BY Ben Ebuka, 9:06am May 02, 2023,

How Mhlengi Muleki creatively turned his health challenge into a profitable coffee business

The engineering graduate shifted his focus from his engineering career to establishing a customer-centric coffee roastery called CoffeeMM in Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa. Photo credit: CoffeeMM on Facebook

Like most other entrepreneurs, Mhlengi Mluleki Ngcobo turned his love for coffee into a profitable business that is creating value for customers and opportunities for smallholder farmers in many communities in Southern Africa.

“Our company and brand is about bringing together customer experience and creating opportunities for the communities. We believe that unless we are creating real value and making a difference in
people’s lives we would not have achieved our vision.”

The engineering graduate shifted his focus from his engineering career to establishing a customer-centric coffee roastery called CoffeeMM in Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa.

The company was founded solely by Mhlengi at age 22 while he was a civil engineering student at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. From childhood, he developed a love for coffee and consumed the beverage regularly. He was unfortunately diagnosed with Young Hypertension by doctors who recommended that he cease drinking coffee because of the high caffeine content of coffee.

However, it was difficult for him to adhere to the medical advice, and rather chose to study coffee extensively to understand more about its health benefits and adverse effects.

“Doctors took my blood pressure and it showed a reading of 188/125. The doctor said people with such high blood pressures are usually in a coma,” says the now 25-year-old.

“I was diagnosed with young hypertension (a severe increase in blood pressure that can lead to a stroke) and cautioned to change my lifestyle, and to never consume caffeinated beverages.”

Knowing more about coffee increased his love for the beverage, and during a project management course session in college, where he had to choose one type of business to specialize in, he selected the coffee business and began developing the concept of CoffeeMM.

Mhlengi went further to acquire business management and entrepreneurship skills by completing the small business administration and management certificate program at Stellenbosch University. He then devoted his energy to studying the coffee business and market in South Africa.

A few years later, he successfully achieved his dream of establishing CoffeeMM on March 2017. In the initial phase of the business, he focused on selling fresh gourmet coffee online and supplying it to restaurants and companies.

“I chose a project of running a coffee roaster and in 2017, I launched my coffee business. At the time I was under the impression that everyone drinks coffee and the business was going to do well. However, I only managed to sell one bag of coffee to a family member. I had to go back to the drawing board and understand what the company needed.”

Gradually, CoffeeMM has established a coffee shop in Western Cape, where coffee products are prepared and sold in-house. The coffee shop also serves as a training center, thus generating more income for the business. CoffeeMM is also making inroads into international markets, engaging farmers in Burundi, DRC, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and more.

“CoffeeMM is currently engaging with local coffee farmers and traders in South Africa, Mozambique, Burundi and Zimbabwe. We have established a database of small farmers. Our aim is to access the international market space through exhibitions.”

“We source fresh green coffee beans from African countries (Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi and also Indonesia) and roast them using reputable coffee roasters and baristas. CoffeeMM sells gourmet coffees, espresso, lattes, hot chocolate and Cappuccinos. With every order prepared with delicacy to meet the customer’s unique preference.”

Today, the company offers different varieties of coffee, including Argon House Blend, Brazil Cerado, Burundi Kayanza, Colombia Buca, Ethiopian Sidamo, Guatemala, House Java Blend, Uganda Argo, and more. CoffeMM also sells different coffee-making equipment and accessories.

The 29-year-old CEO has gained much recognition, including Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 Class of 2023, Outstanding Maties Alumni 2022, Business with Most Potential Award 2020, Best Student Entrepreneur Award 2019, and African Leadership Academy Top 10 Finalist 2012.

Despite selling only one bag of coffee for an entire year when he started the business, Mhlengi refused to give up, and today, he is happy, fulfilled, and setting more ambitious targets for his business.

“Looking back, I realize how far I’ve come with CoffeeMM. The effort and sacrifices that are done in secret get rewarded in public.”

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: May 2, 2023


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