In mainland Europe, the café culture established itself decades ago, then it spread to England and North America and now, here it is alive and well in Kigali’s leafy suburbs. During the 14 months, I have spent in the city, I have seen cool, funky décor café after café pop up, so much so, that now us café lovers are spoilt for choice – Neo, Shokola, Inzora, where should we go today? On the newcomers’ menus, old favourites like omelettes, brochettes, chicken and chips have been pushed off and replaced by global dips and wraps, smoothies and non mainstream salads which can be consumed whilst lounging on sofas or chilling on rooftops, admiring an 180 degree view of the city. In these urban chic cafes, you will not hear the crowds chanting at a Chelsea/Liverpool football match but the cool sounds of world music. You’re welcome to join me here for a virtual latte or an iced rooibos in the capital’s newest watering holes The youngest café on the block is Inzora, tucked away at the back of Ikireza bookshop in Kaciyru. Don’t be surprised if the sweet smell of baking brownies hits you right there in the tastebuds as you approach the locally made wooden tables – trust me, even if you’ve given up cookies and cakes for Lent or your diet, you’ll weaken at the smell and before you know it, you’ll be popping a freshly baked gooey square in your mouth. You can wash down your brownie or sesame cookie with fresh fresh coffee, latte, cappuccino, French press, flat white – hot or iced, your choice, a smoothie combination or a refreshing new take on the old soda – a mingling of sparkling mineral water and fresh fruit syrup.
For those without a sweet tooth, there is nothing yet but I’ve been assured, it’s on the agenda, if not on the menu – the baby is just learning to crawl before she walks or runs. There is wifi and yes, it is reliable, even up there on the rooftop. A few months before Inzora was born, all the cool Kigalians were talking about Neo in Kacyiru, so off I went to check it out. You feel like you’re in a garden conservatory or marquee when you’re there – it’s nice and airy, with the Kigali skyline, all twinkling after dark, spread out before you. During the day, the place seems to double as a workspace for ‘hotdeskers’ – I’m guessing they’re from the media or IT sectors, so you can feel as if you’re eavesdropping on the company’s secrets. The menu is big on drinks, coffees, juices etc but so far, disappointingly slender on food – a couple of sandwiches, samosas and banana cake are all that’s on offer but maybe there’s more in the pipeline for the future – soup or salad, hummus or salsa maybe? The oldest of the new cafes is Shokola Lite’s sister, Shokola in Kimihurura (in wihch language by the way is chocolate spelt ‘shokola’? ). Whereas, older sibling Shokola Lite is inside and inclined to get a little hot and stuffy, at Shokola, you can commune with nature as you sip your espresso or dip into your guacamole in what feels like a very comfortable, tasteful tree house. It’s leafy and airy, the staff are uber friendly, it has a great menu, vegetarian and non, sweet or savoury and they even have a book exchange library which you can browse as you wait for your Mediterranean grilled vegetables and couscous or whatever you have ordered.
This place has everything, so what’s the catch, you might ask…..well, I’ll tell you in 1 word – internet. It’s so unreliable as to be not worth even bothering with – therein lies frustration and computer rage. Now, if you’re someone who goes to cafes for the food, the vibe and to internet surf, email, write your memoirs or whatever, Shokola is not going to work for you, I’m afraid. Rumour has it that the ‘view to die for’ rooftop of the library is set to become Shokola 3 with a programme of cultural events – bring it on, it’s a shame to waste such a great location. Just before I go, I have to mention my latest find, Canaberra in what has become the restaurant, bar strip of Kisimenti. Like at Inzora, Shokola and Neo, the sofas and the funky music are there but whereas those cafes have a distinctly European, north American vibe, Canaberra is unmistakably home grown. In my opinion, it’s at its best in the evening, when the soft lighting gives the place a nice intimate atmosphere. Now, the other significant thing is that Canaberra tries and, I believe manages to be all things to all people – café, restaurant and bar…yes, alcohol is indeed available there, so too is fast, reliable wifi. As it’s right bang in the heart of hectic Kisimenti, it’s not a sanctuary of peace and quiet , like the others but your bill will be considerably lower – a pot of ginger tea for example is 1500rwf, the same price as just a cup of the same at Neo. Fresh juices are a snip at 1500rwf and the food arrives minutes after it’s been ordered. Oh and the staff are super friendly and helpful So there you have it, my subjective round up of the capital’s newest and coolest cafes. My perfect café day would look something like this – breakfast at Shokola, morning coffee at Neo, back to Shokola for lunch, afternoon tea at Inzora, Shokola for dinner , aperitif and nightcap at Canaberra. For those of us on the café circuit, competition is good, it keeps the barristas and cookie makers on their toes, as they come up with innovative ways to attract and hang on to us guacamole dippers and latte lovers. Add live music, art, films, jazz, comedy, games, spoken word, red wine to the menu and I’d probably spend the rest of my life, dashing from one café to the next
I'm a VSO and am based at REB but go around Rwanda running writers' workshops to produce local children's stories. I've lived and worked in Gambia and Uganda and have travelled widely in Africa