Happiness and Java in the woods

Happiness and Java in the woods
A friand in the forest with a friend and coffee to go, please. (Photo: Melanie Farrell)

Covert dirty chais and chunky homemade choc-chip cookies are savoured at a secret coffee spot in Tokai Forest.

If you go down to Tokai woods today and walk through the fynbos you’re sure of a big surprise: the Secret Forest Café has popped up during lockdown.

I heard about the cafe when my son came back from a bike ride in Tokai. “My friends have set up this cool coffee takeaway in the middle of the forest,” he told me. “You should go.”

I don’t need much encouragement. Forest coffee combines two of my favourite things: trees and caffeine. Plus we can do the whole physical-distancing thing out in the open.

I rope in my sister-in-law for a secret coffee and arrange to meet her in a small parking area along Spaanschemat River Road (it runs through Tokai forest), masked up.

We amble along the path adjacent to the fynbos, dodging cyclists and small children on those push-bike things, teetering and tottering and supported by enthusiastic parents bent double over their toddlers-on-wheels.

There’s a milling of millennials at the Secret Forest Café, talking through their masks to Olivia Hedley, who’s selling takeaway coffee, cookies and dog biscuits from her mobile coffee stand among the trees.

We order two Dirty Chais (coffee plus chai) and I buy some chunky choc-chip (homemade) biscuits in a brown paper bag.

There’s only one small table because the idea is to keep moving once you’ve got your hot drink so we wander back along the path until we find a small clearing, in dappled shade and furnished with a couple of logs. The logs are the ideal height for sitting and drinking coffee – suitably distanced – and catching up on lockdown life, the sort of things you don’t talk about on Zoom or Whatsapp. We download a month of family dynamics and the intricacies of living in close quarters with our “nearest and dearest” for months on end. But the sun is shining, the dirty chais and choc-chip biscuits are delicious and, for a short while, all is well with the world.

Olivia Hedley put her events business to one side to open the Secret Forest Cafe in Tokai. (Photo: Melanie Farrell)

Hedley, 29, is a creative brand communication graduate who studied in Cape Town and moved back in September 2019, after living and working in London for five years.

“I also dabbled in cheffing and always wanted to start a restaurant/café but it was never the right time,” she says.

Lockdown life made the decision to open a café for her.

“My events company, The Fruitcake Society, had to shut down during lockdown. I partnered with Deluxe Coffeeworks and opened my pop-up on the perimeter of my family’s property.”

If you go down to the woods today you could find Bella Whiting serving coffee and cake at Secret Forest Cafe. (Photo: Melanie Farrell)

Hedley has rounded up some simple bakes to sell with her hot coffee. I can personally vouch for the carrot cake cupcakes (swoon), the choc-chip cookies and the raspberry friands. Note, these were not eaten on one occasion but on three different visits. I admit that’s quite an impressive amount of cake consumed by one person from a secretive café in the middle of a forest that only opened in the middle of June.

“We bake our own carrot cake but we have the rest of our baked goods tailored for us by a fabulous young independent vegan baker. Our croissants come from Bentleys Bread Co. in Sea Point,” says Hedley.

My covert coffees during lockdown have given me a sense of normalcy even though we’re all wearing masks. Seeing people other than my lockdown housemates, sipping a coffee, nibbling on a friand, all crispy on the outside just as a friand should be, is my way of staying semi-sane. 

When she’s not at the Secret Forest Cafe, Hedley is working with Woodstock microbrewery Drifter Brewing Company on its Soup-a-Heroes project. “I’m helping with fundraising and I also work in the kitchen,” she says.

Hedley, who shares a flat in Sea Point with two friends, says lockdown has given her more time to spend in “down time” – “where there are no distractions and we are forced to unravel our thoughts, wants and desires”.

“I have enjoyed family time and I hope that, when lockdown is over, we will all appreciate hugs and love much more,” says Hedley. DM/TGIFood

The Secret Forest Café is open every day (weather permitting) and to get there you park at the first small parking area along Spaanschemat River Road, near the sign for compost and the Lions Club. Take the path that runs alongside the fynbos, keeping the fynbos on your right. When the path gets to the stone wall running perpendicular to the path turn right and you’ll find the Secret Forest Café on your left in a gap in the stone wall. Find them on Instagram for daily updates SecretForestCafe


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