Robert Shuggy’s LinkedIn bio is one great phase - I am a Barista barrister. The law student at Mount Kenya University is also a barista in Nairobi. In this interview he explains his trajectory in coffee, the status of Kenyan coffee internationally and the impact of Covid-19, and what other baristas can look towards when joining the industry.

When did you start your career in coffee and how did you come across the industry?
I started my career as a barista in 2016. After high school I started staying with my cousin who by then was working in a hotel. One day we were talking about careers and I asked him what he does in the hotel. He replied, "I prepare coffee and other drinks for our customers." As we continued to speak about coffee and hospitality, my interest grew and to quench my thirst I went to study barista skills at Dormans Coffee Training Centre, the leading coffee training college and coffee exporting company in Kenya. Then I started working with restaurant Big Square.

What's the status of specialty coffee in Kenya?
Kenyan coffee has been doing great globally. According to the data from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and International Coffee Organization, coffee from Kenya is one of the top five foreign exchange earners; exporting more than 95% of its production. However, Kenyan coffee exporters have been hit by the Covid-19 crisis - due to lockdown there has been no importation of coffee by global consumers.

At least now the situation is promising by the lifting of lockdown by some countries. Also low global prices has been a woe to the sector, even despite showing some rebound during 2019. No sooner had the coffee farmers optimism with the new prices increased, than Covid-19 came.

Nairobi’s local coffee drinking market also suffered. Local consumers who walk to coffee shops that serve brews were affected by the closure of hotels and eateries. This led the consumers to supermarkets buying medium-quality coffee to drink at home. With the new rules and regulations to hotels and eateries on Covid-19 protocols things are resuming back to normal.

What types of people are suited to working in coffee?
Anyone who has interest in coffee and is ready to learn can be a great barista. Mostly, employers want a cheerful and talented barista. Also you need a solid customer service skills and ability to work independently as well as with team mates.

If someone is new to coffee and looking to start out, what would you recommend they start with?
Well, if someone is new to coffee, I recommend them to begin with training. After gaining knowledge in coffee from tree-to-cup and familiarizing themselves with coffee machines and equipment, they will have a better chance to work any where as a barista. Go to the field and gain experience then advance from there.

Are there some central blog posts or websites that you go to gain more knowledge, develop further skills?
Yes there are many websites that we visit as baristas. Mostly I use YouTube to learn new skills and new latte art. Others include and Connect Coffee.

What's next for your career? What's on the horizon and what goals do you have for the coming three years?
At first I took it as a stepping stone, work and get paid to cover my university tuition fees. With more experience I found myself deep in coffee world and bartending at large. Doing wines, cocktails, mock tails and Indian drinks. I want to be a coffee roaster, go to the field and come up with my variety and present it to the world market. I’m currently working with Rabuko Bistro, located at Westlands the Mall Nairobi. Here we are working on a different concept, follow six simple rules to a healthy eating:

  1. Eat more nuts and seeds
  2. Fruits and vegetables
  3. Healthy fats and Omega 3
  4. Eat less processed meat
  5. Less sugar and refined carbs

Find Robert Shuggy at Rabuko Bistro and on LinkedIn.