Find out how Smamile Ngubeni went from struggling to find the right coffee that suits her diet to establishing Eswatini’s leading specialty coffee brand. This entrepreneur has travelled as far as Rwanda, Burundi, and Ethiopia in a quest to learn more about coffee. In a conversation with Inside Biz, she says one of her greatest ambitions is to bring something different and educational to the local lifestyle landscape, through the promotion of a coffee-drinking culture.
By Phesheya Mkhonta
Q: Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us about your business. What inspired the name Satis Coffee?
A: My name is Smamile Ngubeni, and I’m originally from Nhlangano, but now based in Ezulwini where I work and stay. I am the sole Director of Satis Coffee. The name Satis is derived from the Latin word Satis which means enough or satisfied, which is also the direct English translation of my name, Smamile. Satis Coffee is Eswatini’s leading coffee brand, the leading distributor of 100 percent premium quality specialty coffee made using the finest single-origin coffee beans sourced from Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Burundi.
Outside of business, I am a mother and an Accounting practitioner having studied for a Bachelor of Commerce (BCom Honours) Degree through the University of South Africa (UNISA). I also studied at Regent Business School and through the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
Q: What inspired you to get into the coffee business?
A: In 2020 I went on a ketogenic diet, which essentially is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. As part of the diet, I had to have bulletproof coffee which is a high-fat coffee drink intended as a breakfast replacement that also suppresses hunger. However, I struggled with this coffee as, like many coffees in the market, it has high levels of caffeine such that one struggles to sleep after having it. This then led me on a journey to find low-caffeine organic coffee for my diet. This was then the start of my journey into education about different coffees. This journey would eventually take me all the way to Rwanda, which is one of the leading producers of coffee in Africa.
Through a contact established there, I was able to visit that country. This is where I got to learn about the different types of coffee beans, your Arabica and Robusta variants, the cultivation and production processes as well as learning about the different blends of coffee, and where one could source the best coffee.
With my interest in coffee piqued and my education growing as an ongoing process, I was inspired to open a coffee bar in the country, looking at the obvious gap in the local market. I want to bring something different and educational to the local lifestyle landscape, through the promotion of coffee drinking culture. Whilst working on the concept of the coffee bar, the Satis brand was born through the sourcing of high-quality coffee beans from Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Brazil which we then repackage locally and in South Africa and distribute as the Satis Coffee brand.
Q: So where do coffee lovers access your product?
A: At the moment we are available via orders from individuals and certain establishments such as The Velvet Monkey Restaurant and Malandela’s (MalanDeli) in Malkerns. We also make good use of events such as the MTN Bushfire festival as a platform to reach out to and engage with coffee lovers and potential clients.
Going forward, the plan is to establish a coffee bar and coffee lab which is going to educate people about coffee culture whilst indulging them in the full specialty coffee experience. That plan is currently in motion but I wouldn’t want to reveal too much at this stage.
Q: As a brand, do you have plans for wider distribution, particularly through the large chain supermarkets and established eateries?
A: No, not really. We do not have plans for mass market distribution because we want to maintain quality control whilst also maintaining our market position as a premium specialty coffee brand. So, we are focused on building relationships and building a culture of coffee appreciation which we believe is best achieved through strategic distribution to limited outlets with a focus on cultivating an appreciative loyal client base. We value quality over quantity.
Q: In general, would you say EmaSwati have a coffee-drinking culture that translates to a substantial market for a specialty coffee brand like yours?
A: I’d say we have a growing market. In as far as hot beverages are concerned, traditionally, people of African countries have opted for tea over coffee, especially in less affluent sub-Saharan African countries, as tea is a cheaper option. However, as the middle class in Africa grows, the amount of coffee drinkers and the culture has grown as well. The culture of coffee drinking is largely aspirational and it’s a lifestyle thing that is big in most parts of the world but it is only just growing here.
Most people are not aware of the fact that coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the whole world, second only to crude oil. People may also not know that coffee is the world’s second most consumed beverage after water. For most of the world, coffee is a day and conversation starter. Think about the number of times you’ve heard people say ‘Let’s meet over coffee’. The problem we have in this part of the world, other than the fact that we don’t produce coffee ourselves, as opposed to African countries along the equatorial belt line, is the lack of education and exposure to the culture of coffee drinking and appreciation.
Most of the coffee we have available at local outlets is preservative-heavy blended coffee, which comprises multiple beans of different origins blended together, for mass production, often at the expense of the true essence of coffee. This is completely different from single-origin coffee which is made up of beans from a single location and offers unique flavours of coffee in its purest form. At Satis Coffee, we only use the purest premium single-origin coffee.
Q: What have been some of your biggest wins and toughest challenges to date?
A: The biggest win for us has been the genuine appreciation and positive feedback we have received from customers. The reception has been amazing. This has inspired us to maintain consistency by delivering the best specialty coffee in the country.
The biggest challenge to date has been the marketing side of the business. We have had challenges working with different graphic designers for branding and packaging with regard to timelines, expectations, consistency, and budget constraints. This part of the business is one that isn’t my strongest suit, as with most entrepreneurs, I would imagine. So it’s been challenging navigating that area of business, especially as and when we’ve had to trust other people with our brand.
Q: What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned on your journey?
A: I have learned that in business one needs to understand and appreciate that it really is a journey. So, I’ve learned to be patient and appreciative of even some of the smallest things. My pastor often says ‘Eat Your Portion’ which speaks to being appreciative and not being greedy. This is part of the reason why Satis Coffee doesn’t plan to go the mass market or mass production route. I have also learned to be open-minded and embrace opportunities.
Q: What does the short to medium-term future of Satis Coffee look like?
A: We are only just getting started. I often refer to my coffee journey as something similar to a sport like golf. There is a whole lot of education behind it, there’s practice, and there’s benefit from the type of people you interact with, just like in golf. I have met some truly amazing people on this journey and I’m looking forward to building even more amazing relationships. We are working on our coffee lab which will deliver a complete coffee experience including coffee cupping, which is the coffee equivalent of wine tasting. We will be offering a wide range of coffee beverages from espressos, lattes, and cappuccinos as well as coffee-based cocktails. The lab will also serve as our primary distribution hub.
Q: In closing, how can people get hold of you?
A: To place orders, people can reach us at 7636 6919. People should also follow our page ‘’SatisCoffee’’ on Instagram and Facebook for updates on the brand.
IB: Thank you for your time Smamile, this was quite educational and exciting. Good luck on your business journey.
It has been a pleasure, and thank you very much.