Drinking coffee has become very popular in Nairobi. Restaurants, cafés and coffeehouses are often full every evening of the week. After a long day in the office, the city’s working class throng these joints to catch up over a cup. The one who makes that aromatic steaming cup of coffee so enticing is a barista, a master coffee brewer.
It is the barista also who designs those fancy patterns in your latte at Java, Kaldis or Artcaffe and the demand for these professionals has been on the rise.
Standard Digital spoke to 37-year-old Jesse Wambugu, a freelance barista and Head Barista and Supervisor at The Gallery in Sankara. He started out in 2000 at Nairobi Java House and later moved on to Alpasha Coffe Lounge, before landing a job at Dormans Coffee Limited.
“I have become an expert not just in brewing coffee, but making good coffee,” says Wambugu, who is skilled in latte art (making patterns on coffee drinks using milk) as well as using different coffee machines and equipment. Being a barista, he says, is rewarding business. He reveals that a barista can make an average of Sh45,000 per shift, and that the amount goes higher depending on one’s skills.
“Many Kenyans don’t understand coffee, even though they may be drinking it. We have a long way to go in understanding and seeking the best coffee in the world,” says Wambugu.
He notes that baristas are in demand because of the expanding coffee industry, which also includes competitions that pit the very best baristas. Wambugu explains that the highlight of his career was when he got a call to represent Kenya in the Nordic barista championship in Denmark.
“I have been to a number of barista competitions since 2005. I have represented Kenya in the Africa Barista Competition in Uganda and Denmark,” he disclosed.
Wambugu was previously the Group Head Barista at Dormans from 2005 to 2010. He is the current Kenyan champion in latte art.