A typical winter day in Tampa Bay is anything but typical. One is more likely to see sand angels on white sands before seeing anything that resembles snow.
But on occasion, and sprinkled throughout the Winter season, the Bay area is prone to experience a cold snap or two. And on those thin-blooded days when socks are NOT optional, Café Kili in Temple Terrace is a welcome respite from a brisk day; a place where hot coffee and a warm smile will bring your temperature back up to sub-tropical norms.
Café Kili (named after Mt. Kilimanjaro) is owned and operated by Patrick and Rose Waruinge. They opened for business in 2007 and are a thriving mainstay of the Temple Terrace and USF communities. They roast their coffee in-house. Raw beans are imported from Kenya, Tanzania, Sumatra, Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala and Brazil. You haven’t tasted coffee as rich and flavorful until you have experienced the taste of a bean that has been brewed within a few hours from the time it was roasted.
All of the usual varieties that discerning coffee drinkers are accustomed to can be found on the Café Kili menu. My personal favorite is the Café Mocha. At the franchise coffee shops, I’m normally a quad-shot-espresso kind of guy, but let me warn you right now, the brew at Café Kili is of such a high grade that it makes the corporate swill seem like watered down Prohibition-era hooch served at a speakeasy. So, if you’re like me, you might want to dial it back a couple of shots—I’m just saying.
One would be hard pressed to find a barista in the Bay area with the intimate knowledge of the “sacred bean” as Rose Waruinge—her passion for coffee runs deep. “Rose can taste a bean and tell if it is an African bean or tell you where it is from,” says her husband, Patrick. She was raised on a coffee plantation in the central province of Nyeri, Kenya. Along with her ten siblings, she learned to cultivate raw coffee beans that would, in turn, be sold exclusively to the Kenyan government. “Growing coffee was a family operation,” says Rose. “Our father could not afford to hire workers so he used us [his children] as laborers to care for the coffee plants, pick the ripe cherries and deliver them to the factory. He paid for our educations in this way.”
“Kenyan Gold,” as coffee is commonly known in Kenya, is one of the country’s top cash crops. It is grown on family-owned plantations, but the prices are fixed and regulated by the government. Ironically, according to Patrick, “Coffee growers are not allowed to process for consumption the beans grown on their own farms; it is an export-only industry.”
The idea to open her own coffee shop came to Rose after she observed the wild success of Starbucks. She recalls saying to herself, “I think I know more about coffee than most people. I think I can try and start a coffee shop.” Since she only knew how to grow and sell the raw coffee beans, she had to learn the art of roasting coffee. She and Patrick bought a roaster and spent a couple of years perfecting their roasting methods. If you come to the café on a Saturday afternoon you might find Patrick roasting the beans that will be sold for that week.
Because they roast their beans in-house, Café Kili is able to offer better prices for their coffee than the corporate chains. Once a month they have coffee tastings. It’s a great opportunity to sample different blends. They value their customers’ opinions and feedback. And like any good mom and pop shop, you can be certain that Rose and Patrick know the names and drinks of all their regular customers.
If the coffee alone weren't reason enough to patronize Café Kili frequently, the decor will surely draw you in for an extended stay. Rose single-handedly designed the interior around the textures and colors of Africa. Real bamboo trim, comfortable seating, free wi-fi and warm lighting create a welcome atmosphere spacious enough to be suitable for group meetings, first dates, poetry readings, studying and even live music. If you really want an idea of what I'm talking about, the photograph and colors used in this article’s layout were shot on location.
Café Kili was recently voted one of the Top 10 coffee houses in the country by The Huffington Post—well-deserved praise for Patrick and Rose and a testament to the foundation of excellence that they have established and maintained throughout the years.
Café Kili's location in Temple Terrace is on Fowler Avenue right off the corner of 56th Street behind the Applebee’s. If you rarely visit or pass through Temple Terrace, consider making the trip if only to stock up on a bag or two of “Kenyan Gold” (their premium house blend which they sell by the pound).
I'm certain that after an initial taste of the coffee and the hospitality, you'll find a reason to come back again and again.
Originally published in the Winter 2010 edition of VERTICAL Tampa Bay magazine. Republished here with permission. Photo by Papergirl Press.