Sandeep Virdee’s face lights up when he talks about coffee. How to make it, how you can drink it, where it comes from. He’s lived in many different countries and worked in many places before his general manager position at Blue Shed, but his passion for coffee never changes.
Virdee was born in India, but when he thinks of his childhood, he imagines Kenya’s beautiful scenery and numerous animals. When he was nine, he moved to Nairobi and fell in love with the safari capital of Kenya. Childhood days were spent visiting eccentric places and working any odd jobs he could find. One such job brought the enthusiastic youth to a coffee plantation. Virdee was supposed to be there to build cottages but stood rooted in place, mesmerized by the coffee beans. He watched the planters take the beans and make them into something that smelled like warmth and richness and memories. The young man was chastised and whisked back to work, but the seed was planted.
Two years later, Virdee found himself walking into the office of the top person on the coffee board of Kenya. The coffee connoisseur took a chance on the lost man and began to share his wisdom. He spun tales of coffee grinding, making, and tasting. Virdee listened, raptured, as the person described the perfect cup of coffee. Then, he slowly poured a cup and handed it to Virdee. He took a sip and his taste buds exploded with the flavor of home brewed love in a cup. He was forever hooked and hungry for more.
“I would go to four and five star hotels just to have a cup of coffee,” he said. “I always had good passion for coffee from then on.”
Virdee continued working odd jobs in Kenya but felt there was something missing; a taste of coffee still on his tongue. He journeyed to Cape Town and worked at grocery stores, Indian take out places, and at a chainsaw and lawnmower maker. He was moving but he felt stuck in the same place as he had in Kenya.
“I didn’t see myself growing as expected,” he said.
Recovering in Mossel Bay from a health scare, Virdee felt helpless and directionless. Albert Wiffen came into his life with a scent of coffee beans and an offer for a brighter future. A job at Blue Shed, the quirky and disheveled coffee shop with a view of the ocean. Virdee felt something that he had hid down deep in his chest begin to stir as he walked in and smelled the roasting beans. He immediately got to work waiting tables during the day and learning all he could about coffee at night. Fourteen different types of coffee beans from around the world, a giant metal machine to roast, and hundreds of Youtube videos later, Virdee was promoted to General Manager.
Blue Shed days are hectic, but Virdee has never felt more alive. He’s met people from all over the world including German coffee fanatics and Holland Coffee freaks. Every day, the manager works to brew a different or unique cup of coffee. He has never been back to India or Kenya, but he spread his love and his roots in every drink.
“I think the first thing that gets to me is being human,” he said. “The rest all comes later.”
Now, Virdee hopes to stay in Mossel Bay and train other young people in the ways of coffee. He remembers a young man, staring at a coffee bean and marveling at its potential. A young man who tasted a cup of coffee and was forever changed.
“I’ve come so far and I don’t know what’s in store for me,” he said. “We can assume anything but we have to take how we get it and where we’re being led to.”
(photo by Makayla McGarvey)