THE DISH: My love-hate relationship with Java

Saturday May 19 2018

Still the same: the double mocha milkshake and a large samosa at the Java on Koinange Street, Nairobi. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA


What's Hot

There's so many things to love about Java, if we're being honest. Man, I remember when there were only two Javas in town, and even then they were barely ever full.

I remember how clean and shiny they looked – before they had the whole roaches and rats creeping about the premises incidents (in all fairness – I think all places have a few roaches. It just depend on how keen the eyes of the customers are, and the size is what we should really worry about, no? Are they malnourished or thriving and gargantuan? And so on...and so forth).

I remember when the Mama Ngina branch had a downstairs – can you believe that was ever a thing? What a fire hazard, hehe. Now it's the Standard Street branch that has an upstairs, and then there's the other one with a smaller menu right on the corner in front of the law courts, and then of course the one on Kimathi Street, across Nation Centre, competing mightily with Kaldis, but not succeeding to fight off Kilimanjaro's popularity.

The streets have, surprisingly, changed quite a bit, in terms of eateries, in the last five years. I'm sure there's one I'm forgetting, other than the Reinsurance Plaza branch...

What I love about Java is that every Java is very much a Java. Does that make sense?


One of my favourite things stays constant – the smell of the coffee when you walk in through the door. It's such a familiar smell, and they have also managed to make it a familiar look.

The reds, beiges and browns at Java feel comforting. The staff. Ever changing though they may be, are trained at basically the same level everywhere so there is a certain consistency, as Biko wrote once in his blog a while ago, in the level of service and courtesy, which I appreciate.

And, though it pains me to say this, I haven't yet really found a milkshake that surpasses the thickness and tastiness of the Double mocha at Java. No one understands that I want to struggle with the straw when I'm having a milkshake. I've asked for a shake, not flavoured milk, you know? I want that shake fighting for its life. Thicker than a Snicker. Also the quesadillas. They're winning at quesadillas.

What's not

That being said, it would appear that the spreading of Java has disproportionately affected quality control. Javas are not consistent in the size or the tastiness of their food – which you must be if you are a franchise.

Nor does all the cleanliness match up – a Java in town, for example, will look quite different from one at Galleria or Junction.

You're definitely not getting the same thing – and of course, in the case of the airport, you're not even getting the same prices.

I discovered Java way back when there weren't too many people trying to eat at coffee shops and you could order a glass of water then tindo it (take tiny sips) for at least three hours before you confirmed that you were indeed, getting stood up.

The food back then, or maybe it was the chefs, or maybe even just the novelty, was infinitely better, and that is my biggest gripe today. The burgers were so much better, especially with a half-chips-half-salad side serving.

My go-to comfort food was chips and sausage, because they would cook the sausages all the way through and they tasted like Farmers' Choice sausages – whether they were or they weren't, they somehow managed to duplicate the taste.

I had chips and sausages today and was so disappointed at the way the increase in price was not commensurate to a maintenance of flavour. I could swear they've changed their sausage provider. I'm waiting to see how long the giant samosas will remain the same.

So though it would seem that Java is here to stay, I only go under duress, when everywhere else is full, mostly because of the food's lacking qualities.

Certainly, there is a branch in many major Kenyan cities, which is good for growth and competition, but something there is being sacrificed at the same time. Slowly but surely, these new cafes springing up are going to figure out exactly what they need to do to dominate the market share, and Java, if it doesn't pivot to stop it, won't be able to.


Wondering where to get the 411 on what's happening in Nairobi's foodie scene? There's a lot of places you could go, but here's where we want you to be – getting the dish on the dish. Get it? We knew you would.