Connect Coffee Roasters

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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.

The Start

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.

The Future

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.

 

 

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Mr. Daniel Juma’s Passion For Korea.

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With such an easy smile and warm personality, Mr. Juma comes across as a person who can get along with anyone. Beneath that accommodating demeanor sits a large heart that has enough room for everyone. It is no doubt he is the Kenya Country Director of the Global Peace Foundation, an organization that prides in promoting innovative, values-based approach to peacebuilding across the globe.

Alongside his family –the wife and two kids, Henry and Regina, Korea holds a special place in his heart. Bring up a conversation on Korean peninsula and Juma will engage  you with refined alacrity. He listens to Psy and SHINee and previously enjoyed the Korean zombie apocalypse blockbuster ‘Train to Busan’. Once in a while he will nip into a Korean restaurant for a plate of samgyeopsal and Bulgogi. He admires their culture from the work ethic, their level of discipline, filial piety and the respect they have for superiors. “Surprisingly, a Korean boss  can berate you but at the end of the day, he/she will buy you a drink and you will get along. Koreans don’t hold grudges,” he adds.

How It all Started

It falls back to 1995 when he made a Korean friend while on tour in Japan who would later invite him  to Korea. At that time he was a Business Administration student at Kenya Polytechnic (now Technical University of Kenya). Visiting  his new Korean friend in 1997, he would end up staying for a year, working in MOKPO as a welder at a ship-building company while privately tutoring English. It is during this period that he was first immersed into Korean culture, learning the language basics  and local cultural practices; traits that served to his favor when he was easily hand picked for a job at KOTRA Nairobi office some few years later.

Meeting a potential Korean investor to Kenya changed Juma’s fate. He went to Manila, Philippines to learn about car importation business, only to be posted to Germany  where he worked and enrolled for East Asian studies at Duisberg university. Six months into it, he would then travel to Kenya to apply for a visa but never returned after losing his documents at the airport. However, while mooching about the city he bumped into Kotra-Nairobi offices. From here his life took a different turn.

Working At KOTRA

“Being considered for a volunteer position at Kotra worked on a whim. I walked  into the then director’s office, Mr. Won Sok Yun (now the Vice President of KOTRA), and he was  way impressed that I could speak Korean and exercise a few cultural practices like bowing to seniors.’ ….’I caught wind of this coming business delegation at Safari Park hotel and was invited  to volunteer for a few days.’ As we know now, the few days translated to 11 years. That was in 2000. He rose from  that volunteer position to an intern, transitioned  to a trade officer and then ended up as an Assistant Manager in charge of Trade and Investment promotion, a position  he would hold until his last days at Kotra.

“Working at KOTRA was one of those formative periods in my career if I can look back. I had learnt  about the Korean culture and could speak  basic Korean. It was therefore easy to work with Koreans.’…’The fact that I loved my job was really instrumental. I never left the office  at 5. I could leave around 8 or 9 at night, and I loved it.’ Juma zealously worked to build Korea’s economic diplomatic foray into the East African region. He learnt and exercised the rigors  of economic diplomacy. His  fruits would come to  bear when the trade  imports from Korea  to Kenya rose during the peak of his tenure. As if that was not enough to enhance his diplomacy skills  he enrolled for  international relations at the Institute of Diplomacy and International  Studies at the University of Nairobi, where  he did a thesis  entitled “Kenya’s Foreign Policy Shift from Political to Economic Diplomacy” in which he gave policy recommendations that led to the transformation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to what is now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In 2011, he would hung his boots at Kotra for another venture. But his love for Korea never fizzled out.

Dream For The Unification of Korea

Juma has been one of those consistent voices  vouching for the re-unification of the Korean Peninsula. ‘A united Korea will be one of the strongest economies, surpassing the likes of Japan and China.’ ‘Picture the unexploited human resources in North Korea, the labor force from the North (who are educated in their own right), the ambitious South Korea and the opportunity to do more investments in the North. That gets to tell you something..” He recommends the book The Korean Dream  by Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, which offers a more authoritative and compelling  argument for a united Korea.

Alongside his boss, the Founder and Chairman of the Global Peace Foundation, the mentioned Dr. Moon , and the entire GPF team they organised a campaign in Manilla inviting Korean pop singers to create awareness of this unification call. In 2015, he travelled to Seoul with the NASA leader Raila Odinga, accompanied by the Kisii Governor Mr Evans Ongwae and Turkana Governor Josephat Nanok. It was one of the platforms  he used to rally  the re-unification whilst convincing the Kenyan leaders to borrow from the Korean model of development. They visited Saemaul Undong centre and held meetings with Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) officials and Korea International Trade Association President.

He labels the separation between the two Koreas as a global humanitarian issue that needs the approach that solved apartheid in S. Africa. Despite having hope, he is saddened by the thought that the world cares little.

Enrolling For Korean Studies

In 2013, the University of Nairobi established a Korean Studies center with the support of the Korean Foundation  and the Academy of Korean Studies. It was not an afterthought for Juma despite being accomplished. Right away he enrolled for a BA degree in Korean Studies.’I didn’t enroll in order to better my chances of getting a job,’ he notes with a stiffled laugh.’I did it for the love of Korea. I wanted to sharpen  my Korean language speaking skills and be an expert in this area,’ he adds. The journey , however, has not been easy. As an Executive Director  he has alot on his plate. Additionally, he has  a family to tend to. All those commitments leave him with little time to study. However, he is quick to appreciate his supportive Korean language lecturer Prof Yuhjin Park. ‘She’s very understanding and practical.’

Asked about the current relations between Korea and Kenya, Mr.Juma lowers his head and goes into reflective mood. He is dissappointed about the infiltration of cheap Chinese products in the Kenyan market when you have Korean products that are of good quality. He mentions the current Standard Gauge Railway project (SGR) that was to be won by KORAIL (Korea Railroad Corporation) but ended up with the Chinese. He is certain that KORAIL  would have done a good job.  He hopes  that engagements  between Korea and Kenya  grow. ”You’re better off partnering with Koreans. Besides making profit, they will educate you,’ he notes.

‘With your widened experience in diplomacy, would you consider going for an Ambassador position sometime in future?’ I implore.”Why not? “he responds with a chuckle. As it looks, he still burns with ambition.