Tag Archives: African cafes

I was @ Java House, Kenya: Perhaps, Africa’s best coffee chain?

Actually, I’m a bit embarrassed by the lateness of this post, because last year I had one of my most surprising coffee experiences in the eclectic city of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city and main hub. As per usual, I had to attend a five day meeting in the city and of course I was on the hunt for coffee. Prior to my departure, I visited lonely planet’s helpful guide to cafes and restaurants to visit in Nairobi – also a major tourist destination and springboard to visit the vast wildlife and safaris across the country; and found 2-3 interesting ones. You may wish to know too that Nairobi is the only capital city in the World where there’s actually a natural safari park, near the airport, which we visited on our penultimate day – pics at the end.

So how about the coffee ? After all I was visiting one of the premier coffee countries in the World – not just a coffee growing country but a country that reputably has one of the best arabica varieties in the World (SL28 and SL32 but let’s not go there with deep coffee neurosis), sought after by coffee connoisseurs all over. Due to the location of our meeting and hence hotel, we were placed right bang in the middle of the city. I had initially wanted to check out another brand, the Artcaffe Coffee & Bakery, which looked very “European/American” in design, but all their locations were too far to get to during my busy week, so Java House it was – located on Mama Ngina Street, Transnational Plaza, about 5 minutes walk from the Hilton Hotel.

Upon entering their cafe, you won’t notice anything special in terms of decor; no exposed bricks, Scandinavian clean white washed floors and serving bar, because this is no frills per say – you could easily be in a typical local restaurant, apart from the smell of coffee and for geeks like me – the La Marzocco GB5 espresso machine. I looked around, the clientele was mainly Kenyan but there were a few what looked like backpackers as they had free wifi for customers too. I checked their menu – typical espresso menu, even with an offer for double as well as triple shots. I enquired about their coffee – roasted in small batches every day, primarily from Kenya but also from the region, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda. I checked out the barista and his skills as he prepared other drinks and not to seem to geeky in front of my colleague, recommend that we both try a double espresso each. I must confess I wasn’t expecting much – I could hear my wife echoing her usual verdict of “coffee snob” into my ear from 1,000 of kilometres away in Vienna.

Hmm! Espresso served with a biscuit

So impressed with the extraction and of course the taste, my colleague immediately went over to ask about buying their coffees. Initially I was reluctant, but bought a Kenyan AA filter blend 500g of arabica coffee beans. The bill, for 2 double espressos and a 375g of Kenyan AA bag of coffee – wait for it US$10 – now that’s a great all round experience.

Of course I went back but must confess that on one occasion I was the victim of the plague of inconsistency that sometimes hampers African businesses, as on my second visit, the espresso lacked vigour – no crema and bitter. Needless to say, the other 1/2 visits did not disappoint. In a way I got the impression that their roasting skills would not disappoint and bought another bag of coffee, but this time from their speciality offering of a Rwandan arabica to take home with me and try on my French press. My colleague bought about 3-4 bags – I lost count.

Java House, I came to find out have about 40 branches in Nairobi alone. They seem quite popular and were always busy when I visited, perhaps because they also have an extensive food menu, including red velvet cake closing late, around 10pm everyday.

They also have a branch at the airport and saw their beans being sold in a duty free shop, but be warned, the coffee was not as freshly roasted as the ones in the city and were more expensive – I smiled to myself as I left the bags of months old roasted coffee at the airport duty free, informing the shop keeper that the coffee costs more at duty free but in town.

In summary I was quite happy to see that Java House, Kenyan created and currently still owned is an African coffee chain that is built on using locally produced coffee, roasted in small batches and successful in terms of its wide range and number of outlets in the city and beyond – It was also gratifying to see that Kenyans were enjoying one of their most prized exports in their own country and that the best stuff hadn’t been siphoned off to the European US and beyond – proud to be African is what comes to mind.

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From Coffee With Love in Cape Town 2009

You know that I have to start with my favourite, Origins Coffee Roasting on 28 Hudson Street (I have even memorised the address), in De Waterkant area, just off the centre of downtown Cape Town.

I’m lucky enough to visit, what I think is one of the most exciting cities in the World on a yearly basis since 2006. I always like to go back to my favourite places to see if they are still keeping up the standards, because occasionally I’ve been disappointed when I get excited by a cafe and then go back after about a year to find out that the original concept, usually devised by a passionate coffee freak, has lots its appeal because the owner has wandered off after making a bit of money and has taking a more “executive” life. Anyway, I’m glad to report that that hasn’t happened at Origins – it seems that they are just getting bigger. First they had a small cool shop, then they added a tea part at the back, then they bought upstairs and opened up a barista school and now, wait for it, they’ve opened up another shop on the roof. As you approach the shop, with the original entrance in front of you, look to the left and you will see a sign inviting you upstairs with 50% of your coffee. you climb these funky stairs to a roof terrace area, which now houses a trendy looking cutlery shop, a model firm and a courtyard with lots of Origins Coffee Roasting umbrelas, et voila….

So, I had to try it, as it was a nice day in Cape Town to sit outside and drink coffee, which I turned down at the the hotel, saving my appetite but of course for a milk based espresso drink. I ordered a flat white, which, now beginning to know a little more about coffee, was a bit hot – “wait a minute, isn’t coffee supposed to be hot ?” Yes ! I add, but not burning your lips hot, as you need to taste the coffee and too hot will not caress your lips. So the barista asked me, “did you like the coffee ?” and I had to be honest, having traveled 1000s of miles for this experience, “Well ! I said, I think the temperature on the espresso machine needs to be regulated”. He perfectly understood my complaint and offered to make me a new one for free, which as much better. I then rushed off downstairs, trying to track down, joint owner, Joel Singer, to say hi. I stumbled into one of the long time baristi there, Lindsay, and asked her for a double espresso.

But, as I waited I saw her pour these two cups of beautiful latte art cappuccinos or flat white (first pic above) and one below, just for you.

I also bought two bags of coffee (more on that later in another posts). I finally caught hold of Joel, who was doing a photo shoot on their revamped tea room, said hi and was on my way after 2 flat whites and a double espresso – tasting coffee can be quite exhaustingly pleasant.

For my next discovery, I tracked down, after reviewing my foodie magazines with features on Cape Town food, Shelleys Gourmet Coffee on 90 Kloof Street – if you are in a rush, take a cab. Shelley’s opened in late 2008, so it is quite new and has a lot of delicious bites to eat and from what I gather is beginning to get popular with the breakfast crowd, even offering an espresso French Toast, which I hope to try next time God willing. I also met with Shelley, who is very warm and welcoming and a real foodie freak like me. Anyway, I had a sandwich lunch there, gazed at the cakes….. delicious and had a double espresso before rushing back to the hotel to catch my cab to the airport.

You can read more about Shelleys on my foodie site, http://www.atastyblog.com/in about a weeks time God willing. Anyway, highly recommended for a bite to eat, cake and coffee.