Time check is 4pm. A young lady and man holding hands saunter in. They opt for a table in the corner of the café. From the body language and expression, it comes off like the two are on their first date.
As the waiter takes their order, they both settle for cappuccino and banana cakes. As I sip on my coffee on the next table, I try to mind their business by literally watching and eavesdropping on their conversation.
The giggles and hearty laughs, a cup of coffee and the serene atmosphere at Bourbon Coffee located in the city centre, are probably memories the two will hold if they ever walk down the aisle. As they exchange vows, they will remember, it all started over a cup of coffee.
As my eyes pry around, a few tables away, a group of men are engrossed in what looks like a business meeting. All the four men are sipping on coffee as they exchange ideas.
A lady on phone suddenly walks in and diverts my attention, “Can we discuss this over a coffee,” she seems to tell the person on phone. Dressed in high heels and black suit, she sits near the entrance and proceeds to place what looks like a laptop on the table. After a few minutes, she is joined by two ladies and the discussion starts after coffee is served.
After enjoying my own cup of coffee, I walk out of bourbon café as more people enter to feel the aroma of coffee. Literally speaking, Kigali dwellers have literally woken up and smelt the coffee.
In the capitals of the world, coffee drinking is a culture. Almost everything is done over a cup of coffee- whether it’s a date, a business meeting or just hanging out with friends; the coffee shop is the preferred place.
This trend is picking up in Kigali as more coffee cafes open shop within Kigali and its suburbs.
So, what’s behind the growing love for coffee drinking in Kigali?
“It’s important to make a good first impression, and a great cup of coffee will do the trick,” says Jean Nkusi, a technician who thinks coffee is ideal for the first date with a lady.
“Bars are out of the question because you might be labeled a drunkard. Lunch is a little costly and also distractive; it doesn’t give you enough time to chat,” Nkusi adds.
Nkusi describes a coffee date as the perfect way to interact with someone; without waiters interrupting the conversation by bringing dishes, forks and glasses and walking from table to table every now and then.
“Good coffee also keeps you sharp and focused. It is easier to communicate when you’ve not had too much to eat or are out for a movie,” he says.
Sonia Mutesi, a filmmaker and choreographer shares the same view.
“Aside from the relationships that start over coffee, it has a rich aroma, and its taste is also alluring,” she says and goes on to add, “In the past, we opted for soda, water and juice and coffee was a last resort, but now days, very many people are on the coffee wagon.”
Mutesi also attributes the increase in coffee consumption to the improvement in quality of coffee brewing within Rwanda.
Coffee and business relations
Coffee also seems to be the drink of interest for most business meetings around town.
Philip Ngarambe, the managing director of P&FR, a branding and marketing firm says, “Offices are great. They are great meeting places but in the business world, particularly when selling something - taking a client out for coffee helps to build a conversation which then helps to create a connection of understanding and even alliance. The moment that is into play, it’s very easy to put an idea on the table and close it.”
He adds, “You don’t want to take your client for beers as you don’treally know their view on drinking. You also don’t want to take them to dinner for the first meeting outside office. So what is left? An invitation for coffee.”
The rise of the coffee culture
Bourbon Coffee was the first prominent café to open shop in 2007 but today, cafés have sprouted in almost every corner of Kigali.
Paul Ntaganda, the General Manager of Bourbon Coffee, says the number of coffee lovers is steadily going up.
“The increase in the number of cafés is a big sign that people are enjoying coffee more and more and this has even pushed coffee outlets to innovate and give their clients a better coffee experience,” he says.
He adds, “Bourbon Coffee came up with ‘African Coffee’ and ‘Ginger Tea’ because of the increase in the demand for coffee drinks.”
As Bourbon Coffee expands its coffee menu, it is also expanding its franchise due to the demand from their client base.
“The reason for the increase in the number of coffee lovers, among many other reasons, is the awareness about the positive health effects of coffee to the heart and body in general and it has helped people appreciate and consume coffee and other products,” Ntaganda says.
