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Street vendors cashing in from growing coffee culture

As darkness sets in and Nairobi residents start streaming out of the CBD, a group of young coffee vendors are brewing their coffee ready to sell to thousands of passengers in busy matatu and bus termini in the city.


The number of street coffee vendors is on the rise as they take advantage of the emerging coffee culture in Nairobi and an ignored market segment that see coffee shops as elitist and expensive.


Coffee shops have become popular hangout joints for young professionals and business people discussing deals. But the average price of a cup of coffee is Ksh.150, locking out many people.


Well, how about a coffee cup that is ten times cheaper and served as you head out of the CBD? This is the ingenious idea that brilliant entrepreneurs have come up with, making thousands of shillings in the process.


“We sell coffee to everyone as long as they want it especially when it gets extremely cold during the night,” said one vendor at railways but stop.


He hawks coffee in a ten-liter thermos container which he replenishes after its content is exhausted.

“I have a charcoal Jiko here where I boil my coffee. That’s also where I refill my container”, he says, pointing towards a dimly lit street corner.

The coffee vendor says sometimes the business is so lucrative other vendors sell coffee until the crack of dawn.

“I only sell two of these containers and then go home but some people stay as late as 4am in the morning”, he says, “By that time they will have sold about five containers.”



One thermos container is equivalent to 40 cups of coffee. Some coffee vendors can make up to Ksh.2000 on a good night selling at Ksh10 for a cup. That translates to Ksh.12000 in a 6-day week.


The start-up capital is minimal according to another vendor.


“A container like this (10 litre) costs about Ksh4000. But the most expensive costs about Ksh7000, so the maximum you need in the beginning is around Ksh10000,” said the coffee hawker operating at the commercial area in the heart of the city.

However, the lucrative business is not without its challenges. The coffee hawkers say that the City Council askaris are their biggest fear and threat. In fact, all the vendors declined to give their names or photographed, while others refused to be interviewed due to the same fear.


“When they (city council officers) run into you hawking coffee on the streets, you are in for big trouble because the fine can be as high as 3000 shillings,” said one coffee vendor. “You have to talk to them or lose the money you have made that night,” he adds.


But despite the challenges, the coffee hawkers continue to do booming business especially during this cold season.


Kenya has been consuming far less coffee than it produces despite the fact that she produces world’s best coffee. Recent statistics announced by the Eastern Africa Fine Coffees Association (EAFCA) show that Kenya exported 95 per cent of the coffee that she produced and consumed only 5 per cent.

Hopefully, ‘street coffee’ will help bolster Kenya’s coffee consumption.


By Mulinge Muli and Antony Irari, UoN School of Journalism




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