The Future of Kenya Coffee Culture Looks Bright

In this five part series, I recap my recent trip to Kenya where I sampled the up and coming coffeehouse culture Kenya. In the final part of this series I have a couple of suggestions on how Kenyan coffeehouses can continue to develop Kenya’s own coffeehouse culture.

Loot! Bags of Dormans Coffee Beans, originally uploaded by andai.

Although I tried a number of coffeehouses, cafes and hotels, the focus of this five part series was Nairobi Java House, Dormans and Artcaffe. I have to say that out of the three, I really enjoyed my visits to Dormans and to Artcaffè. These are the two places that I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to enjoy a nice espresso. On the other hand, my visit to Nairobi Java House was not special nor memorable, at least in a positive way. The lattes, though not too bad, were not necessarily something that I would look forward to going back to get.

So what was it then that drew me towards Dormans and Artcaffè and gave me a less than positive image of Nairobi Java House? The lattes at both of these places were great but what really left me a with a memorable experience was their great customer service.

I certainly believe that the Kenyan coffeehouse culture is up and coming, and is in the good and capable hands of people like Alex and Steve who are the baristas I meet at Dormans. Kenyan coffee has always been recognized the world over for quality, and now the other part of equation, home grown coffee roasting and coffeehouse culture is beginning to emerge. I think that is remarkable.

Yet there is one major of action the various coffeehouses, especially Nairobi Java House, need to take into consideration if they really want to become a world class coffeehouse.

Coffeehouses have to adopt an ‘intelligent’ customer service model!

For example, the coffee shops (and even the malls in Nairobi or Kenya where they are located) need to toss out the general ban on photography within the premises. I had in interesting but negative experience with this, twice at Nairobi Java House that in many ways colored my impression of that place giving me an overall negative impression of Java House. And yet I also had a pleasant experience with this at Artcaffè and also the Dormans at The Junction which in turn only endeared me more to the two.

Let me narrate two different experiences I had regarding the exact same issue, photography. When I first went to Nairobi Java House, I first asked the supervisor for permission to take a picture in the place. He told me that I couldn’t because there was a ‘no photography’ policy in place. When I pressed him on that, he could not tell me why the policy was originally instituted but after I gave him the reasoning behind why he should let me do so, he relented and allowed me to take a picture. But only if I made sure that the picture did not include the main store, especially the espresso bar, in the background.

But the folks at the Nairobi Java House at the Junction were the worst of all. Not only did they not allow me to take pictures of my coffee cup, but the supervisor told me that if I did, I would be “in trouble” and that I could do so only if I was off the premises. Clearly these people completely missed the point of the reason why I would want to take pictures at all. And little did he know that I had already taken plenty of pictures of the place the whole time I was there!

On the other hand, when I went to Artcaffè, not only did the manager let me take photos of my coffee cup, but he also let me take pictures of the interior of the place and the cool coffee roasting machine they had on display. The people at Artcaffè were very pleasant, welcoming and extremely accommodating!

And here is the difference between Artcaffè and Java House. I think the manager at Artcaffè truly understood that a good restaurant is not just good food, but also great customer service. And in this case, my blogging about my great experience at Artcaffè and posting great pictures of the place can only help promote the place with free word of mouth advertising. He clearly understood that.

My visit to Dormans at the Junction was also similar in that I was able to take really beautiful pictures of Latte art that ultimately will showcase the skills of the baristas at Dormans and acts as a testament for Dormans in general. They certainly go the idea.

On the other hand, the folks at Nairobi Java House have yet to understand this. All they know is that no photography is allowed at the place. Not only can they not tell you why they don’t allow photography, but they also can’t really reasonably think of how they can accommodate reasonable requests from customers. It was because of this lousy customer service I decided that I wasn’t interested in visiting Nairobi Java House any more.

And yet I bet if you were to talk to the Java House folks, they probably do believe their customer service is great. This is why I think Nairobi Java House (and businesses in general) need to adopt what a more intelligent kind of customer service where the employee not only understands why certain rules and policies exist and can then act on those in a more intelligent way. In other words the employee is trained and then empowered to make decisions that make sense and go to the spirit of the rules and regulations rather than the strict wording of the policies.

Now think about this for a moment. Why would a coffeehouse ban customers from taking pictures of themselves within the premises when this is a very common activities at eating places around the world? This policy just does not make sense at all. What is even ironic is even if they wanted to ban photography on the premises; it is very easy to take pictures of the place without the knowledge of the staff. But sometimes I just shake my head at the mentality of some of these Kenyan businesses.

