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Moving to Kenya

Coffee, or kahawa in Swahili, is of massive importance here in the West. We drink it with almost every meal and it’s almost impossible to walk down any city street without tripping over a specialist coffee shop. Coffee culture – getting together with people and drinking coffee – is an integral part of life for many of us, and life without coffee may seem abhorrent to many of our customers, clients and staff, but believe it or not, it is possible. In fact, despite the fact that Kenya is one of the biggest names in coffee, and often quoted as the world’s second best coffee grower, most Kenyans have not tasted the hot caffeinated brew which has become a staple part of the Western diet. Surprisingly, it wasn’t really until 1999 that most Kenyans in the city tasted real coffee – before that, anyone who had was probably only tasting the freeze-dried instant stuff.

Over the last century, Kenyan coffee was mass produced with the sole intention of exporting it to the West. Despite the Kenyan coffee industry employing more than 6 million people, it’s far more likely that a Kenyan working in coffee production will have eaten the cherry-like fruit than tasted what we know as coffee. Coffee aside, Kenya is also known for having the second largest mountain in Africa – it’s the high altitudes and acidic soils which contribute to Kenyan coffee’s rich, distinct taste.

It may come as a huge surprise that Kenyans don’t really drink coffee, especially considering the fact that Ethiopia, the world’s original (and arguably best) producer of coffee consumes about half of the coffee it produces. Historically, most Kenyans have simply preferred tea, though this is starting to change in recent years. The notable exception to this is kahawa chungu, an exceptionally strong black coffee which is only drunk in and around Mombasa by the elder generation. Kahawa chungu is traditionally believed to be a potent aphrodisiac, and due to its almost medicinal taste, the younger generation, will much sooner reach for a cappuccino than something this bitter.

Considering the high regard the Western world has for Kenyan coffee, it’s curious that it took so long for Kenya to develop its own coffee culture. The Western-style coffee drinking culture started in Kenya in 1999, thanks to a small café in Nairobi known as the Java House. The owners of the Nairobi Java House wanted to introduce coffee as we know it to the people who grow and cultivate it; unsurprisingly, the drink was an instant hit. The status-conscious youth and anyone who had spent time living, working or studying abroad took an instant liking to coffee, and the Kenyan coffee culture has been growing steadily ever since.

While coffee still isn’t quite as popular in Kenya as it is in America or even England, Kenyan coffee culture is on the rise, with Western-style coffee shops popping up in cities all across the country – if you travel into the countryside however, you’re far more likely to come across a nice cup of hot, black tea.

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