Forest Mall is one of Kampala’s busiest business hubs. On a very bright midmorning, you will not be short of seeing many people crisscrossing from the wide parking lot as they run from one building to another some in a hurry and others owning all their time. Ugandans love their caps and shades and of recent, their masks, you may be tempted it is a banner of sorts. The mall itself parades a number of automated teller machines outside the entrance where patient clients snake along as they tap away on their VPN powered smartphones.
At least for now, it is no longer news that before you enter any building, you have to wash your hands. For those that dodge, the security officers at the entrance have taken it upon themselves to remind you.
A step into the mall, you realise something is different. The air is calmer and fresher, the heat is measured and the light just right for your eyes. You will realise that even the speeds reduce. Some pace up upstairs while others turn off to the different shops or offices.
It is there on the ground floor in the corner below the staircase that you find the beautiful Volcano Coffee café. Your eyes may miss it but your nose will lead you there. The coffee aroma can be smelled from as far as the main entrance. In that corner is where I sat down with Gerald Katabazi, the proprietor as he told me about his passion for coffee.
Gerald is a firebrand when it comes to all conversations coffee. For the last ten years, he has been fully involved in the value chain of coffee from the garden to the cup. He tells you details of the coffee in your cup by just looking at it. A barrister himself, Gerald has brewed a cup of coffee in as many a countries as your fingers can count. He has established coffee brewery at high end hotels and cafes in Uganda and Rwanda. For all those years, he has created happiness for many a consumer yet in all this, he remains very humble. You may never know until he tells you his story.
All the ears he has spent in this coffee business, Gerald has found a number of gaps in the coffee chain that he, at an individual level, is working on. His heart beats for the coffee farmer as much as it does for a Ugandan who has not yet embraced coffee consumption. His heart aches because of the value he sees being lost along the way.
These many concerns have sent him searching in different countries working with established institutions on understanding the coffee value chain. This journey can be informally traced back to 2006.
Coffee is a rich bean. It ranks highest among Uganda’s foreign exchange earners yet this does not necessarily sound as true in the pockets of the farmers. Most coffee leaves the farmers’ stores in the rawest form which fetches next to nothing. A lot of the value addition which happens along the way is quite pricey to be afforded by a mere farmer.
Enter Gerald. Having had the opportunity to till the land as a child in a coffee growing community in Kasese, Gerald would later get the experience of working as a casual labourer in a coffee milling plant in Kasese before graduating to being a coffee errands person at Café Pap in Kampala at its inception. There, he was exposed to the process of brewing coffee to the cup. Then Serena Hotel opened doors in 2007 where had a singular honour of establishing coffee brewing at the hotel, an experience he exported to Serena Kivu in Rwanda. There, he landed an opportunity with the Rwanda Development Board to establish coffee stations across the country.
Unbeknownst to him, this journey was preparing him to take on what has become the biggest desire of his life; a cup of coffee for you and I. In all these years of working in the coffee space, Gerald has established that the best way to reward farmers is by increasing coffee consumption wherever doors can open.
That is how Volcano Coffee was born, a small outlet in a corner of this very big place. Gerald wants to take coffee to the Uganda tea drinking population to taste it and to appreciate it. He is on a mission of taking coffee outside the big café. He wants it closer to the consumer, somewhere along the streets. He is training young people to become barristers so there can be as many brewers as well. This is where his heart is now. Taking coffee to the places where it has not yet been recognised. Gerald’s prayer is that if more Ugandans (to start with) can drink some more coffee, the dots- in form of extra cash- shall be traced backwards to the farmer.