Coffee Talk Kenya – meet Esther Otieno, barista trainer, coffee consultant and coffee lover

After posting a coffee guide listing specialty coffee shops in Nairobi late last year, and still having my base in Nairobi where I decided to expand my coffee knowledge, and arguably expertise, it’s time to introduce you to some of the coffee people I’ve met along the way on my Kenyan coffee mission.

First up is Esther, who is actually responsible that some of the coffee shops I mentioned in my last post have great baristas. I first met her when I was given the chance to be one of the judges at Kenya’s National Barista Championships. My next (coffee) honour was being a judge at the Nairobi Latte Art Throwdown, which Esther organises each year. Having been impressed, not only by Esther’s expertise but also her passion for anything concerning coffee, I decided to take some classes with her to up my barista game.

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Esther already worked in coffee for numerous years before she started her own company, BaristaPro Ltd, mid 2014. BaristaPro specialises in providing professional barista skills training and coffee education. Their aim is to develop professionally trained baristas who will promote the quality of brewed coffee wherever they go. Having had good feedback about her courses, it was an easy decision for me to enrol with BaristaPro. After a week’s course, consisting of 5 days with 3 hours of class a day I can highly recommend it to anyone who wants to become a barista or improve their already existing skills. After this possibly too lengthy introduction it’s time to hear what Esther has to say…
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Nairobi Good Coffee Guide

Of course good coffee is arguably very subjective. But when it comes to finding coffee shops serving good coffee in countries which grow coffee, it’s a lot more of a mission than many people would expect. In the meantime my travels have taken me to a good handful of countries where coffee is one of the main exports, and now currently being in Kenya for my second time, I think it’s time I share my findings with you. People who know me, know that I avoid Starbucks, and being in Kenya that means that I also do my best to avoid Java House. With both Starbucks (especially in the USA) and Java House in Kenya, it’s not that I think that they’re completely bad. It’s just that I like to avoid chains, and to be honest, the coffee they serve probably wouldn’t quite be to my liking either. On the other hand I do think both companies massively helped to grow coffee consumption, and it could be argued that the 3rd wave coffee movement wouldn’t be where it is at the moment without these massive coffee chain companies. Luckily in Nairobi, probably also partly due to the numerous expats from all over the world, it’s easy enough for me to avoid Java House, and my focus will be on these locations which make sure that my day gets off to a good start…

Connect Coffee Roasters

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My 1st (coffee) love in Kenya. Connect Coffee Roasters was the first place I truly enjoyed a coffee when I first came to Kenya in spring 2018. Of course I’m aware that people from different countries enjoy their coffee in different ways, and that Kenya despite growing some of the best coffee, is still more of a tea drinking country. It could be argued that Connect is a coffee shop, like many others in many other corners of the world, in New York, London, Paris or other cities which have nice specialty coffee shops, but for me there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. I don’t mind experimenting and trying things, but when it comes to coffee, I like to know that I can rely on the quality of the coffee beans as well as the skills of the baristas and if it’s in a nice surrounding then all the better. At Connect I get all of this, and so whenever I’m in Nairobi it will always be one of my first choices to get my caffeine fix.

A sign of the success Connect has been enjoying can clearly be seen with their expansions. At the original location on Riverside Drive they opened a lovely rooftop space earlier this year. It is not only home to where the roasting magic happens, but also a very chilled space to escape the city crowds and enjoy a great coffee or attend one of various events which take place there. A second location has also recently opened in Gigiri.

Location: Ground floor Riverfront building, Riverside drive road, Nairobi

Barista & Co

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Barista & Co is one of the newest coffee shops in Nairobi, having just opened a few months ago, in August 2018. Some Nairobi locals might already have been familiar with coffee from Barista & Co though, as they started by serving coffee at events back in 2016 . They are still doing this now, alongside having become one of the top addresses in Nairobi for anyone trying to get there specialty coffee fix. Unlike most coffee shops these days, Barista & Co opted for an old-fashioned lever machine, which along with the prominent 20kg Bühler roaster and the numerous brewing devices for filter coffee are the main eye catchers for anyone who visits the coffee shop. Apart from the well prepared coffee drinks, the friendliness and expertise of the staff when it comes to coffee, clearly stand out. Based on this, it’s no big surprise that many workers from the nearby offices decide to escape their desks and prefer sitting at one of the half dozen tables with their tasty coffee drink and relaxed bossa nova beats in the background.

Location: Keystone Park, Riverside Dr, Nairobi

Kesh Kesh

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For me Kesh Kesh Roastery is the final piece in the puzzle of my top 3 coffee shops in Nairobi, which also roast their own coffee. Ready to roast their own beans at any given time and exposing their customers to where the roasting magic happens, Kesh Kesh has their Bühler roaster right behind a glass window, right next to the bar. Design-wise I like Kesh Kesh for being quite different to many other coffee shops, highlighting their Eritrean roots, not only with it being run by Fenkil who’s from Eritrea, but also with the decor and serving, or better said celebrating coffee with a typical Eritrean coffee ceremony.

