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20 East African coffee shops you need to check out

11 Feb 2018, Posted by Verity Norman in Places, Tips & Ideas, Travel Diary

Our 2018 East Africa Road Trip definitely centered around coffee!! We felt this was appropriate, East Africa being famed for its coffee production, and us being avid coffee consumers (some accuse us of being “coffee snobs” – well, Fungai sometimes accuses Verity of this!). Having visited 20 coffee shops/stops in 15 days, we thought we’d create our list and ranking of the many coffee shops or places we frequented, from Nairobi, Kenya to Kigali, Rwanda and back. We’ve listed them chronologically, according to when we visited them during our trip.

African Drift Ratings and Categories

Rating:

We rated each coffee shop or place where we got coffee on a scale of 1-5, 1 being unacceptable and 5 being outstanding. We both – Fungai and Verity – gave individual ratings, and we averaged them for the ratings below.

Categories:

Coffee – that’s a given. We judged based on taste, quality, options, presentation

Food – if we ate, we judged based on quality, taste, presentation, diversity of menu

Service – this is a big one for us. Were the wait staff quick to take our order, were they attentive and friendly, were they knowledgeable about the menu, was the order brought out in a timely way?

Ambience – how did we feel in the place? Was it inclusive? Were there different types of places to sit or ways to navigate the space? Was there outdoor seating?

Kid-friendly – this was important for us, as we were traveling with Nips who’s 2 years old. Did the place have a high chair? Did they provide activities/games/toys for kids to play with? Were the wait staff friendly and accommodating towards children? Was the space conducive/safe for children? Did they have a kids menu (although this is less important to us as we subscribe to the idea that kids can eat what adults eat and most of the time Nips had a small portion of whatever we ate!)

1. Ole Sereni Waterhole, Nairobi

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4

n/a

4

4.5

3.5

Ole Sereni is a luxury hotel, close to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, and overlooking Nairobi National Park. It’s a stunning hotel and in the most amazing location. On Day 1 of our trip, we stopped here briefly for coffee on our way to a friend’s home in Nairobi. The view is second to none – overlooking Nairobi National Park, we could see zebra, buck, and although we didn’t see giraffe, we hear they are frequent visitors too. Was the perfect start to many splendid coffee experiences on this trip!

2. Java House, Upper Hill, Nairobi

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4

4

3.5

3.5

4

Let us start by saying that we are fans of the Java House franchise because they provide consistently good quality coffee, food, service is usually decent, and they cater well to kiddos, bringing crayons and an activity sheet as soon as you sit down. They often also have a play area for children, that is safe to leave your child without constant supervision. We LOVE their artwork, and the way it is customized for each Java House. We’ve been to the Upper Hill Java House in Nairobi a number of times, and like the wide open space of this branch, along with the balcony views of Nairobi. It is airy, and never feels full. We met our good friend Sasha there for a quick bite to eat, and as always enjoyed a cup of coffee and a bite to eat.

3. Java House, Nakuru

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4

4

3.5

3.5

4

We had planned on stopping at another coffee shop inside Nakuru town, but it was closed when we passed through, so we resorted to another trusty Java House. Lake Nakuru Java House is a relatively new addition to the town, and although we didn’t see a kids’ play area, we enjoyed their usual good food, coffee and service.

4. Java House, Jinja

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4

4

3

3.5

4

Java House Jinja was a lifesaver, as we’d been driving for hours, had had a fairly long border crossing, and we were hungry, thirsty and tired! We didn’t have Ugandan phone lines so couldn’t Google coffee shops, so when we saw the Java House at the Shell garage, we breathed a sigh of relief. Nips played happily on the jungle gym, and we enjoyed our food and coffee, as usual.

5. Cafe Ark, Mbarara

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

3.5

3

2.5

3

2.5

We met our dear friend Rumbi for a coffee and quick catch up at Cafe Ark in Mbarara, Uganda, en route to Kigali. We’re under the impression that Mbarara doesn’t have a lot of options for coffee, and Cafe Ark was OK, just not fantastic. Food took quite a while to arrive, and was a little on the greasy side. Service was super slow and we frequently had to go in search of wait staff. There was nothing for Nips to do there, and it was quite difficult to entertain her. We would go back, but it wasn’t our favourite – but we LOVED seeing Rumbi!

6. Master’s Lounge, Kigali

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4

4

2

3.5

2.5

Master’s Lounge was highly recommended by our dear friend Chiedza, who hosted us for five days in Kigali, Rwanda. Master’s Lounge is in the MTN Centre, and was walking distance from where we stayed. We highly recommend their brunch, although everything was painfully slow! Wait staff were friendly enough, but just not paying attention and definitely not pushing for food to come out. We were frustrated by the looooong waits, but thankful for the beautiful outdoor view over Kigali!

