The first time Dominic Kedemi saw a coffee brewing machine, he was fascinated. The first thought that crossed his mind was that it looked expensive, but the number he had in mind was well off the mark.
“I was a steward then. I asked the barista if I had Sh100,000 I could buy such a machine. He laughed and says that was too little and I would need Sh1.2 million,” he says. He was shocked at the value of the machine.
“I decided I need to learn how to use this Sh1.2 million machine,” he says. That is how he began his career as a barista—fine-tuning his skills and details to make a perfect cup of specialty coffee. That was three years ago.
Dominic is now representing Kenya at the Africa barista championship in Uganda after being named first runner-up during a competition in Nairobi last week.
His signature coffee combined crimson grapes, a coffee blend and coconut syrup. In addition to that, he blends several grades of coffee including AA, AB and PB.
Dominic says that the AA and AB have a powerful flavour while PB is smaller and higher in acidity.
The coffee culture in Kenya is one that has been growing, even as the country exports a bulk of its produce. Kenyan coffee is one of the best in the world, being used in blends to upgrade quality of other coffees.
Martin Shabaya, another barista is no stranger to the coffee world. He has represented Kenya twice at the World Barista Competitions and will be doing so for a third time after winning this year’s Kenya round.
When he first walked into ArtCaffe in Nairobi over six years ago in search of a job, he knew very little about coffee.
The only job available happened to be a barista position which he took up and has since grown to expert level.
His signature drink, Kenyan Earth, he explains is a tribute to the citrus, berry tones and blackcurrant that are pronounced in Kenyan coffee.
In the final round of six, at the Kenya championships, he won the best espresso. To make the perfect espresso, it is not only having an expensive machine with the perfect temperature.
‘’It begins from the water. This is followed by dosage in grammes of coffee beans into the espresso. I use 20 grammes in the basket, 40 grammes out in 23 seconds,” he says.
This is the weight of the coffee he uses and the length of time he allows hot water to flow through for a perfect expresso.
According to Martin, his favourite process at the moment is the Natural Process Coffee. He was introduced to this by a Ugandan barista champion while competing in Seattle, USA.
This coffee is sin or heat dried inside their skin, basically turning the green (red) coffee bean brown.
The perfect coffee comes from the berry to the flavour combination.
“To get the flavours that work, it is all about trial and error,” explains Martin and Dominic.
“You have a curve one side acidity, the other side on sweetness. I buy an assortment of fruits and taste each one to see what flavours work well with the espresso,” says Martin.
Both baristas at Artcaffe have been learning the ropes of the fast growing segment in Kenya.
“People do not know what baristas are. I get asked ‘are you a lawyer?’” says Dominic, adding that as people appreciate coffee and baristas more the awareness grows.
Martin credits his success to the international exposure which has given him a platform to improve his technique, taking criticism from the judges as a learning experience.
The competitions locally use coffee from Dormans allowing the baristas to have world-class experience and exposure. How coffee is consumed locally is quite different from how it is done out there.
This, explain Martin and Dominic, is a standard that can be replicated locally.
Local menus offer up basic coffees such as lattes, cappuccinos and mocha, a tip off the range available in Western markets.
Even as menus consist of basics, patrons come in requesting off menu options like Flat whites, Dry cappuccinos, ristretto and café freddos just to name a few.
“I have had a customer come in and ask for the individual components to make his own coffee,” says Dominic.
This has created the need for more expertise in the coffee making segment. The increasing number of coffee houses has given rise to more coffee drinkers.
“Coffee is a social drink. We have come a long way in terms of promoting local consumption,” says David Kendagor, a technical officer at AFA-Coffee Directorate.
The largest category pushing the beverage locally is the youth, who have been part of the coffee revolution, if the number of coffeehouses popping up is anything to go by.
“A barista improves knowledge and accessibility to the market,” says David. This requires investment in the training.
The Nairobi School of Coffee, previously Dormans Barista Coffee Training Centre teaches the art and science of coffee making.
The trainers certified by the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) take the baristas through training on brewing filter coffee, espresso making, milk texturing, cupping, latte art in addition to customer service, financial management, menu drafting, and coffee processing among other coffee related courses.