Oh sure, it sounds like the punchline to a joke. Something like “selling ice to Eskimos.” Instead, it’s an idea who’s time has come. Finally.

Most coffee growing countries you may visit you’ll have a hard time scaring up a good cup of coffee. Ask for a cup and often as not you’ll get instant — granules spooned from a tin or a jar kept above the stove. Only Ethiopia — the birthplace of coffee — has had a coffee-consuming tradition for as long as the bean has been cultivated. (Yemen, too, but somewhat less so.) This is changing, and one of the most profound changes may be in Kenya.

For most of Kenya’s 100 years or so of coffee production, it’s been illegal to roast beans for local consumption, all to better assure a steady supply of beans for foreign trade. Those rules have been relaxed… and many more of the traditionally rigid, compulsory practices of the Kenya Coffee Board are being reexamined as Fair Trade principles — and Fair Trade’s higher prices — find their way into the Kenyan economy. Java House, Nairobi, Kenya

Thus, the latest entry into the Kenyan coffee culture… the iconic coffee shop

Plush coffee bars are springing up all over the capital, serving home-grown lattes and cappuccinos to young, status-driven Kenyans breaking from the country’s tea-drinking past. Where there were no proper coffee shops in 1999, there are now more than 20. In the gritty city centre alone, Java House, the best-known chain, serves 1,500 cups of premium coffee a day.

“People thought we were crazy to try to sell coffee to Kenyans,” said Jon Wagner, an American former relief worker who co-founded the company eight years ago, and has seen revenues grow every quarter since. “It was virgin territory but we believed a good cup of coffee would always find a market.”

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