Collecting the seed pods provides a source of income for around 700 individuals. Image: Pixabay

‘Tastes like coffee’ – problem SA plant turns into healthy drink, creates jobs

A common alien tree in South Africa has been turned into superfood coffee, and provides an income for a community in the Northern Cape.


Collecting the seed pods provides a source of income for around 700 individuals. Image: Pixabay

The seeds of the honey mesquite shrub have been transformed into a caffeine-free coffee alternative, by roasting the ‘beans’ from its pods.

Dubbed the “superfood espresso,” this caffeine-free beverage boasts an earthy and subtly sweet flavour profile while offering various health benefits.

Residents of Calvinia in the Northern Cape have been harvesting and selling the pods of this invasive alien tree.

In the process, it serves as a generous source of income for approximately 700 individuals, in a town where only 36% of adults are employed.

Additionally, the process of harvesting and selling the seeds plays a pivotal role in combating the spread of an invasive tree species in the arid Northern Cape region, writes Al Jazeera.

Collecting the seeds before germination also preserves billions of litres of groundwater, aiding environmental conservation efforts.

Collecting ‘coffee’ seed pods

Some residents are earning up to R250 a day – cash in hand – from collecting seed pods and selling them to Brandt Coetzee. He is the man behind Manna Brew – a caffeine-free coffee substitute.

The honey mesquite shrub, originally from Mexico and the south-western US, was introduced to the Northern Cape, Namibia, and Botswana in the late 1800s.

Its sweet seed pods served as excellent fodder for livestock in the drought-stricken region.

Some residents are earning up to R250 a day from collecting the mesquite seed pods. Image: National Parks Gallery

However, the seeds proved to be indigestible for the animals, and soon, the trees took over. Now, approximately eight million hectares of the Northern Cape are infested with mesquite.

After years of working with mesquite trees for their wood, Coetzee began to discover the health benefits of their seed pods. This included claims that they helped eradicate Type 2 diabetes.

As a result, in 2005, Coetzee launched Manna Blood Sugar Support capsules, and the product has done extremely well in South Africa. Exporting the product, however, proved more challenging, and this prompted Coetzee to pivot to coffee.

Driven by job creation

“It’s really hard to export a natural product that makes health claims,” notes Coetzee.

“It would take years to get approval. My main drivers are job creation and water conservation, so I needed something that could go truly global.”

Finally, after a year and a half of experimentation, Coetzee had a product that looked, behaved and tasted similar to coffee.

Once the seed pods are harvested, they arrive at the Manna Brew factory near Cape Town. Here, they are cleaned, sorted and then roasted in a specially-built oven.

“Absolutely nothing is added,” notes Coetzee.

After being milled, the grinds can be brewed in an espresso machine, French press, moka pot or immersion-style coffeemakers.

Coetzee is also developing coffee pods, and is in the process of registering the mesquite pods as a novel food.