Finally, The Steampunk Coffee Shop You Always Wanted

A South African designer creates a machine-first space where the steam and the punk come from freshly roasted coffee beans.

Where there’s steampunk, there’s usually a lot of smoke. Thick, choking billows of diesel exhaust and carcinogenic miasmas go hand-in-hand with the cast-iron chimeras and follies the genre has wrought. Air-pollutants are part of the DNA, and essential to the knowing pseudo-industrial aesthetic steampunk has cultivated over the years.


It’s not a surprise then, that a lot of steampunk looks like oversize atrophic espresso machines. The visual affinity wasn’t lost on the designers behind the Truth Coffee bar in Cape Town. The store, the flagship for the South Africa-based coffee company, is packed with neo-Victorian trimmings, including plush buttoned-leather seating, decorative tin moulding, and sculpted platinum bar taps. But they all take a backseat to the tubular coffee roasters and espresso gadgetry at the rear center of the space.

The shop is housed in Truth’s turn-of-the-century headquarters, a former warehouse that was retrofitted for company, its historic character kept intact. To Haldane Martin Design, this meant revealing the original bare stone and brick walls and cleaning up–but not too much–the cast iron pillars, then inserting a dense mix of seemingly disparate elements.

Designer Haldane Martin is also an avid sci-fi reader who planted the idea for a steampunk coffee house with Truth Coffee executive David Done. Both parties felt that it was an “appropriate conceptual reference, as both coffee roasters and espresso machines display elements of romantic, steam-powered technology,” Haldane tells Co.Design. “Steampunk’s obsession with detail and sensual aesthetics also captured the essence of Truth Coffee’s product philosophy–‘We roast coffee. Properly.’”

Beyond the coffee and the machines that make the coffee, that obsession with detail is evident in the interiors, where the aged patina is enhanced by copper and brass finishings, wood and stone surfaces, and leather and steel furnishings. Each of the unique pieces was modeled in Rhino, paired with an appropriate material, and individually fabricated, Hanldane says. In fact, Donde and a business partner hand-built many of the shop’s meubles, a commitment that expressed how both client and designer wanted to avoid applying steampunk “in a superficial decorative way.”

Every element was programmed with functional purpose, with materials that Haldane says were honestly rendered. For example, buffed aluminum sheets were cut and used in ways that exploited the material’s thinness, as in the stool tops shaped to resemble gears, or the booth tables with legs fashioned into silhouetted chess pieces. It’s “Bauhaus meets Steampunk,” Haldane explains.

Of course, the centerpiece of the space is the vintage coffee roaster that sits just behind the bar; everything revolves around it. The bespoke furniture, coupled with the building’s post-industrial charm make it feel right at home, the steampunk vision more than just smoke and mirrors.

About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.