I love it when friends talk about big plans and dreams and actually follow through on them! Calafia is a perfect example. I’d been hearing co-owner Allie talk about her Gisenyi cafe plans for a little while, loving her ideas and excited about the vision she was sharing with me. And now, here it is in the flesh! Well, in the bricks. But you get the idea.
Calafia grew out of Allie’s need for a good sandwich and a cup of coffee. Being Gisenyi-based, her cafe pickings are slim and she doesn’t have quite the same selection as us lucky folks in Kigali. So she decided, if she can’t get a decent sandwich and cup of coffee in town, why not open her own cafe? Perhaps slightly extreme decision, but I’m very glad it happened! Add in co-owner fellow Californian and coffee-aficionado Staci and we have the makings of an amazing cafe.
Staci had been working in Kigali connecting local growers to international markets when she decided to come on board to make sure all of those steps along the chain end with an amazing cup of coffee. If it’s not prepared with care on good machines then all of that hard work along the way seems wasted. She joined the team and Calafia went from idea to reality – and they make a damned fine cup of coffee to boot. They’ve got the usual pot of black coffee (Rwf 1,500), espresso (Rwf 1,000), or cappuccino (Rwf 2,000) but they also throw in cold brew (Rwf 2,000) which is something I’ve only recently heard of and haven’t seen anywhere else in Rwanda which is pretty cool.
Calafia is set in a pretty remarkable house close to the DR Congo border (across the street from the White Rock Bistro) and they’ve turned this old place into something truly special. Your first impression as you enter in the gates will be of a little garden paradise with all kinds of tasty things growing. I had serious garden envy as I looked at their endless kale, lettuce, and beet supplies among other luscious things. With the way things grow so easily in Kigali, it surprises me that more cafes and restaurants don’t go this route and grow gardens of their own. With Calafia being in Gisenyi and having to source many of their things from Kigali, having a garden make sense logistically and, more importantly to us customers, it means that we get to enjoy some seriously fresh produce.
The beet and goat cheese salad (Rwf 3,500) was a particular favourite among my lunch buddies and I. I could have done with a bit more goat’s cheese, but I can always do with more goat’s cheese. I love goat’s cheese to an unhealthy, creepy, stalker-ish level and it’s probably impossible to ever give me enough. But, putting the absence of a goat cheese mountain aside, the salad is big and super filling and the tangy dressing is delicious.
The sandwiches were also a hit but the bread hurt me a little bit. It’s crusty and delicious but it’s kind of sharp on the roof of the mouth. Am I the only person who always has this problem with crusty bread sandwiches aggressively shredding my mouth? Am I eating bread wrong? The bread of Calaifa harmed me. But once I was attacked by my sandwich once, I just turned it upside down to eat it and life was good again. But be warned! And despite this unfortunate incident, the bread really is delicious so I forgave it. They order it from Broood partially baked and frozen and then pop it into the oven to complete the baking so that you get super fresh bread every time.
I really enjoyed the chicken sandwich (Rwf 4,500) with the fresh ingredients and yummy pesto. Loving sauce as much as I love cheese, I could have done with more pesto but it was still a fine sandwich. The steak sandwich was also a winner but my friends didn’t really get much garlic mayo so they were also left craving a bit more sauciness. Sandwiches and salads are where Calafia put their focus and it shows with their creative offerings that can’t be found anywhere else in Rwanda. Add in a yummy cookie (Rwf 400) and you have a nicely well-rounded meal.
Wait, I take that back. Your meal won’t be considered well-rounded until you top it all off with one of their cocktails. Try a mojito or cucumber gin (Rwf 4,000) for something you’re familiar with or branch out to one of their three signature cocktails – Golden Gates (Absolut vodka, ginger, passionfruit juice, lemon, Vitalo), The Locksmith (Jameson whiskey, ginger simple syrup, fresh ginger, lemon, Vitalo), and the Lady Baron (Bacardi rum, cold brew coffee, ginger, Amarula) – for Rwf 4,500 each. They’re seriously good, people, and who doesn’t like to get a buzz on by noon? That’s normal… right?
Calafia, to me, is what a cafe should be. Beautiful artwork on the walls, smiling staff and owners, attention to detail both in the decor and the food, super fresh ingredients, and a creative menu made with lots of love. Keep an eye out for events and other amazing things and be a a part of something special as Calafia grows into an important part of the Gisenyi community.
Allie and Stasi have some clear goals in mind with Calafi:
We just want to be as awesome as possible. We want to grow our own ingredients, pay our bills on time, be good to our community and staff, offer the most tasty things we can come up with, sing and dance, make mistakes and get back up, create opportunities for art and connections and growth and dialogue, mix up all the things we like from all over the world, and make everyone love Gisenyi as much as we do.
I love their vision and I love Calafia. Next time you’re in Gisenyi make sure to stop by!
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 8am – 10pm, Sunday, 10am – 6pm
Phone: 0787 938 145