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Rooibos S-presso

The ultra-compact S-Presso was indigenously developed, conceived, and designed in India by Maruti Suzuki, much like local company Red Espresso created the first rooibos tea espresso in the world. We took the urban-style micro SUV to meet the naturally caffeine-free alternative to coffee …

The South African entry-level vehicle market has been shaken and stirred up by the introduction of the new Suzuki S-presso – at R134 900 now the most affordable new car in the country, costing some R10 000 less than a Renault Kwid and Suzuki Celerio, and over R27k less than the entry-level Datsun Go. Designed and developed from a brief by Indian-based Maruti Suzuki for a micro SUV to take on the Mahindra KUV100 (available here for R134 999 in K2+ guise), Datsun redi-Go and Renault Kwid Climber, the boxy and quite tall S-presso appears bigger on images than in reality. Underpinned by the new Heartect platform (also used for the Dzire, Ignis, and Swift), Suzuki designers and engineers have managed to fit a 2,38 m wheelbase into the 3,56 m long body shell and provide it with a wide track and 180 mm ground clearance. Its four-slot grille with large S-emblem displays definite Mahindra traits and big bumpers, squared-off halogen headlamps, and a large air intake creates the visual impression of a high-riding SUV. Yet, unlike the Indian models, none of the local versions, not even the S-Edition, comes with daylight running lights. The theme continues along the flanks with bold fenders and semi-squared-off wheel arches, and colour-coded door handles and side mirrors on the top models. At the rear, it features a small, integrated spoiler above the hatch door, square lights with a C-design, and a black bumper with standard parking sensors. On the premium S-Edition, the features are highlighted with silver grille inserts, silver front and rear skid plates, bold side cladding, and a large silver panel insert at the rear.

Solid feel

Inside, our orange S-presso test unit was bright, breezy, and felt solid and well-equipped. Its large circular centre console with digital speedometer, trip computer, full-colour touch-sensitive infotainment system, electric windows, and hazard switches had a Mini-esque feel. However, the high seating position (with limited seat travel) and awkwardly positioned window controls needed some getting used to. On the road, the little Suzuki felt much more solidly put together compared to its immediate competitors and this translated to the sound and robust drivetrain, with the five-speed gearbox shifting slick and easy and the three-cylinder one-litre K10B petrol mill spinning eagerly to provide forward momentum. As already found in the Celerio, the engine, delivering 50 kW and 90 Nm, is lively and keen, although the lack of torque is evident uphill. On some of the twistier roads through Durbanville towards our destination in Paarl, the steering felt vague and lacked precision but even on 14-inch wheels, the S-presso displayed tidy handling and surprisingly supple ride quality. We were now approaching the outskirts of Paarl and turned off from the R101 into the Zandwyk Business Park to meet the people who gave the world its first rooibos tea espresso, then went on to create a range of café-style rooibos drinks and became famous for their much-loved rooibos red cappuccino and red latte …

Making rooibos famous

Much like Maruti Suzuki conceived the idea of a mini urban-style SUV for India and convinced its Japanese parent company this concept would work, Carl Pretorius persuaded his long-time business partners and friends Pete and Monique Ethelston of the multiple advantages of rooibos espresso. Pete, an entrepreneur and avid sportsman, and Monique, a tea drinker and fitness guru, was intrigued by the idea of a healthy alternative to coffee, made from herbal rooibos tea that grows only in South Africa. In 2005, convinced of its benefits, they teamed up with Monique’s brother, Nic Reid, and Oliver Ryder, another business partner of Pete, to launch red espresso. With a product that provided a genuinely healthy alternative to coffee, the family business set about developing unique coffee-style drinks – including the red cappuccino and red latte that made red espresso famous. Besides pioneering healthy café culture and creating a new beverage category, these two beverages earned red espresso six international awards. This include Best New Specialty Product of 2008 at the flagship show of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), becoming not only the first tea but also the first South African company ever to win an SCAA award. The same year the World Tea Expo recognized them as one of the top ten new products, globally.

From Cederberg to cup

Getting out of our sizzle orange Suzuki in front of the red espresso office and warehouse we were met by Pete Ethelston and Kirsty Reid. Kirsty is the sales and marketing manager, and also co-designer of the striking packaging for red espresso. Taking us through the premises, she said after their initial success the company has created healthier versions of many of the world’s favourite drinks – from chai and matcha to iced tea. “Being an award-winning world-first is wonderful but we are even prouder of the unique farm-to-cup-journey of our tea. This journey starts at high altitude in the Cederberg where the rooibos bushes slowly grow,” Kirsty said. “Unlike other rooibos, our tea is sourced from these single mountain estates and never blended. “We work directly with our farmers, practicing fair trade principles, and we follow sustainable, organic practices. Our primary farm was awarded the highest biodiversity rating in the rooibos industry,” Kirsty added. “The plants are left to grow naturally for two years before they are hand-harvested during the Summer months.” The tea is then fed through a cutting machine and laid out while it transforms from bright green to a dark reddish-brown. A custom-made spreader then shoots the fermented rooibos across the court, where it is left to dry in the sun. “Once dry, it is collected and transported to our eco-friendly factory where it is cut, grinded, analysed, and sensory tests are then carried out on final in-cup quality.” According to Kirsty, their red espresso rooibos contains ten times more antioxidants than a cup of regular rooibos tea, but it also has five times more antioxidants than green tea. “Whether you love the refreshing taste of rooibos, the functional health benefits of superfoods, or the heart-warming goodness of chai, we have a flavour to suit your lifestyle,” she said. The cheerful little S-presso is available in every colour to suit the lifestyle of the younger crowd and, like a cup of rooibos red espresso, add colour, taste, and health to your day, and both being products conceived from homegrown ideas, it is good to see them come good …

Our vehicle: Suzuki S-Presso GL+ MT S-Edition

Engine K10B, three-cylinder, inline, petrol
Capacity 998 cc
Maximum power 50 kW @ 5 500 rpm
Maximum torque 90 Nm @ 3 500 rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
0-100 km/h 14.5 seconds
Top speed 140 km/h
Fuel capacity 27 ℓ
Fuel economy 4.9 ℓ/100 km
CO2 emissions 118 g/km
Boot space 270 ℓ
Warranty Five years/200 000 km
Service plan Two years/30 000 km
Price R147 900

We like
Cute, yet intelligent styling, solid build quality, lively engine, smooth manual transmission

We do not like
High seating position not comfortable, awkward positioning of window controls, small fuel tank

RoadTrip rating: 86%

Red espresso
Address: Zandwyk Park, Old Paarl Road, Paarl, South Africa
Telephone: +27 21 863 1060  |  Email: info@redespresso.com  |  Website: www.redespresso.co.za

Text: Ferdi de Vos  |  Images: Ryan Abbott/Red Espresso/Suzuki South Africa