8 January 2013

Uganda: Coffee Shops Are New Toast of Town

When Lydia Suur opened Bean Café, a coffee shop in Bunga along Ggaba road, she was sceptical about whether any Ugandan would come to enjoy a cappuccino or espresso.

Instead, she was surprised by the overwhelming demand. "I thought my customers would only be the big expatriate community in Bunga and Ggaba. I was dead wrong because many Ugandans are now coming to my café to enjoy a cup of coffee."

Roberts Mbabazi, the director of Barista pro coffee company, which trains baristas (people who brew coffee) and has also consulted for major café brands in Uganda such as Endiro, Ban café and Lydia's Bean café, says there is an emerging coffee-drinking culture among Ugandans.

"Many Ugandans are travelling and coming into contact with people and places with a coffee-drinking culture. It is these Ugandans who are coming back, together with a big expatriate community in Uganda, that are partly responsible for influencing many Ugandans to start drinking coffee," he said.

The African Development bank report titled the middle of the pyramid stated that by 2010, the continent's middle class had risen to an estimated 34 per cent of its population or nearly 350 million people, up from about 126 million or 27 per cent in 1980. It is this middle class in Uganda with its increasing consumption and taste for high-end quality services that Mbabazi is excited about.

"Many Ugandans today are very young and if they were to embrace the coffee culture fully, the benefits would be massive in terms of jobs that the coffee industry would be able to create for them."

However, according to him, those responsible for developing the coffee sector in the country are not doing enough to tap into this new segment of Ugandan coffee drinkers.

"Yes, the Uganda Coffee Development Authority does organize a week in which they distribute brewed coffee to Ugandans, organize National Barista championships and training for them but their focus is the export market, which is dominated by a few big players. You can see this in their reports, which mostly show the export side of it."

Lydia Suur, just like Mbabazi, feels there is also a problem of the public mindset. "Many Ugandans look at drinking coffee as if it is a "Muzungu (white man) thing," she said. And Mbabazi adds: "Many of the Ugandans who drink coffee just drink it because they want to be seen drinking it since they think it is cool but not for the benefits that it has to offer."

According to James Rogers Kizito, the principal information officer of UCDA, though most of the coffee is exported, they do recognize that many Ugandans are now beginning to drink it. He said this is the reason they are now training people on how to roast, grind and brew coffee, plus organizing barista championships to boost domestic consumption.

He said they have drawn up a domestic coffee consumption strategy to address some of the key issues in the sector.

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