7. Shokola Storyteller’s Cafe, Kigali

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

3.5

4

2.5

4.5

2.5

Shokola has one of the most stunning views of the city! It is part of the Innovation Village at Kigali Public Library. We LOVE the combo of books, innovation, and coffee shops, so we really enjoyed Shokola. We were a bit disappointed that they didn’t have electricity when we got there, so we couldn’t order the drinks or food we would’ve liked. Service was also painfully slow and waiters seemed distracted or uninterested. We loved the ambience though, and the view. Did we mention the view?!

8. Casa Keza, Kigali

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4

4.5

4.5

5

5

We technically went to Casa Keza for dinner, but Verity had coffee and it was great. We LOVED this restaurant, hidden down the back roads of Kigali. We ordered some yummy tapas, which we shared with our friend Chiedza. We sat outside and so enjoyed their garden setting. In addition to food, they also have a small craft store AND a resident tailor who has clothing on display or can make you something as you wait! But cherry on the top was their children’s room, and the way they treated Nips. She was delighted to find a whole room of beautiful wooden toys, and spent the evening shuttling back and forth between the room and our table. Nobody was phased that she relocated half the toys and, despite our best efforts, played a game in the pathway of the waiters. If they were phased, they certainly didn’t show it and encouraged her to keep playing. We will definitely return!

9. Inzora Rooftop Cafe, Kigali

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

5

3.5

4.5

5

4.5

This was our most favourite coffee shop of this trip. Perhaps of all time! To get to Inzora, you walk through Ikirezi Book Store, which we mentioned before is something we love – coffee and books. Inzora is cozy, tastefully decorated, and has ceiling to floor windows overlooking the hills and valleys of Kigali. There’s also a rooftop patio with comfy outdoor seating. There was a sweet children’s kitchen, kitted out with a wooden espresso machine, so Nips spent her time “making” us “coffee”! Oh, and their coffee may be the best we’ve ever tasted anywhere. And that’s saying a lot…!! It was served in handmade clay, handle-less mugs, cappuccino featured a sprinkling of chocolate powder. Through this trip we’ve come to love Rwandan coffee – it is strong, smooth, chocolatey, delicious. The coffee at Inzora was all that and more! Food-wise, their quality is excellent but menu is very limited. They had an array of baked goods, but for lunch only served toasted sandwiches and soup. We LOVED Inzora and can’t wait to go back!

10. Aromas Cafe, Kigali

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

3

3.5

3

2.5

2.5

We needed a break midway through our visit to Kimironko Market, while waiting for a tailor to make us a couple of dresses. Aromas Cafe is walking distance from the market, even with a hot and tired two-year-old! Although we weren’t wowed by it, we were SO relieved to find it and enjoyed our meal and coffee

11. Brioche Kacyiru, Kigali

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4

n/a

2

2.5

2

We were pretty underwhelmed by Brioche, having heard such good things about it, both in Rwanda and Kenya. We are going to try the franchise in Karen/Nairobi when we return to Kenya. We met our dear friends Beulah and Garikai there, and it was so wonderful to have time to catch up with them! However, service was very poor – several times we had to go over and call the waiter, or inquire about where our drinks were. We decided not to eat because it all just took too long! Nice views though…kinda.

12. Bourbon Coffee, Kigali

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4.5

4

2.5

2.5

n/a

What a surprise to be sitting having a breakfast coffee with Chiedza and hear “Verity!!!!” called across Bourbon Coffee! Another wonderful friend, Margaret, from Boston, joined us for a quick coffee. She was visiting Kigali to do some work with her NGO Komera, and another start-up, Amplify. It is the most wonderful thing to run into people unexpectedly in a city where you think you know almost nobody!

I’m a huge fan of Bourbon, and have enjoyed their delicious coffees in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as Washington, D.C. I was super excited to try out their fare at the “original” Bourbon in Rwanda! Although their coffee and food did not disappoint, their service was underwhelming and the ambience was almost non-existent. There were hardly any customers, and the place felt quite dark and dingy. Perhaps we should’ve sat outside on the balcony!

13. Repub Lounge, Kigali

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

3.5

n/a

2.5

3

n/a

Not a coffee shop, per se, but we ended up at Repub Lounge on our ‘night out’ in Kigali. It’s a bar, restaurant, and hang-out joint that we felt has enormous potential. We were surprised to find it almost empty at 10pm on a Saturday night, but perhaps we missed the earlier crowds. Service was meh, and coffee was ok-ish. We didn’t eat or take Nips, so no basis for ranking food or kid-friendliness. We’d love to go again when we’re a bit more awake, and there are more people. It’s a place someone has obviously taken a lot of care on the decor and it could be awesome – maybe it is and we just caught it at a bad time.