And yet even as I write this I am convinced that over time things will change as these and other business continue to grow and evolve and embrace the fact that organizations today and constantly changing their approach to customer service. This even so in light of the internet and social media.

But despite the little ‘only in Kenya’ type of oddities here and there (which is probably the subject of another blog post), I am pretty happy with what I have seen so far in terms of Kenya’s coffeehouse culture. I think the biggest thing going for the Kenyan coffeehouse culture is the excellent quality of the espresso drinks served at some of the local coffeehouses.

If you who want to enjoy a great cup of espresso in Nairobi, as you would in places like Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco, Italy, etc., you can make you way to Dormans, Artcaffè and even Nairobi Java House and you’re set!

Now I think I will head into the kitchen, pull out a bag of my Dormans Continental blend coffee beans and my stove top espresso maker, and make myself a cup of espresso …

Dormans is The Kenyan Coffee Powerhouse

In this five part series, I recap my recent trip to Kenya where I sampled the up and coming coffeehouse culture Kenya. In the fourth part of the series, I give compare the three, Nairobi Java House, Dormans and Artcaffè, by taking a look at Dormans

Dormans Latte Art, originally uploaded by andai.

In my opinion, Dormans, “the coffee experts”, was the icing on the cake of my coffee sampling trip to Kenya.

Like I had mentioned in one of my previous posts, Dormans came highly recommended to me by a couple of people and as a result, this was one place I was really looking forward to trying out. Dormans actually has a number of retail locations in and around Nairobi but the one that I really liked was the Dormans retail location at The Junction. I also checked out the one located at the Yaya Centre mall and visited but did not sample at the one located at the Westgate mall.

The first thing I noticed about Dormans is that they tend not to rent their own dedicated rental shop space. It seems to be that their strategy is to rent ‘courtyard’ space within the various malls and set up an espresso bar and chairs and tables for cafeteria style sitting.

At the Yaya Centre location, the Dormans there has got to be the tiniest espresso stand I have ever seen anywhere. It is tucked under this little nook, and I would dare to say that if you were the typical NFL football player or NBA basketball player, you would not be able to fit behind the stand. There is however, more than ample seating for customers who want to sit and relax there.

At the same time, the Dormans espresso bar at the Westgate mall is the largest stand of the three that I have seen thus far. This particular Dormans has the best and most comfortable seating of the three I have visited thus far. The seating includes almost ‘lounge’ style of seating. And at the time I was there, I did not order any drinks, nor sit and relax there because… I was at Artcaffè downstairs.

The second thing I noticed was the wherever there is a Nairobi Java House, there is a Dormans. Once again without knowing the actual details, I would hazard a guess that their strategy is to appeal to those who want a good cup of espresso but are not looking to eat lunch or dinner. Unless I was pretty hungry and I wanted an actual meal, given the choice between Nairobi Java House and Dormans, I would certainly choose Dormans! I am guessing that they probably do have a symbiotic relationship.

Just like Artcaffè, I had a great customer service experience at the Dormans… well more specifically the Dormans located at The Junction. The two baristas I talked to, Alex and Steven stood out to me in contrast the the baristas at Nairobi Java House, and even the Dormans baristas at Westgate mall. I liked the fact that Alex and Steve were interested in promoting Dormans as a world class coffeehouse and this they did in my opinion. In addition, they were glad to show us their skills in the art of the barista. This is an indication that they are passionate about coffee… a passion that sadly many coffeehouses, even in Seattle, lack.

Without breaking any of the in-house rules and regulations, Alex and Steve were able to accommodate our requests rather than the other places where the baristas and waiters simply repeated the “no photography” policy. As a result, I was able to get a great picture of the beautiful latte art they did for me (as you can see at the top of this posting). It is mainly as a result of these two baristas, that I ended up going back specifically to the other Dormans locations instead of Nairobi Java House.

And Of course in addition to great customer service, the most important aspect of a coffeehouse is the coffee, good coffee. And I have to say that I think Dormans has excellent coffee. Not only did I enjoy an excellent latte that Alex pulled for me, but I the day I was flying back to Seattle I went to Nakumatt and bought bags of Dormans coffee to take back, some for me and some for friends here in Seattle.

