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 …

One thought on “The Future of Kenya Coffee Culture Looks Bright

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  1. Hi,

    I am not entirely surprised by your experience at Java. You have to put it in context. The general manager (the found) had a sex abuse case hanging over his head.. he has since been jailed for 15 years for the crime and probably that’s why the employees were unconfortable with you taking pixs there. Perhaps thinking you were digging more trouble for them and their business.

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