Businessmen make a kill from Kenya’s craze for brewed coffee

The growing craze to drink fresh-brewed coffee in Kenya has led to an upsurge of cafes selling the beverage.
Java House, a coffee shop-cum-eatery that has legions of devotees across the Kenyan capital, Nairobi (Net Photo)
Java House, a coffee shop-cum-eatery that has legions of devotees across the Kenyan capital, Nairobi (Net Photo)

The growing craze to drink fresh-brewed coffee in Kenya has led to an upsurge of cafes selling the beverage.

Many businesspersons in the country are opening up coffee bars to satisfy a growing demand from customers in need of the much sort drink across the world. The once lackluster industry, mainly associated with high-end hotels and foreign consumers, is now turning into a multi-million investment as many Kenyans, especially the middle class, embrace coffee drinking.

A walk in the streets of the capital Nairobi reveals that coffee drinking is turning out to be big business for investors as coffee shops aggressively compete for customers. There are tens of newly opened shops mainly dedicated to selling coffee, with hotels and fast food restaurants also doubling up in the business.

Along Kenyatta Avenue, a major street in Nairobi’s Central Business District, one counts several coffee shops, some barely six months old. It is a similar scenario on Biashara, Moi, Koinange, Mama Ngina, and Kimathi streets, among others in the city center. The streets, which are in a radius of less than a km, host over 30 coffee bars. Outside the Central Business District, especially in high- income areas like Kileleshwa, Kilimani, Westlands and Karen, the situation is the same. Coffee bars are outshining each other as they go to the extreme ends in a bid to attract more customers. Most of the shops have luxurious brown or beige couches, magnificent tables and clear fronts made of glasses.

The most prominent coffee bars in Kenya include Savannah Coffee Lounge, Dormans Coffee Ltd and Java Coffee House. The coffee bars, mainly foreign owned have been in Kenya for several years. However, there are associated with high-end customers because most of them started their first outlets in high- income areas targeting foreigners.

Competition in the business, however, has seen customers transform from flashy high-end clientele to ordinary Kenyans, who now frequently meet to transact business or socialize over a cup of coffee.  “Business is good. Many people are coming here to drink coffee, especially this festive season,” Gilbert, an attendant at a coffee shop on Mama Ngina Street said on Tuesday. The shop sells coffee and other beverages that include tea and a variety of juices. According to Gilbert, traffic at the shop is usually high in the evening when people are coming from work. “Most of our customers come from between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. in pairs or groups and stay for about an hour,” he said.

That business is booming for the coffee bar is evident. The shop has placed tables and chairs on its veranda to accommodate more customers. A cup of coffee at the shop, depending on size and blends, goes for between 1.7 and 2.75 U.S. dollars.  “The one costing 1.7 dollars, mostly black coffee, is sold in smaller cups. We do not add any flavor or milk,” he said.

On the other hand, the 2.75 dollars cup is white coffee and is sold in different flavors, which include vanilla and strawberry. In a day, Gilbert said they serve averagely 80 customers. “The number of customers has been growing over time. We started with a few when we opened in February, but the number has increased. We are certain it will continue to rise,” he noted.

Like many other shops in Nairobi, the outlet brews its own coffee.  “We have a coffee-making machine here, which we use to brew the drink. It is a process that takes time but normally we do it in bulk so that we do not experience any shortage,” he said. Gilbert noted that Kenyans have embraced coffee-drinking culture. “It has become a craze. People are shunning tea and other beverages in preference for coffee. It is perhaps the most sought beverage now in Kenya,” he said. He explained that the habit is spreading fast, especially among the middle-class, because for a long time, coffee-drinking has been associated with the rich, where majority of people strive to reach.  “I like fresh-brewed coffee than the processed one,” declared Jane Mumo, an accountant in Nairobi. “This is because it has a rich aroma and is strong.” Every evening while from work, Mumo said she passes by a coffee shop in the city center to take the drink before she heads home.  “Coffee helps me unwind. This is the time I also catch up with

my friends and sometimes discuss business with clients,” she said.
It is estimated that it costs a minimum of 35,000 dollars to establish a coffee bar in Nairobi. Most of the money goes in buying coffee-making machines that cost between 17,647 and 25,882 dollars. A lot of money is also used in furnishing the coffee shops with leather seats and other flashy items. Coffee Board of Kenya estimates that about six-million people are employed directly or indirectly in the coffee industry.

The institution notes that Kenya coffee is world-acclaimed because it has a “distinctly bright acidity and potent sweetness with a dry winy aftertaste.” The board expects export earnings to rise by 7 per cent in the 2011/2012 season, because of high international prices and increased volumes. Kenya earned more than 305 million dollars from coffee exports in 2010/2011 up from 188 million dollars the previous year.


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