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#75 The Expat Coffee Shop

July 22, 2011
This post was submitted by a reader calling himself Mr. Mlungu. We’ve added some points from Colleen.

Bourbon Cafe in Kigali - almost like a Starbucks! But better!

After a long period in the field, the Expat Aid Worker looks forward to getting back to the capital city with normally their first stop being (well, the one they profess to all of their colleagues as being) the Expat Coffee Shop.

Expat Coffee Shops are everywhere, and African capital cities are no exception.

Why depend on friends returning from the States or Europe to bring you back real, ground coffee from Africa? Why invest in your own Bodum French Press when you can chill at the Expat Coffee Shop instead? It’s a guilt free Starbucks where you can take a temporary reprieve from the Nescafe and from Africa in general and feel like you are in, say, London or San Francisco again. You can get a “real cup of coffee” while socializing with other earnest young mzungus dedicated to helping the host nation.

Run by former EAWs who could not leave the natural beauty of whatever country they are in or by hip young local businesspeople, the Expat Coffee Shop is to EAWs what sex-worker-filled, premier-league football-match-on-the-telly pubs are to corporate expats.

The Expat Coffee Shop lives its EAW-Friendly cred by only displaying local art, playing music by Amadou and Mariam, Freshly Ground as well as other EAW approved world music acts, all while serving cups of coffee that cost 5 times the local day wage. Combinations of coffee and cakes coupled with Chinese or Ghanaian food all in the same place make for great one-upping stories back home. Fabric-covered leopard skin trays or similar bizarre-seeming-to-the-EAW décor make for great Facebook photos.

Guilt over the high cost of the brew is offset of course by the pledge on the menu and hanging on the wall that the Expat Coffee Shop only uses “Fair Trade Beans harvested by HIV+ albino child soldier veteran amputees at a women’s run collective on environmentally reclaimed and recently de-mined land.”  Furthermore EAWs drink their overpriced beverages knowing that 5% of their purchase is going to “HIV Gender Based Male Circumcision and Partner Empowerment Programs” or whatever local charity the shop is sponsoring that week.

What the EAW may not know is that their expensive coffee beans, produced and processed in Kenya or Malawi or Ethiopia, are pretty much impossible for the coffee shop to purchase in country. It’s most likely been grown and processed in whichever African country, shipped to Europe or America, and then shipped back for the Expat’s drinking pleasure.

The shop has one of the best, sometimes only, wi-fi connections in the country, so it allows for a convenient place to write the all-important site visit report or Skype with the Home Office to bring them up to speed on the latest disease eradication and education program.  The Expat Coffee shop can also make for some embarrassing moments when meeting with host nation counterparts — they may shuffle uncomfortably at seeing that a cup of coffee costs the same as dinner for 6 at a local restaurant, until the EAW tells the server to “put the coffee on my conta, cuenta, facture” or whatever the local word for the bill is.

Even though thanks to European influence the country the EAW is in may have an established cafe or patisserie scene serving potent espressos and 20 different blends of coffee with some of the freshest and flakiest pastries around for less than a dollar, the appeal of a big cup of coffee and a bagel for $10 will pull the EAW in every time. And seriously, it’s so totally worth it given the hardships the EAW experiences outside of this small haven of joy and respite.

32 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2011 5:55 am

    Bourbon Cafe is probably the only Expat Coffee Shop you could have picked that I’ve actually been in. I didn’t know they were such a scene. I’ll be on the lookout for them in the future! ;)

  2. Aengus permalink
    July 22, 2011 6:28 am

    Damn, I really fancy some Nairobi Java House right about now!!

    • Meghan permalink
      July 23, 2011 12:01 am

      That’s the place I was thinking– Java House, but I really do like Dormans’ too.

      • August 29, 2011 5:11 pm

        bahahahahaha. Dorman’s definitely works for Mombasa, too (and it was downstairs from the main office).

        Although, Jahazi in Old Town was the exclusive haunt of aid workers/volunteers. Always met new people there.

