Sunday, November 21, 2010

Live Free, Die Hard

Cigar Heaven. In Kampala.

The great irony of modern day America is that Americans (like myself) seem to only experience "freedom" when outside of America.

Today's America is a sissified nation where the government tells you how to live and that you should be grateful for it. Within the country, the USAPATRIOT Act lives on invading your privacy, the TSA wants to grope your balls, they tell you which oil to use, you can't smoke indoors, you can die at 18 but can't drink 'till 21 (though vehicular manslaughter is mandated at 15), some states prohibit sex until 18 and when you return to your home country you're put in the line for "random screening not related to race."

Yes, in other countries you find guards walking around with AK-47s and bandits lurking in the dark alleyways of the slums. True, the roads may be in disrepair and the implementation of stop signs and lane lines seems utterly useless. No doubt that's the smell of pollution and something burning in the air. But these seem to be the hallmarks of Freedom in these modern times. Ironic.

Indian matches - these suckers really light!

Indoor smoking, so vehemently reviled in the United States is shockingly unusual when you leave the country. What are these people doing??? Don't they know that's AGAINST THE LAW? Evidently, not in these parts. People here smoke and do so without fear of reprisal, sniveling yuppie democrats or fear of government fines or arrest by some bureau called The Department of Fatherland, err, Homeland "Security."

The United States Government: Protecting its Citizens FROM their freedoms...

The Arsenal: Montecristo #2 Habana and Diet Coke (with ice).

Which makes this Cuban cigar, illegal in the United States under the Trading With The Enemy Act, all the more appealing. I can relax and enjoy my cigar without fear of reprisal. With a Diet Coke. In a nation whose 22 year civil war ended about a year ago. I guess in other nations there's a bit more to concern oneself with than smoking in public.

Maybe I should head to the market tomorrow and pick myself up an AK-47, just because...

The View.

The Bill.

Koffee Kampala

Welcome to Cafe Pap.

At 11:30am this morning, Claire called to check up on me. I was still sleeping. Holy crap, it's eleven thirty! I tell her I'll call her in about an hour.

One of the "problems" with staying at the Kampala Serena Hotel is the very comfy king-sized bed and the excellent heavy curtains. I'm essentially cocooned in darkness and have no idea what time it is. Normally, I never sleep this late. Even when tired, I rely on the sun to roust me from slumber. Good thing today is a non-scheduled day!

By the time I really wake up, get ready, call Claire and she comes to meet me, it's easily 2pm and the day is lazily passing away. She's here to brief me on the week's schedule and we negotiate some of the days, trading setup time for training time and strategize on just what we're going to do this week.

Cafe Pap Espresso.

Right now, it's two days of barista training and a half day of setup and half day training judges. Initially, I think there's too much time for barista training and not enough time for judges training. But it's all good and we work things out amicably.

Barista training immediately before a competition. On one hand, it sounds like a great idea. On the other, it's fraught with peril since I'm going to presume these baristas have been training for months and these sessions might cause them to change what they're comfortable doing to the point where it throws off their game and they don't present themselves in the best possible light.

But the opportunity here is great. Unlike other trainers who work exclusively with one barista, therefore, giving an advantage to only one person, I get to work with a field of baristas and share with them thoughts and strategies to improve their scores.

Cafe Pap Macchiato.

There's probably some out there who will disagree with my assessment on improving their scores, but this is a competition whose winner is decided on who gets the most points - and well, why not help them maximize their point potential? The by-product of this is that they improve their skills, make better drinks and, hopefully, make themselves more valuable to their employers (or other employers) which may command better compensation.

On the competition side, it hopefully results in better competitors which raises the bar of the WBC style competitions. To my mind, this is a win-win-win situation.

One of the things the International Judges remarked upon while training judges in Bogota last month was the diversity in tastes amongst the local judges. What we, as International Judges, deemed excellent was different than the local judges. One thing we acknowledged was that we were unable to take the time to explore the local cafe scene to see just what kinds of coffees the local judges were used to drinking.

With that in mind, I asked Claire to take me on a tour of Kampala's finer coffee shops.

How much the average Ugandan barista makes a month.

