How being diagnosed with hypertension drove Mhlengi Ngcobo to start a coffee business

Coffee MM founder Mhlengi Ngcobo. Picture: Lizelle Lotter Photography

Coffee MM founder Mhlengi Ngcobo. Picture: Lizelle Lotter Photography

Published Jun 20, 2024


Mhlengi Ngcobo has a special connection to coffee.

As the founder of Coffee MM, a coffee roastery based in the Western Cape, his relationship with coffee started when he was 13 years old, after he was told that he had high blood pressure and on the borderline of having a stroke or heart failure.

“The doctor recommended that I stop taking caffeinated drinks. It was at this time that my interest was triggered. I wanted to know what caffeine was.

“With further research I found that caffeine from coffee is not necessarily bad, it is actually good for our bodies. I was hooked. For many years, I wanted to understand what made coffee better than other beverages.

Coffee MM founder Mhlengi Ngcobo. Picture: Supplied

“When I was in university I consumed excessive caffeine, I had not thought about commercialising this commodity at that time. It was later while doing my final year that I started thinking about turning it into a business. The rest is history,” said Ngcobo.

Born in KwaZulu-Natal and raised in Gauteng, he said growing up was challenging.

Ngcobo explained: “When I was 9 years old my family moved to Gauteng in pursuit of better life opportunities. Although moving made life better it was far from best.

“Coming from a family of seven kids came with massive challenges such as financial difficulties, and lack of access to proper resources for self-development.

“My upbringing was challenging not just for me but also for my mom who had to raise all of us alone.

“But she pushed and tried to bring out the best in us. She taught me to be the best in everything I did and to strive to be number one. She taught me the value of hard work. A lot of my success is attributed to her.”

After matriculating, the 29 year-old pursued a degree in Civil Engineering at Stellenbosch University but did not complete his studies.

“In 2017, I decided to start the business because I could barely afford anything at university. The reality of not having books, a laptop and bare necessities to finish my studies was excruciating.

“So, with my last R150 and a bicycle, I decided to take the jump. I knew I had nothing to lose, so in less than 24 hours after starting my business I dropped out of university and that is how Coffee MM came about,” he said.

Ngcobo said the idea was also driven by the need to promote good quality coffee, changing the negative perceptions around coffee and empowering small-scale coffee farmers.

“I started by creating an efficient online platform where our customers would have an opportunity to connect with us in the comfort of their homes and this was what would be our competitive advantage, which is convenience.

“During our first year of trading, we sold 1kg of coffee and had a turnover of R225. I knew I had to completely change my business approach the following year.

Coffee MM founder Mhlengi Ngcobo. Picture: Lizelle Lotter Photography

“I cycled approximately 240-400 km weekly to make deliveries to customers around Bellville, Durbanville, Somerset West, Strand and Paarl.

“In October 2018, I managed to purchase a vehicle for the company to make deliveries.”

We have since grown to open a coffee shop in Stellenbosch and another in Somerset West in 2022, which closed due to high overheads and the lingering economic impact of Covid-19 on consumer behaviour and buying appetite.

He added: “We have further opened a coffee roastery in Stellenbosch, which supplies coffee beans to Stellenbosch University, the Stellenbosch Municipality and local coffee shops and restaurants.

“We are using coffee as a vehicle to spread the message of hope and empowerment not just in South Africa but on the African continent and beyond. We are constantly looking for ways to make a difference in the lives of those we touch.

In 2023, they launched Coffee MM Academy, which focuses on teaching people the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, marketing, coffee roasting and barista courses.

“Our aim is to teach people skills they can implement today to better their lives,” added Ngcobo.

Based in Stellenbosch Central, Coffee MM offers eight varieties of coffee beans, with their signature blend being the argon blend, an Arabica blend with a velvety combination of sweet chocolate notes and rich creaminess, making it the perfect cup for any hour.

Their most popular gourmet coffees include the Sidamo Abyss, which offers moderate acidity, full body, and a robust African kick, and the Serra Dourada, which boasts a smooth and balanced flavour profile of creamy sweetness, and hints of caramel and rich chocolate.

Ngcobo said they were looking to expand their business to Botswana in the coming year, and exploring the Johannesburg market to see if they can work with local distributors to get their products to food services.