Artcaffè, Another Amazing Kenyan Coffeehouse

In this five part series, I recap my recent trip to Kenya where I sampled the up and coming coffeehouse culture Kenya. In the third part, I examine the three, Nairobi Java House, Dormans and Artcaffè, continuing with Artcaffè Coffeehouse & Bakery

Artcaffe at Westgate, originally uploaded by andai.

The second coffeehouse I visited in Nairobi was Artcaffè, which is located at the Westgate mall in the Westlands neighborhood.

Artcaffè was a place I discovered purely by chance. I knew there was a Dormans Coffeehouse at the Westgate mall and so my original intention of going there was to visit Dormans. For those of you have have yet to visit the Westgate mall, you will notice to your left, as you enter the mall through the main entrance, the open patio seating for Artcaffè. There was a sign there that actually peaked my interest because with the name, Artcaffè, the sign had the tagline, “coffeehouse and bakery”.
So rather than going straight up to the 2ndfloor where Dormans is located, we decided to just go and check out the place, simply take a quick peek inside and see if it indeed looked like a coffeehouse or at least served espresso. If so, then we would try the place out and visit Dormans the next day instead since Dormans was in plenty of locations.

After a quick word with the maître d’hôtel, we ended up ordering lattes instead of going to Dormans. Dormans would have to wait for another day. The latte I had there was actually really good… it even came with a heart shaped latte art design. I certainly had a great time there.

Now the one thing about Artcaffè that really stood out for me, besides the fact that my latte was great, was their customer service. Of the three places, Artcaffè clearly had the superior customer service. I really liked the fact that the waiters/waitresses were not only helpful and attentive, but that they were flexible and thinking out of the box. There were three things specifically that I thought were really awesome that they did for me.

  1. Even though the was a general policy forbidding photography, the people there were very understanding and accommodating and allowed me to take pictures. They were satisfied that I wasn’t trying to set up my own coffeehouse, though we joked a bit about that, and I think the manager really understood that in the age of the Internet, my blogging about their place is actually free publicity. I didn’t meet the manager in person but the waitress gave me his card just in-case I wanted to contact him in the future.
  2. When I asked to borrow an empty paper cup so that I could take a picture of it, the waitress said she’d see what she could do. She came back some minutes later and actually gave me the cup and told me I could keep it. This is in stark contrast to Nairobi Java House who told me that the only way I could get an extra cup was if I was to order another latte… This despite the fact that I had ordered a latte. What was even more bizarre was that when I offered to buy a cup from Java House, since I thought maybe they are really tight on inventory control, the supervisor was not having any of that.
  3. Finally, the fact that the maître d’hôtel were really friendly and passionate about the place and they were willing to give us interesting tidbits about the coffeehouse despite the fact that they they were also really busy dealing with other customers, I thought was really incredible. They actually did a great job of answering my questions and tag teaming as they also attended to customers coming in and out of the place.

Once again I have to say that this place had excellent customer service, and that alone, along with their great coffee will certainly drive me to go back to Artcaffè for my latte next time I am ever in the area.

Artcaffè certainly made a great impression on me and this is once of the places that I would highly encourage friends and family to go check out if they happen to be visiting the area.

Nairobi Java House, One of the Kenyan Coffee Powerhouses

In this five part series, I recap my recent trip to Kenya where I sampled the up and coming coffeehouse culture Kenya. In the second part of the series, I give compare the three, Nairobi Java House, Dormans and Artcaffè, starting with Nairobi Java House.

Nairobi Java House at The Junction, originally uploaded by andai.

The first coffeehouse I had the opportunity to check out while I was in Nairobi was Nairobi Java House.

Originally the goal was to have gone to the Dormans, located at Yaya Centre mall in Nairobi’s Hurlingham neighborhood, but instead, I ended up at Nairobi Java House. On entering the place, I the first thing that I noticed was that the majority of the people eating at there where not actually drinking coffee or any espresso type drinks. They were instead ordering fruit juices, soda, ice cream shakes to go their burgers and French fries (or chips as they call them in Kenya). This I think was the oddest part of Nairobi Java House because from the name itself and the fact that they do pride themselves in their coffee, I would assume that it was a total coffeehouse. But that not a deal breaker, I would still go there anyways.

