For a while know, I have been really, really eager to check out Nairobi’s coffee culture and the opportunity arose this past month of August. The day after I landed in Nairobi (I landed at night so I had to wait till the next morning) I headed out to Yaya Centre, Nairobi’s second mall, for some espresso. I chose to go there since the Yaya was relatively close to where I was staying and I knew I would have the choice of at least two coffeehouses, Dormans and Nairobi Java House. This is where would have my first ever Nairobi espresso culture experience.
The initial idea was to go check out Dormans Coffeehouse, but then I discovered that Dormans was operating an espresso stand within the center court area, while Nairobi Java House actually had a proper retail space, so I decided that I would try out Nairobi Java House instead and save Dormans at a later time. I thought it would be nice to sit in the closed retail space as opposed to the open courtyard space that was Dormans. In addition to this, a couple of people I was with were interested in eating something so Nairobi Java House made more sense in that aspect too.
On entering Nairobi Java House, I immediately noticed a couple of things. First, the crowd of people that I had seen drinking coffee at Dormans seemed to be more of a coffee or should I say and espresso drinking type of crowd while the crowd at Nairobi Java House seemed to be a more general crowd, ‘want to go out for lunch/dinner type’ crowd. There where way more people ordering food to go with their sodas and fruit juices than there were people actually ordering any type of coffee or espresso drinks. I also noticed this once again a few days later when I visited the Nairobi Java House space at The Junction mall.
Thus, to me it is obvious that Nairobi Java House was more like a café rather coffeehouse, only that they do actually do roast their own coffee beans which they serve in their cafés and also supply to other retail outlets, supermarkets and shops. The good thing about Java House is that they do serve proper espresso shots that are hand pulled by a real barista on a La Marzocco and not some chap pushing buttons on an automated espresso machine.
So this is what I love about the place. I really do love the interior décor of the place. The décor, including the colors, were clearly inspired by the African savanna and also the Kenya national colors. I have to say kudos to the designer.
On the other hand, I do hate their ‘No Photography Allowed’ policy which they are relatively strict about. This is actually a fairly common policy at all the malls in Nairobi and many of the shops within these malls. They simply do not allow people to take photos there. Which somewhat explains the reason why you don’t really find too many pictures of Kenyan malls and stores on the internet.
It was rather bizarre trying to talk to the barista of the Nairobi Java House to get him to allow us to take pictures. He could not really explain why we could not take pictures even after we told him that these were private pictures… all he would do is keep reverting to the fact that it was a management policy. But at least he allowed is to take a picture of the coffee cup or ourselves as long as the picture did not show the rest of the place in the background. The folks at Nairobi Java House location at The Junction mall were even worse. They would only allow us to take photos of the place if and only if we were off the premises… and I was thinking, whatever homes!
And what about the espresso drinks they serve? At the Yaya Centre location, I ordered single size latte with a double shot. Now I am not sure what size I actually got, but it looks like a may have got the equivalent of a single shot 12 oz latte. The latte was not too bad, only that it was a little weak. I could have done with something a little stronger.
Based on this experience, when I went to the Java House at The Junction a couple of days later, I ordered the double size latte with an extra shot of espresso. I also specifically asked them to put it in the triple size cup, only because the triple size up was a different color and design and so I wanted to make sure I get that to add to my paper coffee cup collection. Well when the cup came, it was certainly a nice strong drink; however, it was certainly more than 12 oz… Though they hadn’t filled it to the top, the amount of room they had left was as if it was 14 oz or something like that. But that was OK… I could deal with that.
Once again here, the latte was actually pretty decent… not the best, but still pretty decent. I can tell you for sure that I have had lots of really bad lattes here in Seattle so I was still impressed that they did a decent job overall.
The place has free Wi-Fi and I did see a number of people at the Yaya Centre location on their laptops while nursing their coffee drinks. We wanted to use the Wi-Fi at The Junction location but they told us the Wi-Fi was “unstable” so we ended hooking up the laptop to a Nokia E71 phone and using the phone as a modem to connect to the Internet.
Overall, I have to say that the espresso drinks at Nairobi Java House were decent. Their lattes are nowhere as good as those of Dormans, and I probably wouldn’t go Nairobi Java House if there was a Dormans close by but I would certainly go there if I had no choice and I wanted a latte.
What really put me off the idea of making Nairobi Java House a favorite was their pretty lousy customer service, especially at The Junction. This is not to say that the waiters/waitresses were bad, not at all, rather I would say it was the supervisors who were freaky. I think if I wasn’t really interested in taking photos, I would have found the customer service much better.
Regardless of all this, I would say that if you want espresso with your lunch/dinner, or would like to use the Wi-Fi than by all means do go there. Otherwise wherever there is a Nairobi Java House, there also tends to be a Dormans close by and Dormans is certainly a great option to check out if you are simply looking for an espresso drink (and maybe a pastry or something really simple).