Behind the counter, David Ojok tapped into a disposable cup, a dark concoction from a blender that hissed with a strong steam at Inspire Africa coffee shop in Gulu town.
Ojok, a professional barrister, is the magician behind the 15 types of coffee that is produced and sold to clients at the shop situated at the post office building opposite Gulu Central Police Station.
He is one of the 10 employees currently operating the coffee shop that has lasted for nearly three months.
The shop is one of the four run by Inspire Africa establishment around the country, according to Nelson Tugume, the chief executive officer.
Tugume says the inspiration to venture into promotion of local coffee production and consumption was propelled by a challenge he faced while in the US. “Recently while in the US, I bought a kilogramme of our very own coffee at $78 equivalent of about Shs260,000 yet back home it sold at less than Shs5,000 per kilogramme. Whereas we are one of the biggest exporter of the crop in Africa, it meant we are losing a lot in revenue,” Tugume said.
“I returned and thought about how we can overturn this statistics in Uganda’s favour. We only treat coffee as a cash crop but not as a beverage or process and consume it. This was the birth of the Inspire Africa initiative,” he said.
Only five per cent of the coffee Uganda produces is consumed locally while the 95 per cent is exported, fetches the country approximately $400m in revenue annually, a figure that Tugume believes can be doubled through promotion of local consumption of the crop instead of exportation.
To champion coffee consumption in the country, developing entrepreneurship as a factor of production added to land, capital and labour was key to Tugume. He therefore integrated the youth into the concept.
He thus started Inspire Africa Initiative as a youth-centred entrepreneurship approach to develop young people’s potential.
Tugume believes that if Ugandans must produce quality coffee and in large quantities, then they must understand their own coffee, which involves consuming it themselves.
He is up for Arabica coffee, a fragrant, sweet coffee variety with a round taste and subtle hint of bitterness, a favourite with most coffee aficionados. Arabica is also the world’s most commercially grown species.
Setting up production
Under the project name, ‘one million trees, one million cups, be a millionaire’, two years ago Tugume sought a public/private partnership with government under NUSAF III programme to run the coffee project which sought to empower the youth.
“Rallying farmers to grow coffee was easier than earlier thought,” he said. Two years ago, he opened up shops in Kampala, Gulu, Mbale and Tororo where he organised boot camps for the youth to be trained in coffee growing and production. “We grew up thinking that coffee is a cash crop which is returned to us processed and expensive,” he said.
Each of the shops employs 15 youth who work as barristers and chefs and are paid salaries every month besides the trainings they get in hospitality management. He ensures that the youth at each coffee shop are natives of that particular region and the most outstanding ones are selected every three months and transferred to other branches as managers and supervisors. “The partnership will run for five years and we have a sustainability plan to prepare these youth,” says Tugume.
Market and challenges
Initially, corporate classes and visitors in town were the target but to promote local contact and promote coffee production in the different regions where the shops are located, Tugume said they had to cut their prices by half in order to accommodate everyone.
“Currently we have so many customers, on average we sell about 300 cups each at Shs3,000 each,” he said.
After roasting, the beans are ground and milled. During grinding, the beans are fed through rollers set at progressively smaller gaps, which first crack the beans and then cut them to the desired particle size.
According to Tugume, the degree of fineness is important. If coffee is too coarse, water filters through too fast to pick up flavour; if it is too fine, water filters through too slowly and retains particles that deposit at the bottom of the cup.
Buys from farmers
Coffee beans are bought from the Elgon region in the districts of Mbale and Tororo at between Shs3,000 and Shs4,000 per kilogramme.
Nelson Tugume says that once the dried coffee beans are delivered to the shop, they are roasted processed in a standard roaster at specific temperatures in order to produce different mixes of soft, hard, dark, brown roasts etc. In purely organic way without adding anything to them.
“We have 15 different coffee blends from African, black, cappuccino, Latte, Americano, Café Moca, and others etc. Which our new machines can make with a lot of consistency in taste. Our customers expect a brand to taste the same from one cup to the next every day,” he said.