Food & Drinks

A small coffee roastery brews export success


Spring Valley Coffee general manager Isha Saini during the interview on September 10, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG


  • Spring Valley Coffee is a coffee roastery in Nairobi, which now brews and exports coffee.
  • They have offices in London and Chicago, and recently opened another outlet in Nairobi’s Karen.
  • Their coffee comes from specific small-scale farmers in Mt. Elgon, Kipkelion, and Rongo.

Twelve years ago, a coffee shop and a roastery in Nairobi’s Spring Valley started brewing by mistake. Ritesh Doshi, the new owner, and chief executive officer, was among the coffee lovers who lived down the road and would occasionally walk in with his dog.

He had just sold his business, Naked Pizza to Pizza Hut, and was trying to figure what to do.

“I would go to Spring Valley Coffee because it was the only place that allowed dogs,” he says.

Then he started chatting to the owners about the potential of the coffee place. The owners were not really into coffee brewing at first. They were builders and also sold coffee bags to farmers who one day dropped off two tonnes of beans as payment.

“They couldn’t afford to pay for bags. The guy asked himself, ‘What am I going to do with all of this?’, Isha Saini, the general manager of Spring Valley Coffee tells me during a tour of the artisan roastery.

The previous owner did a short roasting course in the UK. When his construction clients visited, he would roast coffee and serve them. One of the clients was the owner of Tribe Hotel. He liked the coffee and became his first client. Then his wife, a baker, started making pastries and his sons went to a barista school in the UK.

Three years ago, they sold the business to Ritesh, together with three roasters.

“I remember asking during the signing ‘Do you need a pen, are we done?’ The business was basically this café, they had two-three hospitality customers and supermarkets were neither here nor there,” Isha says.

Isha and Ritesh courted more clients, growing the business that it now exports coffee to Europe and the Middle East. They dropped the food from the menu because when roasting coffee, the flavours are absorbed in the food. Flavour aside, part of the roastery’s attraction is based on the coffee experience. Nairobi now has coffee-houses where the brew is as serious as the bean.

“The coffee shop is always crazy in the morning. We’re running out of space. We were a team of six, we’re now a team of 40,” says Isha, an architect by training.

Their coffee is now drunk in even more high-end restaurants such as Radisson Blu, Le Grenier À Pain, Chez Sonia, and Cultiva.

“We also partnered up with supermarkets. We’re in Naivas, Chandarana, Quickmart, the only coffee supplier to HealthyU, exclusive supplier to Zucchini, and in Tiramisu Bakery. We do menu development and tastings with UK brand, Sweetbird Syrups,” she says.

Small-scale coffee farmers

The long coffee value chain for most top coffee roasters means that just a fraction of the money ends up with the farmer. Spring Valley sources their coffee from the Coffee Exchange and select small-scale farmers in Mt. Elgon, Kipkelion, and Rongo.

Ritesh, the CEO says they roast six different types of coffee from different regions.

“We consider things like temperature, humidity, the bean, the region to achieve a certain flavour profile,” he says, adding,” For instance, our farmers from Rongo grow their coffee under permaculture. Their coffee is the closest you’d get to an organic coffee.”

Their popular coffee blends are Gourmet and Expresso and they stand out. “Our bags are engraved with the roaster’s name. A lot of Kenyan coffee is sold in the West, but no value comes back to the farmer, roaster, or original country. Nobody knows anything about the farmer or the roaster,” Isha says.

They have offices in London and Chicago, and recently opened another outlet in Nairobi’s Karen.

“We also have active distributors in Bahrain, Germany and the Netherlands and about to appoint somebody in Saudi Arabia,” Hitesh says, adding in five years, they would love to showcase their coffee as a homegrown Kenyan brand.

“People are bringing franchises here, I did it in my last business when I brought in Naked Pizza, why can’t we take a homegrown Kenyan brand abroad?”

13-19 minutes

Currently, they have a ten kilo roaster. The coffee takes 13 to 19 minutes in the roaster, depending on its darkness. Part of the specialty coffees includes Cortado. Raphael Muturi, a barista explains that a Cortado is a 60ml espresso and 60ml steamed milk. The difference between a Cortado and espresso is an espresso has no milk.

Their Zanzibari latte with seven spices syrup is an ode to the founder’s wife. She is from Zanzibar and they have kept it on the menu because there are people who specifically come in for that. They also serve cold brew coffee.

“The cold brew is a slowly infused coffee dipped in water for 21 to 23 hours, it’s dispensed into bottles and refrigerator. Revolver, one of their customer uses it for cocktails, some people pour ice over it, others milk in it,” says Raphael, the barista.

To serve uniqueness, the coffee is put in coloured coffee cups which are classy, unique actually.

“Our cutlery is very expensive. We use Acme cups, one of which is $40 (Sh4,000),” Isha says.

They do not serve freshly roasted coffee. “We let the coffee leave the store day five. If you use coffee when it’s too fresh, if it’s in an espresso machine it bubbles, if it’s in a French press it froths up, and that’s the carbon dioxide being released,” Hitesh says, adding, “I’ll only drink coffee which is seven days old.”

Some of Spring Valley Coffee’s customers are true fanatics.

“Some come here three to four times a day and it’s just a café, it’s not like you can eat lunch here, there’s no meat. Just cookies and brownies which come from Bastard Baker, our pastries come from France and our muesli bites from a local supplier. There was a Sunday when our barista here was super busy. One of our customers got up and started washing cups because she’s like ‘oh let me help your barista out,” Isha says.