Today, I miss home. I miss London. I miss my little neighbourhood coffee joint, the staff who know me by name, the cool spacious interior and the coffee so perfectly poured it kick starts my day. As I stared out my apartment window and sighed with homesickness I recalled seeing a little spot the other day, hair blowing as I wizzed by on a boda, under a sleek new building just off Riverside. I pondered. Maybe I should give it a try, get myself out of the house, and in search of a spot that might fill the little space in my heart for an independent coffee shop here in Nairobi.
Buzzing by on the boda, I found Connect Coffee, just where I had spotted down a side street close to the bottom of Riverside and University of Nairobi campus. Meandering down the handsomely named Prof David Wasaero Drive the café sits on the ground floor of the Riverfront Office Building. My hipster excitable sensors started tingling as I dismounted the bike. Big large glass windows, halogen light bulbs, minimalist iron worked tables topped with sleek hard wood and perfectly smoothed cement floors. My blues were lifted as I walked up to sleekly laid out counter and greeted by a friendly Barista in a cool grey apron and perfect white smile. “Hello Madame, what can I get for?”, he said as my heart exploded with the friendly greeting and cool calm service. I spluttered like a silly teenager which he met with charming advice, “Maybe a coffee? We have two blends on offer, the Juliet: capturing fruity flavours and flowers, or the Romeo: combining smoky dark chocolate with nutty tones”. Quickly, I chose the Juliet and settled into my hip Ikea style chair close to the big glass window and watched the cloudless sky pass by.
The crockery. Oh my word, the crockery. My wonderful baristas, soon after I’d settled into my happy daydream, came over with a perfect glass coffee cup perched on a wooden board with a little milk and sugar pot. I was intrigued in the beautiful design and shape and was told they are imported from South Korea along with many items on sale including Filter drip coffee devices and stainless steel coffee pots.
While viewing these beautiful items on sale, my eyes quickly switched over to the food on display in the chilled counter and the bakery section. Perfect little rolls of sushi nestled in the bottom of the chiller – a mix of fish and vegetarian options that had been freshly delivered from Haru, one of Kenya’s premier sushi spots. On top sat a delicious array of freshly made pastries, baked this morning in store ranging from croissants to cheese pies, donuts and pain au chocolat. I hungrily ordered and bit into a chocolate pastry that squirted out hot dark chocolate surrounded by flaky butter pastry that was submerged into my Juliet coffee, and enveloped by my mouth.
The whole experience surrounded me with delight as my homesickness faded away. I didn’t miss London, I was just falling in love with Nairobi and this beautiful take on minimalist cafes with friendly service and high quality service. The owners and staff of Connect Coffee had truly found a niche in the market that was being found by other clientele – a mix of office expat workers escaping the boredom of their four walls, Kenyan friends clinking coffee cups over funny stories and European embassy workers hungrily getting their caffeine and croissant fix. While the city thronged outside, Connect Coffee and its chilled café vibe stole the show as being the premier destination for coffee in Nairobi today.
I was lucky enough to be invited back to interview the owner Sunny and the cafe's Marketing Manager Duncan, about Connect Coffee, the products and the process from bean to cup.
Where did the idea for Connect Coffee come from?
Connect Coffee idea came from the passion to improve the quality and quantity of coffee production by partnering directly with Kenyas’ small scale coffee farmers. This would extend to give our customers a unique quality coffee experience . Kenya was the perfect spot because of its high quality coffee, potential coffee drinkers among the middle income and the foreign experts in addition to the fast growing economy.
How do you find the Kenya moving to Kenya?
Sunny: We didn’t find it too difficult. I was living in Malawi and my husband worked in S Korea in the coffee industry. Decided to move as there is good quality coffee here and Africa wasn’t a foreign market for us and we had wanted to open a shop for a long time, but the competition was too high in South Korea. Therefore Kenya was a sensible choice for us.
Were there any challenges?
There were large challenges in the beginning, mainly getting paperwork and the waiting time and delays in receiving documents. However it just taught us to be patient and get used to the rhythm of Kenyan life.
Where are your products from?
All the products that you can buy in the coffee shop at are imported from South Korea. These include the Mugs, Cups, light fixtures…even the freezers! However because of Kenya’s large coffee industry, it was easy to source and buy the actual Coffee Machines and grinders directly here in Kenya.
Where is your coffee from?
The coffee beans themselves come from Kenya from a farm in Kiambu. Connect Coffee follow a formal ethical policy which they have termed ‘Seed to Cup’. It involves engaging the farmer, motivating them, piloting them farmer and also making sure that the farmers interest is about social welfare, looking after the environment and about wanting to upscale small scale farmers overtime. We are currently looking for other farmers to partner with in the future who share a similar ethos.
What’s your favourite thing about working in Kenya and in this industry?
Our favourite thing about working here is the weather! But also the fact that we have found a niche in the market, with no competition in independent coffee shops selling speciality coffee. South Korea has so much competition, there is a coffee shop in every single office building and Koreans themselves love coffee, particularly of a high quality nature . This new chance to open a coffee shop also gives me a lot of interaction with customers, which is so different from working as a teacher at NGO in Malawi. We are really happy we moved here.
Who are your current clients?
Currently our main audiences are Asian Kenyans, Foreign Expats, Embassy staff from the Australia and Japanese high commission, UN staff and a few university students (located very close to one of UoN’s campuses) as we offer a small discount on coffee. We are increasing our outreach to the wider Kenyan market by promotion through word of mouth, attending exhibitions to promote our coffee and more social media outreach.
What are your future hope for Connect Coffee?
We are going to start focusing on increasing our partner farmer relationships, to find other farms that share the Seed to Cup ethos and therefore have a ready supply of higher quality and quantity coffee in our stores for whole sale use.
Also we want to grow our branch franchise, potentially looking at further locations in central Westlands central or potentially Hurlingham.
We have also partnered with Haru sushi in Kenya. They are owned by good friends of ours and we decided to stock their sushi and supply their coffee. We were unsure if coffee and sushi would a be successful combination in this market, but so far it’s been very popular!
What makes you truly unique?
We believe that our shop has truly found a niche here in Kenya. Our interior, our product, even the way we have trained our staff. We did an open recruitment process for our baristas and received almost 40 candidates, who we then orally interviewed, gave a written test and then asked to make coffee. The candidates we then chose were put on a 2 month probation period where they had to learn every single aspect of not just the coffee, but the process, the farms, the tasting notes, the grinding, steaming of the milk and the institute of the café itself. This was then wittled down to our 4 baristas that you see here to today. They have all worked hard on their technique, how to use the machines and to love the art of customer service. Our coffee that we make into fresh brews (hot and cold) is roasted daily which is very unique for Nairobi and we are pioneering new products. This is the new and exciting Nitro Cold Brew – which is fermented and served like a beer – with a large foamy head created through a process of using nitro oxygen gas to give the coffee a Guinness style appearance.
And finally, lets talk about the interior of the café…
Our interior is another draw for our café. The ceilings are high, the fixtures are exposed, the surfaces are clean and minimalist giving the café a light and airy feelings without being pretentious like so many cafes you come across in London or Melbourne. Sunny’s husband worked in the coffee industry in S Korea for many years before moving here and this had a big impact on the feel of the café. This has proved a hit and a great hub for freelance workers and expats who would otherwise work from home as the café provides portable plugs and fast wifi proving a winning combination for the tired consultant craving that next cup of coffee.