When — a few weeks ago — I saw the tasteful “Coming Soon!” placard outside house number 17 on KG 439 Street, I knew something worth waiting for was cooking behind the green gate.
Vision 20/20 in Gacuriro is a residential area, with everything that makes a suburban neighbourhood truly great: a school, a clinic, green lawns, safety, friendly neighbours, and now — its very own café. Mocha Café is not just a sign of the times that the coffee industry in Kigali is booming; it’s the destiny of its owners, Burhan and Sanaa.
The Yemeni couple arrived in Rwanda in April this year, and started working on the development of the café on the first of May.
“But this is only two months ago,” I exclaimed while spinning around to take in all that has been done in this space: handmade carpentry, interior design, barista equipment, electrics.
“It’s been two work-intensive months, but this is also our home, meaning that the anticipation to see the end result is double,” Burhan explains.
Indeed, for Burhan and Sanaa, Mocha Café isn’t just a business.
While sipping my Masala tea and taking bites of the fresh-from-the-oven chocolate cake that Sanaa has just served in a creative and beautifully presented style, I am thinking that they have literally opened their home to me.
“It wasn’t intentional to combine the café with our living space, but the moment we saw this house, we knew it was the one,” Burhan says.
“We were dreaming of a place where our customers can feel at home, and we can cater for them as friends.”
Sanaa’s warm smile and expressive eyes and Burhan’s unhurried manners invite me to ask about their journey to Rwanda.
“We got married in 2010, and in 2011 the revolution in Yemen began [which later on escalated to a lengthy war]. And along with it our adventures around the world,” Burhan remarks jokingly. Moving from Malaysia to Jordan to Kenya, back to Jordan, back to Malaysia, to Chad, and then Rwanda, is most certainly not light reading.
“We miss home, and we don’t know when it will be possible for us to visit Yemen again. So, we created a home away from home here in Kigali with our love for hospitality, coffee, and cooking,” they say by completing each other’s words.
When Burhan is called into the kitchen by Gane, one of the four kind staff members, Sanaa admits: “I am a dentist, and I miss my work, but Mocha Café is our project now, and needs the one hundred per cent from both of us.”
I comfortably sink into my seat and decide to stay a bit longer.
“Is it okay if I turn my laptop on to do some work?” I ask, even though I suspect it will be a definite yes.
“I am a freelance writer, myself,” Burhan says. “Working from home makes me sleepy, so I am always looking for inviting cafés. I am very happy I have created this environment for other people.”
But Mocha Café isn’t just an excellent working space in an area that is isolated from the hustle and bustle of Kigali, amidst lush gardens and chirpy birds.
It is also a family spot with a mini playground for children, and your extended living room where you can meet your friends for a meaningful catch-up. If you find yourself alone without company or a laptop, don’t hesitate to grab one of the books from Burhan and Sanaa’s collection.
Before I slurp the last bit of my banana peanut smoothie (talking about life beyond borders and the future, and looking at the pictures from their travels was so captivating, that I didn’t realise I had been served again), I already know that this brand new café in Kigali has effortlessly won my heart.
Where: 17, KG 439 Street, Vision 20/20, Gacuriro
Opening hours: 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Menu: The food is home-made and healthy. Don’t miss the breakfast fruit and cereal bowl, and if you love the aromas of coffee but don’t want the side effects of caffeine, ask for Qishr, a Yemeni traditional hot drink made of coffee shells and spices.
Attendants: Philamo and Gane in the kitchen, and Arek and Zulfa on the floor.
About the Author
Freelance writer, editor, and communications strategist for the non-profit, hospitality & travel sectors, Maria Iotova is driven by curiosity, emotional awareness, and an unfading sense of adventure. Since 2009 she has worked with international teams in England, Greece, Ghana, South Korea, Mauritius, and Rwanda