I was not super excited their coffee. Please don’t get me wrong, the coffee wasn’t bad at all, it simply wasn’t exceptional. Now I say this, not because I was expecting the coffee to be spectacular, rather after I had the opportunity to sample some of the other coffeehouses, I realized that Nairobi Java House still had a little bit of a way to go to catch-up with the others… at least in terms of coffee anyway. It is interesting to note that one of my sources told me that their coffee actually used to be worse and when Dormans came in, it was actually baristas from Dormans who helped train the baristas at Nairobi Java House… thus helping them improve on their espresso. And that I think is ok because in my mind, there is always room for improvement no matter how good your coffee is.

But ultimately what really put me off from Nairobi Java House was their customer service. Of the three, comparing Nairobi Java House, Dormans and Artcaffe, the customer service at Nairobi Java House’s came in a distant third compared to Artcaffè and Dormans. This more than anything else made me realize that I would not be too interested in going back there especially since the coffee was not exceptional.

Although I didn’t like the customer service at the Yaya Centre location, at least the supervisor allowed me to take pictures of my paper coffee cup “…as long as the background of the pictures did not show the main espresso bar area nor the customers seated in the place”. However, the Nairobi Java House located at The Junction, they would not allow me to even take a picture of the cup while I was inside the place. It was there that I heard the rudest reply from the supervisor. He actually told me that I would get into big trouble if I took a picture in the place and if I wanted to take a picture of the cup I would have to be off the premises including the patio. Now what supervisor did not realize was that the whole time I was there, I had been taking plenty of pictures in and around the place including their espresso bar. I even got a couple of great overhead pictures. Ha! I guess the joke’s on them after all.

But I have to give credit where credit is due. The one thing I really like about Java House is the interior décor of the place… which is why I actually took the pictures of the place knowing very well that they would not allow me to do so anyway. I loved the colors they chose which sort of reminded me of a cross between the Kenyan national colors and the Kenyan savannah. I really think that it’s a mistake not to let people take pictures inside the place in part because the pictures on the Nairobi Java House website are not that great and partly because if people post their pictures in sites like Flickr, Facebook and the like, this would be great free publicity and wider promotion.

I do know some people who do love the coffee at Java House and I think if they enjoy the place, more power to them. If you disagree (or agree) with my notion that their coffee is not the greatest, feel free to leave you comments and tell us what you think.

Espresso Culture in Kenya is Alive and Well

In this five part series, I recap my recent trip to Kenya where I sampled the up and coming coffeehouse culture Kenya. In the first part I introduce you to the three of the coffeehouses I visited and blogged about earlier

Nairobi Java House Sign, originally uploaded by andai.

Nairobi! A city I used to know relatively well and spend a good deal of time in. Nairobi is a place that has great beer, but one thing I knew for sure was that in the past, getting great espresso was just something else. This irony here is that Kenyan coffee was known and prized around the world too.

Yes there were plenty of cafés and a couple of places that called themselves a coffeehouses and I do still remember that wonderful smell of fresh coffee that some of the places had. But these were not necessarily what I would term as the real traditional coffeehouses as we would think of today, real coffeehouses with the real coffeehouse culture that actually served proper espresso drinks were far and in-between. I remember that many who asked for coffee would actually ask for Nescafé. This would be akin to going to a café today and asking for a nice hot cup of Folgers!

And even though you could get places that actually had coffee beans, the choice of coffee beans and blends was actually pretty limited and certainly nothing to write home about. But that was then and this is now…

In just the last five or so years there has blown, a favorable wind of change… a few players have emerged who I believe have started changing the perception of coffee among Kenyans. Two of these new players, Nairobi Java House and Dormans, have started the beginnings of what I think is going to be the true, local coffeehouse culture in Nairobi

With Nairobi Java House, Dormans and even Artcaffè plying their liquid golden wares, I can confidently tell you that you can now get excellent, world class espresso in Nairobi (and Mombasa), espresso, just as you would get many of the coffee shops in Seattle, Vancouver BC or any other city that proudly serves espresso. I can also tell you with great pride that on my ‘short’ trip to Kenya, I actually drunk lattes here in Nairobi that were way better than many I have tasted in a number of the coffee shops I’ve visited in Seattle, San Francisco or Vancouver BC.

