Thornton Coffee began in 1979 in the area of Oribi Gorge, KwaZulu-Natal. Originally sugar cane farmers, the Neethling Estate started growing coffee on Thornton Farm and Granny Min roasted and packaged the produce. Years later she handed over to her Daughter-in-law, Debbie Neethling who has been roasting ever since. Fast forward to 2016, and the third generation got involved. Stuart and Lauren (Debbie’s daughter) took over the Thornton Coffee baton, while Debbie remains the master roaster and quality controller, ensuring that the well-loved taste of Thornton remains unchanged.
Since there is very little coffee grown on South Africa, we import all of our coffee from Southern and East Africa. We only use 100% pure Arabica beans of the highest quality, which are sustainability sourced.
Our coffee comes from various producers, each with their own story. Harvest season varies from area to area, so the exact source depends on what’s available at the time we need it. We support both large coffee estates and community groups and cooperatives. The large estates provide employment to large numbers (500-1000) of individuals from the local community and they farm a variety of crops to ensure year-round income.
They also have a range of facilities accessible to the employees and their families: schools, baby care centers, sports teams, clinic services and trading stores. Cooperatives consist of a group of farmers who combine their produce for export. These groups ensure that small scale farmers are able to get the best prices and the necessary support with the logistics of shipping abroad. Without them, small scale farmers with limited numbers of trees wouldn’t be able to farm commercially. These groups deliver their coffee to central processing stations where the beans are processed, dried and sorted as a group; the farmers using these stations have access to health care, training and resources such as fertilizer provided by the company running the station.
Closer to Home
On the farm, Debbie employs Nonhlanhla and Yandisa to help her in the factory. Both women are without formal education, previously unemployed in a rural area where jobs are increasingly difficult to find. The women receive on-the-job training on all aspects of the coffee roasting business.