically a latte.
The foam had been poured in a heart design. The balance (the mix and symmetry of light and dark elements) was ok but the existence of the latte art meant that there wasn't an unbroken ring of crema around the edge. The foam began to degrade immediately and there were lots of bubbles. It was about one-and-a-half centimetres thick.
The cup was comfortably warm but the coffee was rather hot, which can cause bitterness.
The coffee was very sour with a hint of bitterness. It was awful. There were lots of granules and gunk at the bottom.
20 December 2015
brainwavez.org Opinion: 2016
Cappuccino (R26.50 - you'll note, of course, the price increase of R3.50 in just one year). I think this is the most I've ever spent on a regular sized cappuccino in South Africa. It's very overpriced - unsurprisingly, since Table Mountain is a tourist attraction, but it's still disappointing to see visitors being price gouged. As an aside I did some calculations and currently about R1.18 of the cost is for the eco cup.
You order and pay at a till point and are given an electronic buzzer to notify you of when your coffee is available. Even though the restaurant was very busy - the place was packed as everyone had moved inside for a quick last bite after sunset - it only took about five minutes. I was handed the coffee in the eco cup and found that the cup had coffee marks all over it - I presume this was caused by someone handling it who had spilt coffee on her hands. I then had to go to a separate counter station, where you can grab a stirrer, sugar, and a lid, if you want one.
The cup size was 250ml. The cup wasn't quite filled to the top like last year (there was 200ml of liquid, plus foam, this time) but this means that the ratio of foam-coffee-milk was actually slightly better.
Unlike the cappuccino from last year, this one had no attempt at latte art, which is not a complaint, just an observation. I can't say whether this was because the restaurant was so busy this time or because the person making the drink didn't know how to do it as the foam was very messy. There was no balance. In fact, there wasn't even a ring of crema, just a dark patch on one side. Lots of small bubbles appeared immediately and the foam was very fluffy and tasteless. It was very hard to estimate the depth because the stirring stick, which is unchanged from last year, is the most ridiculously ineffective shape (it's a centimetre thick at its widest point) and I couldn't push back the foam properly. However I am sure that the foam depth was at least two centimetres and may even have been more. I swizzled the foam to try and mix it into the coffee, which ended up giving it a creamier texture, but it was completely impossible to get it into the drink - it just floated on top.
I had just come in from the cold (after sunset, or if the clouds move over, the mountain can get very cold, even in summer) so in the time it took me to walk from the consumables station to a nearby table I felt as if my hand was burning. However, after I had warmed up a little the cup didn't feel hot anymore and therefore I am going to assume the experience was caused by being in allostasis and desensitised against cold
, so the warmth against my hand felt like hot coals. When I actually drank the coffee it was at a suitable temperature.
Above: The interior of the café in 2016.
With my first sip I experienced an overpowering bitterness with a hint of sour, although there wasn't an unpleasant aftertaste. The bitterness reduced slightly as I drank the coffee (and, likely, the foam mixed a little more into it) but it never went away and I never experienced any sweetness. I suspect that the espresso was over extracted. The coffee was a good colour so the correct amount of milk was added (most "cappuccinos" I tried in 2016 had too much milk in them and were actually lattes). There were very few granules at the bottom of the cup, which is an improvement over the cappuccino I tried in 2015.
I'm sticking with 2/10. (I had already made the decision before I looked at my notes from last year.) Some aspects are slightly better, others are slightly worse, but, on the whole, this is terrible coffee, although not the worst I had in 2016. (By a long shot
20 December 2016
Table Mountain Café
Address: The top of Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa (accessible via the cable car in Tafelberg Road or various hiking routes up the mountain)
Phone: +27 (0)21 424 8181 (cableway)
08:00 (December to March)/08:30 (April to November) to half an hour before last car down
Online: Table Mountain Café: Cafe Home Page