With every culinary event I’ve ever created, my aim has been to craft a truly personal, intimate experience. I’ve never looked for that elusive “sweet spot” that I could use and reuse again and again. For that reason, creating an experience entirely around coffee - where every course involved or complemented coffee in some way - was a welcome challenge. I recently had the privilege of welcoming Nespresso South Africa to JAN Innovation Studio in Cape Town, which resulted in a very interesting menu. The trick, of course, is not to send your guests home twitching from a caffeine high, but rather to instil an awareness of coffee as a culinary ingredient.

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If this were the theatre, canapés would be the overture before the rise of the curtain. It gives your guests an idea of what they’re in for - and an overview of the general theme of the evening. In this case, the canapés served to open our guests’ minds to the idea that nothing on this night will be as it seems, whether it’s dessert masquerading as a savoury appetiser, something that looks like coffee but isn’t, or indeed coffee in a different incarnation.

  • Wild mushroom, Cape Brandy and burnt thyme cappuccino: Coffee was not used in this dish, but the canapé looked every bit the part.

  • Coffee dressed as milk: Consisting of a rosemary coffee jelly (made with Nespresso Barista Creations Scuro) with a sweetened milk foam, black truffle pearls and cocoa dusting, this canapé showed the diversity of coffee as an essentially bitter ingredient that balanced the earthy flavour of the truffle.

  • Sage noisette brioche with snoek pate and apricot: In this classic canapé, coffee wasn’t used so as not to let it overwhelm the experience. Instead, it served to give the coffee canapés a savoury context.

  • Biltong and coffee Lamington: In this JAN classic, we flavoured the Marmite with a Corto coffee syrup, the sweet bitterness of which enhanced the umami flavour of the savoury spread.

  • Chicken liver, boerenkaas custard and sherry trifle: In finding the right balance, the spoonfuls of trifle created a surprise element by being anything but dessert.

Course one: Frozen Apple, haddock and milk latte

The coffee taste in this course (Nespresso Barista Creations Scuro incorporated into the Haddock and milk velouté) was very subtle, which foregrounded the contrasts in this dish between hot and cold, and hard and soft, which was all brought harmoniously together by the creaminess of the velouté and cheese.


Course two: Grilled Romaine lettuce, endive and grapefruit purée, coffee sprouts, and grapefruit buerre blanc


In this case, coffee was not a part of the actual flavour of the dish. Instead, it played a more organic part in the process. We soaked dried chickpeas and lentils in diluted Nespresso Barista Creations Corto for two days to soften them up, refreshing the coffee solution on the second day. Then, we mixed the coffee from the used Nespresso capsules with potting soil and compost and planted the legumes. They sprouted about 4-5 days later. While we didn’t use any coffee in this recipe, we kept our guests’ palates alert by incorporating bitter flavours into the dish in the form of fresh romaine lettuce, grapefruit, mustard and sorrel.


Course THREE: sugar-cured venison loin, bone marrow pommes purée, tonka bean and espresso jus


This course illustrated coffee’s savoury potential very clearly, as the espresso jus (made with Nespresso Barista Creations Scuro) essentially replaced gravy in this dish.


Course FOUR: French cheese and grape stars

By serving the cheese course in the Innovation Studio Library, it gave our guests some time to stretch their legs. The coffee in this course was incorporated by soaking the grape stars in a mixture of the feature coffees we used on the night (Nespresso Barista Creations Corto, Scuro and Chiaro), which was sweetened with Cape moskonfyt.


Course FIVE: Sago Pudding and tiramisu


Of all the dishes served on the night, this one perhaps had the strongest South African connection. The addition of sago pudding to this classic coffee-based dessert was a tip of the hat to our local heritage.

Course SIX: Berries, amasi yoghurt, cardamom and coffee

This rather eclectic take on the floating island incorporated a host of familiar flavours into one indulgent dessert. The coffee jelly (made with Nespresso Barista Creations Chiaro) created subtle hints of coffee amongst the tarter flavours of the berries and yoghurt.

Event photographs by Daniela Zondagh.

Dish photographs by Hanfred Rauch.