Cafe Culture

The word cafe originates from the French word café meaning coffee, or coffee house. Cafes are meeting points for coffee lovers and those looking for a relaxed, casual atmosphere. There isn’t much of a coffee drinking culture in Uganda yet you’ll still find us visiting cafes. Here are the four scenarios in which you’ll catch a Ugandan sitting in a cafe probably drinking anything but coffee.

Nom Nom Nom: In Kampala, it seems that many cafes’ claim to fame is not their coffee, but their food. This could either be a dessert they do really well, a well-stuffed sandwich, or a breakfast deal so big that you can skip lunch and evening tea once you’ve had it. Ask where one can get the best red velvet cake in town and you will almost certainly be pointed in the direction of several cafes. Asking about the best mocha in town, however, yields scarcely any results. A conversation to be had another day is why Ugandans, despite being one of the world’s biggest producers of coffee, are not too crazy about drinking it. The fact is: coffee doesn’t seem to be what draws many Ugandans to cafes

Expat Spot: “Ugandans don’t drink coffee, we drink tea,” is the comment we often hear. This commitment to tea is so serious that the five major meals in Uganda could be said to be breakfast, break tea, lunch, evening tea and supper. Of course people can, and do, drink both tea and coffee, but in many ways coffee carries the perception of being a foreign luxury. Coupled with the high prices of good coffee and the fact that most cafes and restaurants depend on expatriates for business, this leads to the current situation in which cafes are regarded by the vast majority of Ugandans as being “for bazungu.”

A Place To Grab Coffee: When you meet that friend from university whom you only ever see on Facebook, you may suggest “grabbing coffee” to catch up on the very things you already know from Facebook. However, studies (which I cannot cite because they do not exist) show that 86.1% of Ugandans who talk about “grabbing coffee” usually drink tea/soda/water instead. “Grabbing coffee” thus refers not to the actual activity, but is a metaphor for “hanging out.”

Office Space: Many people today work nowhere in particular. This does not mean that they do not work, but that their office is wherever their laptop is, and a very popular place for laptops to be is cafes. Coffee, snacks and (sort of) free Wi-Fi make cafes an ideal working space, which is really all we ever want from our offices (apart from a printer and scanner). “Rent” is paid for in cups of coffee and when one has been doing it for a while, they know how many cups per day they can have in order to break even.

That being said, even if coffee drinking is not your reason for going to a cafe, one can still appreciate the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, the warmth and casual nature of the space, and of course, the sort of free Wi-Fi. What does a cafe mean to you?

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