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Growing coffee industry brews up fresh opportunities for baristas

 Crowne Plaza’s barista Florence Anyango (right) competes in the 11th Kenya National Barista Championship  at The Junction in Nairobi last week. Photo/DIANA NGILA
Crowne Plaza’s barista Florence Anyango (right) competes in the 11th Kenya National Barista Championship at The Junction in Nairobi last week. Photo/DIANA NGILA 

Kenya’s growing coffee business has resulted in the need to train baristas to work in the ever increasing number of coffee shops especially in urban areas.

Dormans has set up its Barista & Coffee Training Centre, a training facility to prepare expert coffee professionals to feed the emerging demand for coffee by Kenya’s growing middle class.

The company, which specialises in roasting, blending and exporting Kenyan coffee, last week organised a barista competition to pick Kenya’s best coffee brewer.

Eric Kimathi from Java Coffee House was the winner in the national championship and will represent Kenya at the forthcoming World Barista Championship in Rimini, Italy from June 9 to 12.

Mr Kimathi beat finalist Martin Shabaya of Artcaffe, Faith Lila (Nairobi Hilton), Florence Anyango (Crown Plaza), Rodha Wambui (Serena Nairobi) and Martin Opiyo from Java to be crowned Kenya’s finest barista.

“We are the only Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) certified Barista training centre in Africa. The training sessions are conducted in an informal atmosphere to encourage a relaxed atmosphere and help the students feel at ease,” said Ken Teyie, sales manager at Dormans.

The increased interest in professional coffee training comes at a time there has been increased activity in the coffee business marked by mergers and opening of new outlets.

Dormans coffee shops were in January acquired by high-end chain Artcaffe which is consolidating its market share.

Artcaffe has bought out all the seven Dormans coffee cafes to bring its total number of outlets to 12 and got presence in high-end shopping malls such as Yaya Centre, Karen and City Mall in Mombasa where Dormans has its stores.

Java House last week opened an express coffee shop near Mama Ngina Street to bring its total outlets to 19. It plans another seven new outlets this year including five in Nairobi and a branch in Kampala and Kisumu.

Java House is looking to invest between Sh344 million ($4 million) and Sh430 million ($5 million) to open the new outlets, said managing director Kevin Ashley.

“It’s an exciting year. As long as you have the right business proposition there is demand,” he told the Business Daily in an earlier phone interview.

As many as 40 baristas or coffee makers from Kenya’s leading hotels and coffee houses participated in the first day of the competition that shortlisted the 40 down to 17; and then by the end of the day the finalists were reduced to six.

“The three winners (in Italy) will go home with trophies as well as cash prizes,” said Rozy Rana, Dormans’ managing director.

Kenyan baristas have been represented at the international level ever since the National Championship was first established 11 years ago by Dormans’ Coffee.

“Since 2003 our finalists have traveled everywhere from Italy, Australia and Japan to Columbia and Denmark to attend the World Barista Championship,” said Sam Njiru, Thursday’s master of ceremonies as well as the unit manager of Dormans Karen Crossroads Coffee House.

Explaining that this year, the Kenya Barista Championship was sponsored by Dormans together with Java Coffee House, Junction Mall and La Marzocco coffee machines, Mr Teyie added that the Kenya Barista Championship had this year taken on a higher public profile than in the past.

It’s as if Kenya’s coffee-drinking culture had come of age, given that the competition was judged by both international and regional judges as well as by Kenyans. Out of the seven, the Head Judge is Italian, Enrico Wurm from La Marzocco.

He was assisted by WBC-certified judge Clare Rwajatogoro of the Uganda Coffee Development Authority.

The other judges were Mark Okuta and Jackie Nanjego both from Uganda and Kenyans Gabriel Kariuki from Theta Country Farm, Ken Wangusiof Ole Sereni Hotel and Keziah Mwacha of Hotel Intercontinental.

The other factor that lifted the Kenya Barista Championship to a higher level is the fact that training of baristas has been stepped up not only with Dormans running its own certified Barista Training Centre in conjunction with the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe, but the Uganda-based Africa Coffee Academy opening a branch for training baristas on Mombasa Road early this year.

During the Kenyan competition, baristas were judged for their presentation of three different coffee products, namely espresso, cappuccino and each barista’s own “signature drink’”

This year’s signature drinks featured espresso mixed with either red grape, blueberry. red cherry or orange juice with cinnamon spice.

“What’s important to the judges is that the espresso flavour remains distinct no matter what is mixed in the signature drink,” said Ms Rana.

That was one aspect of the sensory criteria used by the judges to appraise the barista finalists. What was also important was the technical skill of each candidate meaning their ability to operate the various coffee brewing machines as well as to create all three drinks in a specific period of time.

To become a winner in the Championship, baristas have had to go through a rigorous training before they can combine both technical skill and creativity sufficient to compete in national finals.

Among  the major hotels and coffee houses that took part in the Barista Championship were Hilton Hotel, Sarova Group, Art Caffé, Nairobi Java, Flamingo Resort Mombasa, Serena Hotels, Crown Plaza, Boma Inn and Fairview Hotel as well as others that didn’t go past the preliminary round which was held earlier in April.

Among the previous barista champions who went to the World Championships were Rhoda Wambui and Peter Owiti.

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