So, we toured Kampala's coffee shops and luckily, three of the four of them were in the same shopping center. And the fourth was in the shopping center next door. This made for simple touring where we could spend time sitting, drinking and chatting with the baristas and coffee people about their coffees and their lives.

In the process, we ended up having brunch with Louis at Boda Boda, named after Kampala's famous motorcycle transportation services whose fearless drivers transport up to two passengers on a hair-raising ride through the city's notorious traffic. Louis is a Kenyan transplant with great personality and will be the emcee for the barista competition. Can't wait to see him in action.

We also took some time to do one of my favorite travel things: visit a local grocery store. There are always lots of fascinating things to discover about a place in their supermarkets. Their choices in food, fruit, drinks, snacks and foods are always interesting and I didn't come away disappointed. I also came away with some foodstuffs to ease my paying burden at the hotel.

Cafe Pap Cappuccino. Thanks Anthony!

I won't go much into the coffees we drank because I don't want it to seem like I'm influenced by my tasting experiences here. Today wasn't about judging coffees. It was about exploring the local coffee culture and seeing just what that culture is like.

Like anywhere else, I'm concerned about the baristas and their future. What is the average wage for baristas in Uganda? Can they make a living on that wage? More importantly, can they have a future as a barista? Meaning, is their wage appropriate for buying a place to live, getting married and having children? Basically, the same issues I deal with as the owner of Spro.

Without a doubt, the wages earned by Ugandan baristas seems un-Godly low and the wages of American baristas seem incredibly high. But put into context and they're still in essentially the same boat. They need higher wages to make it work.

Cafe Pap Almond Croissant. Different.

The coffee scene is relatively young in this country. True specialty coffee didn't really emerge until about 2008 and in discussing the future with Steven Banya, the owner of Bancafe Coffee, there's still much work to go. A coffee scene must learn to walk before it can run.

Luckily, the coffee scene here isn't unfamiliar with terms like "macchiato" meaning a three ounce beverage of espresso and steamed milk. There's none of that 16z "macchiato" nonsense going on here, but the large lattes and frappuccinos of the American coffee scene are also a staple here.

Another aspect of the coffee shop scene is the need for food. A food menu in Uganda goes hand-in-hand with the coffee menu. Think you're a coffee purist who only wants to serve a coffee menu of espresso in six different variations? Then either remain content with very low sales figures (at least you can rent a livable house here for US$100/month) or add food and make millions a day (in Ugandan Shillings). The choice is up to you.

Going to Boda Boda for Sunday Brunch.

And if you come to Kampala in search of that fabled V60 brew bar that's all the rage in the United States, you're not going to find that here - hey, remember their coffee scene is only a couple years old and they're already ahead of the curve with their macchiatos.

Not to mention that Uganda is not a coffee drinking nation. True, they grow coffee and some of it is truly wonderful, but their main drink here is tea - a remnant of their days under British subjugation, but at least they're not holding on to that. One thing of note is that while Uganda's main coffee crop is the robusta, their exports of arabica coffee has declined over the past year due to greater internal consumption. Evidently, Uganda is one exporting nation that does not export all of its' best coffees.

I'll follow up more as the week progresses.

Fried eggs, rice, green beans, carrots, bacon, chips, tomatoes, red onions, fried tilapia, beef and a croissant.

Louis and Claire discuss the finer points of Life in Kampala.

Star Coffee - Uganda's most famous coffee.

Safari Tea - Uganda's most famous tea. Mix equal amounts water, milk, a spoon of tea and boil.

Bell Lager - Sander's and Shaner's favorite.

Tea Masala - add to your favorite black tea and you have chai!

Glucose on the grocer's shelves. Surprising.

Cafe Java's - probably the busiest cafe in Uganda. Estimated daily revenue: approx. USh 6,000,000.

Cafe Java's macchiato.

The Bar at Cafe Java's.

The Bar at Mokka Terrace.

Talking coffee at Mokka Terrace.

Serving our macchiatos.

Mokka Terrace - Macchiato.

Brenda and her barista at Bancafe

Bancafe Coffee - Macchiato.

Steer's - a local fast food joint.

Two piece fried chicken, fries and salad with russian dressing.