It was one of my goals, on my trip to Kenya this past August, to sample the various espresso offerings from Nairobi Java House and Dormans, and any other coffeehouses that I happen to find. I really wanted to find out what Kenya’s (or Nairobi’s) new contribution to the global coffeehouse culture looked like. And I had the feeling that the experience should be good. I was especially looking forward to trying out Dormans Coffee. Not only had they came highly recommended by a few friends, but also because they were really active with the World Barista Championships. John Makau, one of the Dormans baristas placed 23rd in the 2009 WBC held in Atlanta earlier this year is a testimony to the fact that Dormans certainly does take their espresso seriously. And at the very least this would be a fun experience.

The next post starts by looking at Nairobi Java House, which is the first real big coffeehouse established in Kenya.

Exotica Serves Great LavAzza Coffee

Lavazza at Exotica, originally uploaded by andai.

Exotica is a little café located in my old stomping grounds of Westland.

They serve Lavazza coffee which I was pleasantly surprised to find here in Kenya. Reason being that even in Seattle, there are less than three places I can name off head that also serve Lavazza coffee beans and all three do a really lousy job of it. Now Exotica used to serve Dormans coffee beans but after the owner started traveling more and finding other coffees around the world especially in Italy, they decided that they would import Italian coffee and sell that instead.

The reason for this decision was to simply bring something different to the table. This was not a condemnation of Dormans coffee beans which the folks there agreed was pretty good coffee but many places in the city served that and they simply wanted to offer something different.

I asked them about Java House. They were really polite but frank with their answer. The reason they used to use Dormans instead of Nairobi Java House is that they felf that Nairobi Java House’s coffee was not to the same standard as that of Dormans. This statement once again confirmed what I have heard from others about the fact that Dormans is a much better roaster than Java House.

The barista at Exotica made me a nice strong latte that I enjoyed. This was a big surprise to me because of my past experiences with Lavazza lattes in Seattle. I have had Lavazza coffee before in a couple of places in Seattle and I have always been disappointed… in that the lattes I have previously gotten have been pretty bad. Therefore it was a surprise to me that the barista at Exotica actually made me the first Lavazza coffee bean latte that I have actually enjoyed drinking.

Exotica used to have two locations. Their flagship store was located downtown Nairobi but that had to be closed down due to problems with the building in which they were located. They are now looking for another location downtown for their flagship store.

Dormans Espresso at The Creek Marina

The Creek Marina Latte, originally uploaded by andai.

As my cousin and I were coming back from a day trip to South Coast I told her I needed to get my daily fix of espresso and that we should go to Dormans… wherever that was located. However, since we had already crossed Nyali bridge with all crazy traffic, and also since it was already past 6:00 PM she told me that it was very likely that the place would probably be already closed by the time we turned around and crossed the bridge again. But she suggested that we go to one of her favorite hangout joints that served the best cocktails in town… oh and espresso drinks too. The place she took me to is The Creek Marina.

So they do serve the best cocktails in town, but what I really wanted to know is, do they serve good espresso? The waiter was nice. When we asked about their coffee, he told us that they only served espresso and cappuccino. I didn’t really want to go into the details of what he meant by espresso as opposed to cappuccino but I thought at least that was a start. I then asked him to show me where they made the coffee, and he pointed it out. I was glad to note that they indeed have a proper espresso machine. I don’t know if it was a La Marzacco or whatever but I knew that the barista would have to pull the espresso shots by hand and that was good enough for me. My mind was made up. I will order a latte here.

I liked the view and the surroundings. It was rather dark so I was not able to fully appreciate the view, but the little I saw was enough to convince me that during the daylight hours the view of the water must have been pleasant and relaxing. We settled down, and when the waiter came, I ordered a latte. At first the waiter was a little confused as to what I meant by a latte but after I explained that it was not too far off from a cappuccino, he said that he would go and talk to the barista about this. The barista clearly knew what I was talking about because less than five minutes later, he was back with my latte.

The latte was not super strong the way I like it, but it wasn’t bad at all. As I was drinking it I found the first couple of sips so be a little strange mainly because I couldn’t really place the coffee. But as I continued to sip the latte, the flavors started to draw me in gently but easily and I began enjoying each successive sip more and more.

Now being rather curious about this particular coffee, where they got it from and what blend they used, I inquired of the waiter for details. His answer was rather surprising to me and almost a little amusing. He told us that they used Dormans coffee beans, which they bought from the supermarket, Nakumatt. The fact that they went to Nakumatt to buy coffee beans is what really threw me off.