14. Hotel Des Mille Collines, Kigali

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4

n/a

3.5

4

3.5

Rwanda’s “most famous hotel” – we couldn’t leave Rwanda without grabbing a coffee at Hotel Des Mille Collines. It’s super fancy, and although we called ahead and asked at reception before we went down to the poolside bar, it wasn’t at all clear we could just go for a coffee. They serve an expensive brunch on a Sunday, and seemed intent on us getting that. We didn’t have time for brunch, so made our way down to the pool and ordered coffees. Coffees were excellent, and ambience was curious but pleasant. It still clearly remains a bastion for ex-pats, and there was a stark black-white divide between patrons and servers, reminiscent of scenes from the film Hotel Rwanda. Nips looked longingly at the glittering swimming pool, as did we. We felt they could do much more at Hotel Des Mille Collines to tell part of their story during the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis. It felt like they were trying to forget or hide it, but of course nobody really can.

15. Cafesserie, Kampala

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4.5

4.5

4.5

4

3

Yum! This bustling, outdoor cafe inside Kampala’s fairly new Acacia Mall was fantastic! We had eaten at another franchise in Mombasa a few weeks ago, and were not disappointed by their sister branch in Kampala. Excellent coffee, delicious salads and sandwiches, and very good service. It was packed, not super kid-friendly, and there were disconcerting signs saying “watch your belongings.” But we thoroughly enjoyed our meal and left with some take-away gelato!

16. La Patisserie, Kampala

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4

4.5

4.5

4

3

La Patisserie was recommended by our dear Kampala host, Memo. One of the things we loved about this trip was that we got to see places our friends loved, and with La Patisserie we were not disappointed. After an initial mild-embarrassment of going into the next-door and much more upscale “La Chateau,” we moved over to the more comfortable (space and price-wise!) La Patisserie. Their food and coffee were excellent, and we finished our meal with one of their delectable chocolate eclairs, which we’d been ogling in their display cabinet throughout our meal! We also ordered take-away steak pies for our lunch, along with some of their macarons. Although we sat inside, there was lots of outdoor seating and the place was cool and airy. Lots of professionals working on laptops or meeting colleagues – it felt like a space we’d use heavily if we were in Kampala longer!

17. The Source, Jinja

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

3

2.5

2.5

2

2

Our expectations were high with the Source, as they looked like they type of quaint, independent coffee shop we usually like. It was, however, a bit of a  disappointment. Service was not good, food was brought out in pieces (i.e. not on one plate!), and coffee was ok but also not great. It just felt weird – it was right on the pavement, so had a lot of people just hanging out or wandering in and out…most looked like they weren’t customers but just hangers-around. While Fungai was out withdrawing money (they were cash only, which was fairly common), Verity and Nips got accosted by a lady, who sat for ages at our table and told us a long, sad story about her battles with mental health issues. At one point she even tried to pick up Nips, and we felt very uncomfortable, bordering on unsafe. No wait staff checked in on us or was even within calling distance. It was a weird experience.

18. The Deli, Jinja

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4.5

4.5

4

4

3

We found The Deli right after we’d eaten brunch at The Source, and Verity sat and used their internet for an hour, while enjoying an espresso milkshake. We loved it, so on our last morning in Jinja, we stopped in for brunch before driving to Lake Elementaita. It was awesome!!! Delicious, wholesome, well-cooked and beautifully presented breakfast with plentiful portions  (we shared one Deli breakfast and a bowl of muesli between the three of us). Excellent value for money! We sat outside and Nips played happily in the garden, although we worried a bit that she’d run out into the road – there was no gate. We loved it and would definitely go back next time we’re in Jinja!

19. Java House, Eldoret

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4

4

4

4

5

Yes, we love Java House so it made sense to stop there in Eldoret, when we returned to Kenya. We were SO hot and tired by that stage, and still had hours of driving before we’d reach Lake Elementaita. The comfort of Java House was just what we needed and their food (chicken fajitas), coffee, and service didn’t disappoint. Nips ran straight to their perfectly-sized jungle gym and hardly ate or drank anything; so desperate was she to stretch her legs!

20. Tin Roof Cafe, Karen

Coffee

Food

Service

Ambience

Kid-friendly

4

4.5

4.5

4

4.5

Our last stop on this trip was also to meet our friend Sasha, this time at one of our Nairobi favourites – Tin Roof Cafe. We love their coffee, almost always order their chicken, feta and coriander crepes, and are fans of their salad buffet. Nips also loves this Tin Roof as they have a slide, a swing, and a sandpit – three things that more than satisfy our two-year-old! We also love their milkshakes, even though they’re a little overpriced. Food and drinks are excellent, and again we love the outdoor, relaxed ambience of Tin Roof. We’ll be back….probably next weekend!

 

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