There are so many wrong things with Kenya at the moment. The cloud of angst and uncertainty that comes with every election period, for instance. Churchill Live, for example. Isn’t it sad when a supposed comedy show makes you wanna cry? Wafula Chebukati, anyone!
But the biggest disaster we have now is the Java tea. It is the most awful brew, it is amazing how nobody has called them out in the 18 years Java has been existence in Kenya.
See, Java now occupies our national consciousness as the middle-class coffee place of choice. It is part of the Nairobian landscape and can pass for a cool joint, even though on the pricey side for an average Joe like me. But they must stop making tea, or hire a new chef who knows what good Kenyan tea tastes like that. My grandmother would have made a good chef, if she was still around. That woman knew how to bring the best flavour out of tea. Bless her soul.
A Kisii man can’t enjoy thin, undercooked tea. So transparent I can see the bottom of the cup, no kidding. Thin tea will annoy any Kisii or Luhya. This should be classified as a human rights’ abuse.
As a decent human being, I don’t take coffee, hence I’m not allowed to comment on Java’s famed coffee. In three brief months, between August to November 2015 while living in New York, I took so much coffee it messed up my sleep patterns, all in the name of keeping up with the pressure of graduate school. I understood why coffee is big in the United States. But coffee neither makes you alert nor is it good for your health. It is overrated and yuck! But if you love your coffee, Java often gets a good vibe.
But their tea is cursed.
It is the day of the Lord, July 17, 2017, a warm Monday morning, I find myself at Yaya Centre, minutes after 9 a.m. Wife just dropped me there on her way to work and I have a column to file, by 10 a.m. I decide I can do Java and then hop onto a bus to patch up some column and dispatch to a fuming editor.
Speaking of Yaya Centre, the owner; a highly objectionable figure in our country’s relatively short history had just died, and a good chunk of the country did celebrate his death. As I walk in, I think about all the monuments men build that outlive them. The Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, KICC…It is business as usual at the ever busy upmarket mall, even though the owner is cooling off on some slab in the very expensive Lee funeral home. I shut the macabre thoughts out and focus on the job at hand.
I walk in and it is deserted in the morning. Some white lady working on her MacBook, I wonder if she knows that we have elections in three weeks and nobody knows what will happen. There some two Kenyan men who look like suspects squeezed together on one sofa and their eyes dart towards me, as I walk in, make me squeamish, a bit.
But soon the place fills up, and there is a mix of white and black people, it feels like an airport, Schiphol, Amsterdam, to be precise. I have ordered some ‘African Tea’ (this always struck me as ironical, since tea is not an African thing, but we borrowed this the tradition from the English, who neither grow tea nor know how to brew the damn thing). The tea is taking forever to arrive, but I’m already typing on my laptop, absorbed with the stream of consciousness.
The tea arrives and it looks thin on arrival. The waitress tells me, “enjoy.” How is that possible. A Kisii man can’t enjoy thin, undercooked tea. So transparent I can see the bottom of the cup, no kidding. Thin tea will annoy any Kisii or Luhya and it should be classified as a human rights’ abuse.
But white people can’t tell what good tea even if it walked past them naked
Especially when a cup goes for Sh 190. The best tea in Nairobi, indisputably is sold at Sizzling Lounge, at the junction of Moi Avenue and Ronald Ngala and goes for Sh 50. There is a wider rift of class between the two joints, but the less class joint has the best tea in the world, especially their Masala.
I drop in some three or four sugars (not to be sissy, I have always had a sweet tooth, I often sneak into a supermarket to grab some House of Manji Digestive biscuits and they always do me good, a boy can eat candy, you know!)
So, I take the first sip and the tea ruins my Monday, just like that. I had ordered the tea with a samosa. You all know, I live for samosas. Java make this giant samosa that weighs something like 50 Kgs. One is enough to knock you down. The waitress had asked me if I want a chicken or beef. I normally return the question to them, by asking which one is the best. Every Java I have been to, no waiter or waitress ever nominated the chicken samosa. Wonder why they sell it. Ordinarily, the chicken samosa is what I should take since the doctor has raised a flag for me on red meat.
So, we settle for the beef samosa. But when they serve they serve me chicken. I hate causing a kerfuffle in restaurant, but when I bite the samosa, I see some white, saw-dust like stuff. It tastes awful. Like lukewarm water. Or wood. I ask her if that is how their beef looks like. She comes picks it, I tell her it is fine I can eat, she insists that those in the kitchen must get the orders right.
I wait for the beef samosas for the same duration we have waited for the Raila presidency. But it arrives. The tea is half-way, now cold as an iceberg, and even dreary. The lemon slice they bring with the samosa looks disheveled. You know those tiny, premature ones, not ready for consumption. But lemon is lemon. I squeeze it on the meat, not even sure why we do that.
I take a bite, it is beef, this time round. Even so, there is something tasteless about the meat Java uses. It tastes like a samosa, but I have taken far better samosas in Nairobi. It is big, not that bad. But, still, wish I knew who their meat supplier is. We are in Africa for crying out loud, and food should have some flavor to it. We are not at a point of GMO foods.
By the third bite, I notice something like strand following the biting to my mouth and it is human hair. My heart freezes. We always think the worst. What if it is pubic hair. It is long, must be feminine hair anyway and it is deeply ensnared on the doughier part of the samosa and I want to complain and I realise it is too much, so I let it lie there on the table, counting my losses.
Anyway, Java is a good meeting joint, but they can improve on their foods to make them taste less like junk. Also, not sure why waitresses always feel obliged to address black people in English. I always feel, Swahili or better sheng is a more a natural language in Nairobi. Maybe it is the hospitality BS. And that grates me.
Now, let’s square the tea problem. One Java presumably targets the white people in Nairobi. But white people can’t tell what good tea even if it walked past them naked. Since they attract more locals, it is only fair if they can make tea how our grandmothers used to make tea.
On a good day, this is how you make tea. Three parts milk, one part water. Even 2:1 is not a bad ratio in these highly inflationary times. More to the point, let the water boil, pour milk and the tea, let it boil, add sugar when it boils over and let it calm down. Turn down the heat until it can boil on its own without pouring over. Let it boil for eternity. Go shower, watch a movie, do everything. Come back when all of it has nearly evaporated and then get that to the flask and enjoy. The secret is letting it boil for an eternity.
Alternatively, Java can steal the Sizzling Lounge Chef, or pay him or her as a consultant. It is really that simple.
They did replace the samosa and the manager apologized profusely.