As the coffee trend pushes coffee outlets to expand, office spaces have also adopted the culture and some have even gone as far as setting up commercial coffee bars in their buildings.
KLab Coffee Bar is located inside Telecom House, and attracts people on all floors of the building.
Originally it was mainly selling soft drinks, but now the place is popular for lattes, cappuccino and espresso, according to Fais Uwizeye, the managing director of KLab Coffee Bar.
“When we started, people consumed more soft drinks and yoghurt but today, the coffee consumption has gone up significantly and one person can come for coffee over three to four times a day. Workmates come to the coffee bar to relax and have a light conversation over a cup of coffee,” Uwizeye notes.
Mufuth Nkurunziza, a graphic designer, says coffee, his laptop and Wi-Fi is a good combination when staying up late to finish a client’s work.
“If I am determined to finish some work and I’m scared to fall sleep before I finish, I order a latte and put less sugar then get to work. It does magic for me,” he says.
Nkurunziza adds: “It has become a habit now, I always feel like having a latte when I have a lot of work to do but I really enjoy it when it is well prepared.That is the edge cutter.”
What does increase in local coffee consumption mean for Rwanda?
Eric Rukwaya, the sales and marketing manager of Rwanda Farmers Coffee Company (RFCC), says local consumption of coffee is a great boost to local coffee producers.
“Increased coffee consumption locally will bring significant stability to the coffee producing companies because they won’t have to depend much on international coffee prices that fluctuate often,” he says.
He adds: “With producers having a stable local market, it would boost local companies, give farmers a better pay for their coffee but also make the coffee sector investment attractive.”
Rwanda is among the top global coffee producers worldwide together with Kenya, Ethiopia, Brazil and Columbia. However, most of the coffee is exported.
RFCC serves an estimated 30 per cent of their output to the local market and the rest to the regional and international markets with hope that there will be an increase in the local consumption as time goes on.
“Increased coffee consumption is more than just the development of coffee companies;it provides jobs, gives coffee farmers incentives to plant more coffee and in turn, decreases the income inequality gap,” he says.
Rukwaya is passionate about the development of the coffee industry and agrees that local consumption of coffee has greatly increased. He is also optimistic that it will grow further.
Rwanda exported 15,970 tonnes of coffee worth $59.68 million last year, up from $ 54.9 million in 2013.
Why the love for coffee shops?
•It’s not home. Home has any number of distractions--laundry, cleaning, the doorbell, other sorts of to-dos that can be avoided at a coffee shop, meaning you can get work done or goof off less-distractedly. If you have a home office, you appreciate the fact that, in a cafe, there are no interruptions from your wife/husband/kids/roommate who rarely think they are interrupting you when they stick their head in your office and begin their conversation with something like “I’m not interrupting you, am I?”
•It’s not work. Work has its own set of distractions--people stopping by your desk, people talking outside your cube, etc. Coffee shops can provide a good experience for getting real work done. The people in your office want you to talk in hushed tones and have a need for you to appear busier than you really are.
•People are there. Some go to coffee shops simply to have some human interaction, and to force themselves to get dressed in the morning.
•They have Wi-Fi. When you’re in between business meetings or appointments that you drive between, coffee shops have the internet you need.
•They are air conditioned (sometimes): Office space at home or wherever can get so hot in the afternoons you can barely breathe.
•The act of going from your office to a cafe gets the creative juices flowing.
•Being waited on by the cafe staff puts you in the mode of “things coming to you” without much effort.
•It feels good being part of a community -- even if the community disbands after your second cappuccino.
•You like the authenticity of your responses when the geek at the next table, peeking up from his Mac, asks what you’re working on.
•If you go back to the same cafe again and again, you develop trusting relationships with some of the other regulars -- sharing enthusiasm, feedback, and croissants.
•If anything breaks, someone else has to fix it.