Well trained baristas and plenty of choices when it comes to food, including both pancakes and French toast, have made it another one of my favourite places to hang out or use it as my coffice for a few hours.

Location: Argwings Kodhek Rd, Timau plaza, Kilimani, Nairobi

Roasted Truth – IKIGAI

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When writing about Roasted Truth, it’s impossible to not also mention IKIGAI. IKIGAI is a co-working office space in Nairobi, better said two spaces as they have two locations. Both amazing spaces! While I’m here to focus on the coffee side of things, it’s quite difficult for me to hide how much I like IKIGAI. I’d probably even die happy, if that was the only place I worked from for the rest of my life. Yes, that’s how much I like it..

So… Roasted Truth is the coffee shop which is part of the IKIGAI co-working office spaces, the first in Westlands and now a second one in Lavington. Roasted Truth at IKIGAI Westlands is set in a valley, surrounded by trees, a lawn and operating out of a shipping container (yes, pretty hipster..) with an attached wooden deck terrace with plenty of tables and chairs.

Roasted Truth at IKIGAI Lavington is quite different. This was the first location I visited, so I had no real expectations, I’d only heard rumours that the coffee should be good. It’s based out of a fairly new business centre, nice enough but maybe a bit sterile.. However when I set foot into IKIGAI my perception changed completely and I can barely stop telling people about it, I really love the space. I love the concept, a lot of wood, a lot of plants, everything seems to have been thought through, has its reason for being.. It’s really probably the nicest designed co-working space I’ve been to, and thank god they didn’t cut corners by not focussing on the quality of coffee. At both locations the sight of a LaMarzoco machine was a good sign for what was to come. Roasted Truth currently get their beans from Connect Coffee Roasters (see above) and the baristas I’ve been served by are also very well trained. Even in the cases when the latte art might have been a bit abstract, the cappuccinos still had a great consistency and were served at a perfect drinking temperature, which unfortunately is not a given.

Location: Westlands: General Mathenge Drive, Nairobi & Lavington: 90 James Gichuru Road, Nairobi

Mwendis Specialty Brew

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Luckily I’m far away from being a fast blogger. Lucky, because if I’d been “in the zone” and posted this blog by late November as I’d initially hoped, I would have missed out on Nairobi’s latest addition to its growing number of specialty coffee locations. Mwendis Specialty Brew is the most different to any other on this list, just for the fact that anyone looking to get their coffee fix with an espresso based beverage will need to look elsewhere. Here there’s no LaMarzoco, LaCimbali or Nuova Simonelli for the baristas to hide behind. Instead when entering there’s a hot brew bar to the left, a cold brew bar to the right and for those who are hungry, a bagel counter in the corner. At the left bar one can choose from pour over (V60 or Chemex), press or syphon. On the right the cold choices are steeping, rapid cooling and water drip. To be totally honest, I’m not even sure if I’d been tempted to try a place like this out as recent as a year ago, but now although I still like my espresso drinks, I think there’s also a time and place for other coffee drinks. Mwendis is certainly making a strong case for me to change my coffee drinking habits a bit, not only by offering so many different options, but also with the design of the location. It’s all made and designed locally, predominantly using wood and stone and huge glass windows at the front and one of the sides.

Talking to the owner, who’s a farmer, with his own organic coffee farm in Meru, it was very interesting to hear his vision. No intentions to have multiple locations or export his coffee. He just wants to offer his coffee to Nairobi.  Hopefully this will be another step, to get coffee in Kenya nearer to be appreciated the way I think it should be. Considering how well Kenyan coffee is known around the world, I really don’t think it gets the recognition it deserves in Kenya itself.

Location: Lenana Road, Kilimani, Nairobi

Tin Roof Cafe

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Out in Karen, Tin Roof Cafe may be slightly out of the way for some people for their daily caffeine fix, whilst in Nairobi. For those living, staying or visiting the giraffes in Karen, Tin Roof Cafe is definitely worth a visit, not just for the coffee but also for its surroundings. The Tin Roof Cafe is part of The Souk, which compared to some of Nairobi’s numerous malls, is more of an understated retail space in a natural green setting with a lawn, many trees, bushes, flowers and birds for those interested in bird watching. Apart from the Cafe, a few smaller stores, an art gallery and a tattoo shop are also part of the space.

The café’s lovely outdoor dining area, includes both a covered terrace as well as wooden picnic tables by the lawn.

Of course, for me the coffee was of utmost importance, which I had along with some pancakes for breakfast. Although the cappuccino I had wasn’t quite in the same league as some of the other coffee shops mentioned above, it was still enjoyable. I would be more than happy to return to Tin Roof Cafe, even if I have to admit that it might be a bit more for the lovely relaxed surroundings than the coffee itself.

Location: Dagoretti Road, The Souk, Karen