It was then that it all of a sudden struck me, the reason why I initially couldn’t really place the coffee, that is, where the coffee was from. Because the latte was not as strong as I would normally order, there was a slightly stronger than usual influence from the creamy milk than would have been if the coffee was pretty strong. Over the years having lived in the US, I have gotten used to US milk and almost forgotten how fresh and flavorful Kenyan milk is. US milk tends not to be as creamy and fresh tasting as the milk in Kenya I figured the combination of the creamy, Kenyan milk and the not too strong espresso shot was resulting in the flavor I tasted in my latte.

One thing that I am quickly coming to realize in Kenya is that many people do not drink really strong espresso drinks and so often when I order the equivalent of a tall (12 oz) latte, the latte will be a single shot and the milk will be really creamy. That almost seems to me like the makings of a different class of lattes right there. What I need to do whenever I visit Kenya is to remember to order an extra shot of espresso with my latte. This of course is the difficulty of ordering a latte from a place you’ve never been to before since you are never quite sure how strong your espresso drink will be until you’ve received drink order.

Oh yes, the Creek Marina is a pleasant place to hang out if you happen to be in that part of Mombasa.

Sarova Latté at the Whitesands Beach Resort

My Sarova Three Layered Latte, originally uploaded by andai.

One thing that I have noticed is that Dormans has really made a push towards becoming the dominant supplier for coffee to many eating establishments around Nairobi and Mombasa. So it was no surprise to find out that Dormans supplies all the coffee needs for the Whitesands Beach hotel. I am guessing that Dormans probably supplies coffee to the whole Sarova group of hotels of which Whitesands Beach resort is one of them.

This being Mombasa and at the beginning of the tourist season, it’s pretty hot and humid… and finding a nice cool shaded place to relax with a cold drink is gold. But for those of you who know me by know me, the heat and humidity here is certainly not going to stop me from trying out one of the lattes here. It turns out I actually ordered two lattes in a row… and an hour later I was very awake and alert!

The first latte was served in a nice espresso glass cup. It looked really beautiful, not from latte art, but because it was in three layers, starting with the white foam on top, the darker espresso/milk in the middle and the lighter milk/espresso at the bottom. It also came with a shot glass on the side of what I initially thought was whiskey or rum but it turns out it was a maple syrup or something like that. I asked for raw sugar instead. The head of foam was huge and solid. When I poured my sugar on it, the sugar sat there, right on top of the foam, until I stirred it and mixed it all in.

It was a nice, rich and creamy latte, which is something I have noticed here with some of the coffee establishments. I just think it’s the difference in milk, whereby the milk is the US is not rich and tends to taste rather bland… which is one reason I think it really had to make good tea or chai in the US… but I digress. Overall I enjoyed the latte only wishing it was a little bit stronger… and so I ordered another.

When I ordered my latte I asked that they add an extra shot of espresso and I also asked that they give me much less foam. The second latte was also pretty nice. It was certainly much stronger than my first latte and tasted a little less creamy than the first one. This I believe was simply because this was a strong double espresso shot.

Gosh… these lattes are certainly going to keep be alert for a little while…

Artcaffè Excellence at the Westgate Mall

Artcaffe Latte, originally uploaded by andai.

This particular Saturday afternoon, I had some business that I needed to take care of at the Westgate mall. And since I hadn’t yet had my latte for the day, I thought I might as well kill two birds with one stone by picking up a latte while I was there. I knew that both Nairobi Java House and Dormans had retail spaces in this mall. And after my great experience with the Dormans coffee bar at The Junction mall the day before, the choice was pretty clear which of the two I intended to visit. By the way, I don’t know who came up with that expression, “kill two birds with one stone” but I can assure you that no birds (or animals for that matter) were hurt during my visit to the Westgate mall.

Just like the Dormans at the Yaya Centre, the Dormans at Westgate is located, not in a retail shop, but is run as a large espresso stand on the 2nd or 3rd floor court area of the Westgate Mall. By the way, the malls in Kenya tend not to have food courts like they do in the US so the lobby/court areas tend to look more like café or lounge type areas with seating. This is a similar concept to the Il Fornaio, the Italian bakery space at the Pacific Place in downtown Seattle if you are familiar with Pacific Place. The Dormans seating is actually pretty awesome and very comfortable. When I thought about it, I actually liked the concept because it looks very relaxing yet open and inviting. You didn’t have that closed, confined feeling that you might get if you were seated in a retail shop.

