From Kathmandu to New York, Bogota to London, Dhaka, Addis Ababa, Cairo and Ougadougou, we have come to expect a good cup of coffee, latte, cappucino or macchiato wherever we are. But how is this coffee produced? By whom? How does this multi-billion dollar machinery of the daily grind work?
As with so many things we treasure in our lives everywhere, coffee has a long, long history in Africa. Legend has it that the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the powerful energy of the coffee bean when his goats remained awake and active through the night after eating the berries in the ancient forests of the Ethiopian Plateau, many centuries ago. Today, Kaldi is the biggest coffee shop chain in Ethiopia and every Ethiopian told me the legend when I lived there. In every village, however small, there was a coffee shop with some of the best macchiato I’ve ever had.
As I learned in Guatemala, Colombia, Ethiopia and Kenya, the process of producing coffee and the power dynamics of the market in coffee are both complex and loaded in favour of the consumer who wants good, affordable
coffee and the big businesses bringing in the profits. The producer, often a smallholder farmer in Africa, Asia or Latin America, has struggled for decades to make coffee pay a decent wage.
This is where Kenyan entrepreneur Margaret Nyamumbo enters. Coffee has been part of her family history for a long time. She knows both the opportunity and the huge challenge. In this podcast with Andile Masuku from the African Tech Roundup, Margaret talks about the history of coffee in Kenya and in her family, why it isn’t paying and how she created Kahawa 1893 in San Francisco to make coffee that is good for everyone – producers and consumers.
Margaret challenges concepts of ‘fair trade’, uses technology to create direct connections between consumers and producers and continues the long history of African innovation revolutionising the world.
By the way, there is so much more to explore in the African Tech Roundup. They stopped producing the podcast in April 2020 but there’s an excellent repository of more than 100 episodes online. I’m seeing Africa differently with each episode I delve into.