Humans of coffee: Ishan Natalie

Who is Ishan Natalie?

Ishan Natalie is just a simple guy, often misunderstood and from humble beginnings.

I owe who I am, not only as a person, but a professional mainly to my dad. He too started with hard and humble beginnings. He grew up with a very strict father who owned a few Fruit & Veg outlets. He walked to school and back every day for a distance of what would take us 15 minutes to drive and spent all of his personal time working at my grandfather’s business, loading and offloading trucks with goods, being a shop assistant and carting excessive loads of fresh produce at the market between the selling agents and our trucks.

My dad, like his dad, brought me up the same way, but I think I had it a lot easier due to more available resources. I didn’t have to walk that distance to school, only approximately 4-5kms haha. But I was made to work in my dad’s business exactly as he did growing up. As a teenager and my University years, I started to receive R10 a week for all my work which I could use for myself. I hated not having alot of friends or time for the little but close friends I had because of my dad’s expectations. And I had alot of resentment towards my dad for that lifestyle growing up.

But luckily I was mature enough in my early career years to understand and appreciate it all. The hard times and hard work he put me through, groomed me into a career driven individual with a hunger to succeed. He made me work for everything I wanted. And even when I got promoted as a manager in TriBeCa/ Woolworths in 2003, and had to relocate to Johannesburg, my dad could have bought me a car but didn’t. He made me take the commitment of buying it myself because it would teach me responsibility and accountability. I was just 20 years old, with no credit history to get finance, and got my application declined as a result, but he refused to buy the car for me for this life lesson. Rather, he romanced the finance manager of the bank with a box of assorted first grade fruit (my dad’s usual bargaining tool and pride and joy).

I am eternally grateful and thankful to my dad for these hardships, instilling that hard work ethic into me and creating a driven business man out of me. Because of him, I am so grateful and appreciative of all the things I have worked so hard for and have in my life. Most people take a lot of their acomplishments and what they have for granted and it drives me crazy to see spoilt people that were handed everything but think they are better than everyone else.

Ishan competing at the World Barista Championship in Seattle. Image by Pavel Zhdanov.

What’s your favorite childhood memory?

My favorite childhood memory would definitely be about our life in my dad’s shop/s. My sisters and I basically grew up under the wooden counter that the cash register sat on, which my mum worked at. It was tattered and worn, with a little foam mattress but we created or own little ‘cave’ out of it. My parents used to wake us or carry us into the car at 5am every day, so that we would get to the shop to open by 6am every day. I remember laying on the back seat looking into the pitch black early morning sky, staring at the orange lights go by as we drove. My sisters and I used to play in and around the shop, on and under the sweet and chocolate shelves and on the stacks of bulk dry goods such as rice and flour, created our own mini shops and forts, playing shopkeepers or police/ army games (was a huge American Soldier and Airwolf fan). One of the best parts was sitting in the back of the single cab van, in the ‘bin’, with my sister just a year younger than I. Just like the morning, we would watch other cars and the lights go by. I used to scare her by telling her to look at the trees above and that there were ghosts there that were going to come for her haha!

If you had a chance for a “do-over” in life, what would you do differently?

If I had a choice in life for a do-over, I wouldn’t change anything because it all led to who I am and my successes. I would however not allow my younger self to worry about what people thought of him. I grew up with very bad self esteem issues. Always too shy, thinking I wasn’t good enough for people. But all that was such a wasted life, living in a shell and worried about people who do not add value to your life. Which is why I probably don’t get too close to people easily and have a very selective way of letting people in and close. I live my life surrounding myself around people who uplift me mentally, spritually and who make me and better person.

Image by Pavel Zhdanov

What do you feel most proud of?

I’m most proud of everything I have achieved – my awesome wife (best person for me), my gorgeous son who was born just a few weeks ago, beautiful home, awesome cars, my career, and my Barista Championship success. It’s hard to choose one because I am proud and grateful for all of them.

If you could only keep three possessions, what would they be and why?

If I could keep 3 possessions, it would be:

  1. My car – cars are ridiculously over priced and depreciation assets, but with our lack of first world public transport, there’s no way I would survive without one.
  2. My TV – I work hard and so I really enjoy spending my evenings and weekends unwinding in front of the TV a bit, especially to watch football 😉
  3. My mobile device – in this day and age, especially with business expectations, it’s impossible to live like we used to with just a landline. As frustrating as having a mobile device is at times, it serves so many purposes that replaces so many other possessions. It can be used as a watch, helps you do admin or search the Internet for research, a camera, a mobile office, lifeline and emergency torch. It’s the best possession to keep if there was a choice of only one.
Image by Pavel Zhdanov

What do you want your tombstone to say?

So, in my religion, we are cremated lol but if I had a tombstone, I would want to it to say: Here lies a man who took a gamble in life to follow a passion that became his career, pride and joy. With a personal quote “Follow your dreams and do what you love in life. For in life, true wealth is gained through living & working in happiness”.

So you’ve left Tribeca. What’s next for you?


So after 14 amazing years, my new project is Starbucks. Starbucks is the largest coffee company in the world that cares and puts a lot of emphasis on people (their employees, the customers and social projects). Their outlook and training is excellent.

What’s your favorite kind of coffee, origin or brew method?

My favorite kind of coffee is an excellent Flat White or Picollo Latte. The reason I have 2 is because it depends on the richness of the milk and the espresso base used. To describe the perfect milk and espresso combination and flavour that I want out of a milk/ espresso based coffee, I would say a Crunchie chocolate bar about sums it up. I enjoy a rich and caramel tone, with subtle fruity elements. My favorite brew method however is the Chemex.

Image by Pavel Zhdanov

In which coffee shops are we likely to bump into you?

I generally don’t go out to coffee shops because I work with coffee and always have ample supply at home. But generally I would visit the local micro roasters.

What does a perfect day look like?

A perfect day looks like the tropics. Blue skies with a dash a white from the odd small cloud here and there and a gentle cool temperature and fresh air. I like summer weather but nothing over 21 degrees.

Ishan is a 3 time South Arica Barista Champion, 2 time Africa Barista Champion & South Africa Aeropress Champion 2012. Follow his journey on Facebook.

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Andy loves coffee, has a global community of followers that loves coffee and talks about himself in the third person.

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