It is 10.00 a.m. Joshua and I hop into the Riverfront building – off the riverside drive road, along Chiromo area Nairobi Kenya. The building houses a couple of other valuable companies. Uber-the taxi app is one of them. We are not here for them though. We are here for their neighbor, the opposite facing coffee house. As we amble along the marble pavement, the marvel that meets the eye is pleasantly surprising. It starts with the jutting plants that sway gently at the morning breeze right at the entrance, the café like set-up that opens up as you reach for a seat, the tempting glass cases with decadent treats and a lure of grey and white decor.
The transparent glass walls capture the idyllic; of waiters weaving between the tables, picking orders and serving accordingly. The music is soft. The calming painting and art on the wall is beautiful enough to hold your gaze, as well as the splendid combo of rustic artsy themes and the well curated dining space which is stuff of high art.
‘Welcome to Connect Coffee Roasters,’ says Mr. Duncan Busuru, the calm coffee shop Manager who is as warmly and friendly as are the resident baristas.
The sun is rising. Four ladies are seated at a table some few meters away engaged in a meeting. Adjacent, sits a Caucasian lad buried in a mac. Duncan notices my gaze and responds with clarity, ’we have flexible sockets and strong Wi-Fi. You can work from here as you nurse your favorite flavor.’ ‘There is room for corporate meetings, art events, exhibitions and business meetings,’ he adds. From this customer ensemble that bellies a mix of races, it bespeaks their target group; expatriates, middleclass and the upper, with the majority residing and working in the Westlands and Kileleshwa areas.
Three cups of coffee with milk are brought our way and I am instantly curious to know more about the menu. As I indulge Duncan, he tells me about the varied brewed coffees, the special brewed tea and the juices that range from orange grape fruits, apple carrot to strawberry latte. To crown a hot sunny afternoon one can snack their palatable icecream, the Almond Affogato. As revealed from a number of top local restaurant critics, their waffle is the best in town. But with a disclaimer though; you can’t wolf it down in an instant. It is really huge. Perhaps the gist of this discussion comes to their in-house signature blends of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo, a dark roast with caramel and nutty flavors is a blend of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda coffee. On the other hand, Juliet the mild roast with fruit and flowery flavors is a blend of Kenyan and Ethiopian coffee. There is retail coffee to boost for those who would want to take the experience home. The coffees on sale include the Romeo blend, Juliet blend, Kenyan, Ethiopian, Rwandese, the Romeo blend cold brew and the Juliet blend cold brew, with prices ranging from Kes 800 to Kes 3,200.
The uniqueness does not end at that. There is more.
You want your coffee fresh? Three brewing techniques are at disposal to give you this experience; Kalita, Chemex and Espro Press. Kalita is Japanese, bringing a balanced form of coffee. Chemex, a US way of preparation comes mouth filled. Espro-press, which comes close to its sister French Press, comes with a fine texture. It has a twin feel of rustic and modern, with a sort of sophisticated finish, oozing an urban vibe with plenty of white, grey and black hues.
About 11 months ago the proprietors Mr. Chris Hwang and his wife Ms. Sunny Park, Republic of Korea natives, braved it up and placed their eyes to Africa. The birth of this adventure gave way to a coffee venture that has re-defined the everyday operations of a typical coffee house. It is premised on unique operating models: connecting with farmers, connecting with customers and eventually with people. The first model explains their partnership with farmers. They support the farmers by contributing farm inputs, facilitating cultivation training and monitoring and evaluation, then end up purchasing the harvested coffee at better market prices. Through this they have ensured that the coffee that reaches their restaurant is original and that customers get to have a much more fresh experience. ‘Through our direct sourcing and the onsite roasting , we strive to be as transparent as possible with our customers,’ says Duncan. Currently, their pilot farms are in Kiambu in Gatundu South.
To fortify relationships with customers, the restaurant started coffee brewing classes at the beginning of this year. In these classes, customers are run through the basics of brewing. They are first taken through the farmer story (the cultivation, support, growth and harvest), then the seed to cup model that explains how Connect Coffee sources, process and finally extracts its coffee. Each session takes two hours and only six people are allowed to sign up. On average, the classes happen thrice in a month.
It might look rosy but then, like a normal business challenges are there too. First, finding the right mold of farmers is quite hard. The challenge lies in finding consistent passionate farmers. Another issue has to do with the changing climate patterns such as the increase in surface temperatures that affects the quality of coffee. However, with every waking challenge they have been quick to tackle and used them as a learning experience.
As far as Menu expansion is concerned, the restaurant is not keen on expanding much like other thriving coffee houses . “Our goal is to specialize in coffee and be the best. We want to be the one stop coffee shop for fresh coffee in the city,’’ says the Manager as the Director Mr. Chris Hwan looks on, and nods in tandem. They intend to set up a coffee academy that offers the best training for baristas. This will help in posting competent baristas to the different upmarket franchises that they would have opened. They also intend to expand the number of small scale coffee farmers.