  3. Melissa permalink
    July 22, 2011 7:31 am

    Java House Chai Lattes in Nairobi…

    Kaldi’s in Addis – but Kaldi’s is, I believe, actually a locally owned business — not connected to an EAW :)

  4. July 22, 2011 8:35 am

    Jinja, Uganda, may only be a small town but I can think of three such places within a 2 minute walk of each other. There is even a delicatessen where you can buy ciabattas with mozzarella, basil and sub dried tomatoes, vegetarian lasagne and any amount of frothy coffee. Not that I did of course …. I bought cake, big lumps of cake.

  5. July 22, 2011 8:45 am

    This btw also applies to US-Americans working in Europe who are using Starbucks as their HQs.

    Nothing beats those Coffee Houses in Nbo, tho.

  6. July 22, 2011 8:58 am

    I am reading this on the wifi connection at Le Bistro in Kabul.

    • Heddo permalink
      August 15, 2011 10:34 am

      GreenBeans!! Iced chai late – yummy!

    • Jes permalink
      August 18, 2011 8:10 am

      And this from Wakhan :)

  7. July 22, 2011 12:02 pm

    this needs a +1 button, seriously.

  8. Toubab permalink
    July 22, 2011 12:23 pm

    Java House at Gate 14 of Jomo Kenyatta…first stop in when heading on R&R and last stop out on the way back! :)

    • Meghan permalink
      July 23, 2011 12:03 am

      Its the best place to wait for your flight, and the best place to stop before you head to customs. :)

  9. July 22, 2011 5:08 pm

    1000 Cups in Kampala always draws me in…

    • Torsten permalink
      July 24, 2011 11:47 am

      Oh. Is not Bancafe any more?

  10. Kelley permalink
    July 23, 2011 2:31 am

    Hello Joma in Laos! To be fair though it is actual Lao coffee and an americano is only 50% of the daily wage…

  11. July 23, 2011 2:59 am

    Guilty – though you missed another major draw to the expat coffee house: the generator. When power’s out in town you can count on coffee hut to have power and plentiful outlets.

  12. LPo permalink
    July 24, 2011 11:04 am

    La Mandarine in Brazzaville on a Sunday morning, when you could get a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant straight from the oven, plus the vendors were selling newspapers (the IHT!) and magazines they bought off of the Air France staff the night before. And also tree grubs, if you were interested. Sigh…

  13. kigali-ite permalink
    July 25, 2011 2:04 am

    Now I want an iced mocha with whipped cream. I think you’ve inspired me to go.

  14. July 27, 2011 3:02 pm

    These responses all read as though they are all missing the point. They all rave about their favorite or serendipitous “find” of bloody coffee places! This diddy about EAW’s in search of faux Starbuck’s in the “field”, I think, is a discreet kidney punch to let you know that you are all a source of revenue in your pursuit of “home” in a foreign land.

    • August 1, 2011 11:58 am

      I don’t think anybody missed the point. I think everyone just accepts that and moves on.

  15. July 28, 2011 2:23 am

    Guilty (reading this at Coffee Trader in Sana’a)

    • Danielle permalink
      September 26, 2011 9:49 pm

      AHAHAHA. Coffee Trader. I love the elaborate artwork they do on top of every hot chocolate…

  16. July 30, 2011 4:52 pm

    So true – Prospero’s in Tbilisi is a classic example! Any Prospero’s fans reading this site?

  17. August 5, 2011 8:46 pm

    I think there are more EAW coffee shops in Ramallah than normal coffee shops.
    And, if you’re looking for faux Starbucks, know that Ramallah boasts a “Stars and Bucks”.
    And they sell souvenir mugs, too.

  18. August 7, 2011 1:33 am

    Nice post…read it while sipping my Nescafe!

  19. Vicki permalink
    September 2, 2011 11:31 am

    Starbacks in Mekelle Ethiopia is another classic. Yet entirely local. Complete with model sheep to outline the story of how coffee was discovered (people noticed those funny beans were making the sheep a little energetic and decided they’d give it a brew).

  20. December 11, 2018 4:15 am

    Yangon Bakehouse in Yangon. It checks fucking near every box. Funny thing is that it’s across the hallway from a Taiwanese bakery chain that has maybe even better baked goods for 1/10 price. Yangon bakehouse has maybe 4-5 tables but most of the day the place is chockablock with EAW’s sucking down WiFi or having earnest discussions with locals from their SLONGO.


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