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Our feature on the Daily Maverick

A brief history of the Masterton family’s nose for coffee

By Louzel Lombard Steyn

Scotsman Ronald “Jock” Masterton was the man behind it all. He knew he was going to fall in love with the country after meeting a South African in hospital during the First World War. Stories of wide-open space and endless sunshine were just what the doctor ordered, especially following four years in the trenches. Jock’s love for coffee, however, only came later.

“My father actually started out as a professional tea taster,” veteran coffee connoisseur James Masterton tells me over a perfectly-brewed flat white in the Mastertons Coffee Shop in Walmer, Port Elizabeth. His father taught him the craft of coffee roasting on a small gas-fired roaster imported from UNO Company in Prescot Lane, London. Which, mind you, is still in working condition and on display in the Walmer shop.


James Masterton demonstrates how the old UNO gas-fired roaster works. It is the roaster he learnt to roast on. (Photo: Louzel Lombard Steyn)


“My dad learnt his tasting and blending methods of the industry in Ceylon, a couple of years after the war, where they would taste up to 400 cups of tea daily. He had a very acute palate and could taste even the slightest subtleties in the teas,” James says. It was a gift that served him well in South Africa.


Mastertons, South Africa’s longest-standing roastery and coffee shop. (Photo: Louzel Lombard Steyn)

Over the last 97 years, the Mastertons have continued to surf the rising waves of coffee culture and over the last decade coffee culture has boomed. “We are still very entrenched in South Africa’s coffee business today and on good terms with everyone in the industry,” says Ryler, the third-generation Masterton coffee master.


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