A cappuccino and a dash of catnip: Inside South Africa’s first cat café


Cape Town may be known for its coffee culture, but Valerie Steinmann’s café offers more than a freshly-brewed espresso. Instead, servings of plain milk or water are the order of the day, with a side serving of catnip. That’s because the patrons here are mostly feline. Inspired by her travels to Asia where cat cafés are a trend, Steinmann returned to open South Africa’s first. But rather than exclusively indulging the novelty of being surrounded by kittens while enjoying a meal, she decided to expand on the idea for a greater purpose.

“Most of the cat cafés that I visited overseas have exotic breeds,” Steinmann says. Instead, she’s opened up Cat Heaven for cats taken in from the streets and shelters. “We focus on rescue cats because even rescue cats deserve a good home,” she says. Now, the felines lounge about in their new home in Somerset West, kitted out with toys, scratch posts, and little nooks to curl up. When Steinmann isn’t grooming or feeding them, they bask in the sunshine or indulge in head scratches. They may not be purebred, but the love and attention bestowed on visitors is sincere. Their presence has proved therapeutic for the elderly in particular who cannot keep pets of their own. Steinmann offers an in-house foster programme, allowing people to sponsor a cat and visit them as often as they’d like.

While she started off with 15 cats, Steinmann’s work is for the benefit of all the others still waiting for a home. “I want people to come in and say, ‘They are so beautiful. We’re not going to buy a cat. Let’s go rescue a cat from a shelter’,” Steinmann says. For those interested in adoption, she goes out of her way to assist them in contacting the relevant organisations. “Our focus is to get as many cats as possible out of shelters and into forever homes,” Steinmann says. In the meantime, she’s providing a comfortable place for those in her care. For the visitors who flock to the unique café, this might seem like paradise. For the pets that are fortunate to be under the care of Steinmann, it definitely is.