So the plan was to check out Dormans… alas, it was not ment to be… because… we just happened to stumble upon Artcaffè, coffee and bakery quite by pure chance. And though I really didn’t know anything about the place, just the fact that they advertised themselves as a coffeehouse caught my attention. I wanted to see what they were all about and how their coffee stacked up to Dormans and the rest.

The two ladies are the front, the maître d’hôtel, were really nice. Since I initially wasn’t too sure about the place, I told them they I simply wanted to take a look to see what espresso machine the place used. At least I could get an idea from this as to the type of baristas they had. I also asked them if they actually served espresso as opposed to regular drip or brewed coffee. One of them confidently told me that not only did they serve espresso, but their espresso was actually the best in town… no doubt. The way she said it made me think that this was probably not just some idle boast… and this really peaked my interest.

I noticed after a quick glance at the bar was that they actually have a La Marzocco all their espresso drinks were hand pulled using freshly ground coffee. I returned to the front to tell the maître d’hôtel, I now was convinced this was a place worth trying and that I would now take her up on her boast. I then noticed that right there by the entrance to the right, they actually had a really cool copper, almost vintage looking Has Garanti coffee roasting machine.

Dormans was going to have to wait for another day..

Artcaffe at Westgate, originally uploaded by andai.

I opted to sit at one of the high tables that were surrounding the perimeter of the interior, mainly because if I wanted to take any pictures of the place, I would be at a good vantage point… and also it would let me be able to get a good view of the surroundings. And so I was able to check out the place better. Artcaffè actually looks really nice.

The décor consists more of muted colors that remind me of a softer version of the Fonté Coffee Roaster’s Flagship store on Seattle’s 1st Avenue just south of Pike Place Market. I liked that they had the mix of the normal type of tables in addition to the high tables with high chairs. Then there is the bar seating for those who wanted to be close to the action, I do believe there was some upstairs seating too. There also is outside seating which I think is just right for Nairobi but for reasons explained earlier I chose to sit along the perimeter of the interior.

Despite the tag, Artcaffè, Coffee and Bakery, I would say that the place actually looks more like a really nice restaurant rather than a coffeehouse… but one thing for sure, it certainly do not look like any old bakery at all.

I must say that I really like the customer service they had at Artcaffè. Now the Dormans people at The Junction, especially Alex and Steve, were really awesome. However, the Dormans folks at Westgate were not so great… I found this out later after I had my fill of espresso from Artcaffè and went upstairs to see what the Dormans space looked like. I wanted to take a picture or two there but they were not very helpful.

In contrast to the Westgate Dormans people, the staff at Artcaffè were really awesome, and the manager, even though I didn’t actually get to chat with him, was really nice and flexible and allowed me to take pictures of the inside. I felt that this is what good customer service should be like, that even though they have certain rules and policies in place, they are also flexible and can adjust accordingly as needed.

We ordered our lattes. I wanted a double but in a single serving size. This I think was the equivalent of a double 8 oz latte. The lady who brought over my latte warned me, “careful, this is very strong” I had to smile as thanked her and assured her, not in a mean way by any means, that I would be able to handle strong latte. I actually thought that was really nice that she told me this. What was even nicer was the fact that when I asked her if I could take pictures and I told her why, she went and got permission from the manger to take as many pictures as I wanted… including that cool coffee roasting machine they had out front.

On top of that, I also asked her for a paper coffee cup that I could take a picture of, and unlike the Nairobi Java House folks how insisted that I would have to order a drink to go so I can get the cup, she actually went to talked to the folks behind the counter then came back a few minutes later with the cup and told me that I could actually keep it. I have to say that she was really awesome and probably my favorite of the whole trip!

I really enjoyed my latte. It was nice and strong, just the way I liked it and tasted great. Now I don’t know much about the blend they use for their espresso drinks, but what I do know is that they do roast their own coffee beans… and do a great job at that. I think their actual coffee roasting machine is in the back, at least I think that is what one of the ladies told me. And as I am writing this, I actually do plan on buying a bag or two that I can take back with me to Seattle and share with a couple of my friends who enjoy good coffee. I would also go as far as to day that if Artcaffè were to open a coffee shop up here in Seattle, I really thing they would do really well… they certainly would be on my top five local coffeehouses.

Overall I have to say that I really liked this place. Even though it is not really a coffeehouse in the traditional sense, they do have great espresso and I would certainly frequent the place if I lived or worked near the Westgate mall in Westlands, Nairobi.

Blog at

Up ↑