Amidst the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu, often times we wonder where can we find a place that offers coffee which calms the soul and the ambiance which relaxes the mind; that’s when KARMA coffee comes in. The place is filled with the aura of coffee like no other place that you have gone and the people you meet are like families that you have known since a decade ago.
As good as the place sounds, so does its journey. The founder of the place: Birgit Lienhart Gyawali shares with us this journey of KARMA; how a person who came as a tourism adviser changed path and fell in love with the art and the process of coffee making and more.
Birgit’s story is one of a kind. A person who truly believes in development and is working in her own way to bring about a change; she definitely is one of the few passionate and humble people that I have met. Hereon is the journey of KARMA along with other few questions and its answers that came up during our meet.
How did the idea of KARMA coffee emerge?
I came to Nepal 14 years ago and then I came as a tourism adviser. Before coming here, I had never thought of staying in Nepal the way that I am doing today. BUT, everything changed from the day I arrived to Nepal; I felt that this was a special place and for many reasons. Few of many are the people of Nepal, the culture and the country in itself.
And then, at that moment a voice was speaking to me saying that there is so much that can be done here and that you should stay; so I did. After a while, I changed my path and I was constantly brainstorming and asking to myself what can I do that is fulfilling and more rewarding and benefiting much more people.
At this time, I was working as consultant next door, and this place started becoming a creative hub. A friend then recommended me to look into coffee farm and explore the possibilities there since that would interest me. Soon after that, I went and visited a coffee farm in begnas area.
This was when I experienced and had the realization that coffee making is an art; there is so much going on for that one cup of coffee; for that single sip we take and many a times we do not even realize how did that coffee end up, how many people were involved in that process to bring that product from farm to table.
Being in that farm and seeing the process, I had learned so much; and seeing and learning so much I fell in love with the art of coffee making. After this trip, I thought YES this definitely has potential and I can do what has not been done in this industry. A chain of small events happened after that; this room got vacant; my friends were encouraging me a lot to start with the coffee project. After giving this a really serious thought I then stepped up and decided to start this venture while at the same time helping local producers and bringing about a change.
What factors drove you towards starting this venture?
My passion, the love for coffee making, coffee processing and the love for the people are the major factors that influenced me to start KARMA coffee.
How is KARMA different than other place that provides coffee?
KARMA is more than just your typical coffee shop; we here provide an experience. Let’s start with the entrance; we have coffee plant at the entrance point so you can see what a coffee plant looks like. We have green beans here that come from the farm and we have our own roaster where we roast our coffee.
The packaging too is done here at KARMA; all the labels in the packages are hand-written(images at the end). Me and my team we do every single task that it takes to bring a cup of coffee together like meeting with the suppliers, visiting the coffee farms, working alongside with the farmers and recycling everything we can. We collect coffee grounds and use it as a fertilizer; we also use it for our face scrub(images at the end). We make our own coffee paper and other paper products as well. So, whatever can be done with coffee or its by-products we do it all.
What were the challenges that you had to face as a non-native?
The first one was definitely accounting. Doing accounts is a whole different process here. Dealing with people here was a huge challenge back when I started but now it has been much easier as I have learned so much over the years.
What are your learnings from this entrepreneurial journey of yours?
The first thing that I realized and learned was I have to forget everything I know because I am into a new place and things here are done differently. I realized that I had to improve my listening skills rather than just asking for this and that. I learned that it is important to have an open mind, let new ideas flow, take it slow, work from the bottom and then try to integrate the knowledge that you have. The another learning that I have had is that, regardless of your age, experience and knowledge you need a mentor(s); because there is only so much that you can do and there are times when you will be in plight and at moments like these is when you need a right person or persons to direct you towards the right direction and listen to what they have to say; sometimes even if that is not what you want to hear.
Could you please elaborate on the term “coffee boutique”
I wanted people not to just come in the shop and drink coffee and leave. I wanted all who come here to learn about coffee, experience the coffee and its making process. Also, I wanted to people to connect to each other, hangout and build relations with each other. And, thus I have integrated all of the above and that is what the coffee boutique stands for. A place where you can do everything that you do in a typical coffee shop but more. A place where you hangout, connect and at the same time learn and experience coffee.
What differences have you found in the coffee culture between Austria and Nepal?
Coffee drinking is more like a ritual back in Austria; you have your morning coffee and your evening coffee with cake. You circle yourself with people that you adore and care about; everyone hangs out and converse. We have coffee houses back there which are located in old buildings and coffee is served traditionally there. A coffee house is the place where you can hangout for hours over just a cup of coffee. It is a place where creators meet together and connect; it is a place where people discuss their new project; it is where revolution takes birth; it is a lifestyle back home BUT here in Nepal, I could only find coffee shops not houses. The coffee shops here had no soul, at least for me. Because I could see everybody only doing their work; taking a corner seat and working silently and leaving without connecting with any other people. A coffee house is a place where you interact; it is a place where action happens and to my observation it is not so here in Nepal.
What would you want to say to people out there sharing the same journey as yours?
If you have an idea that you are passionate about, an idea that you really believe in and are committed for; then just go for it but at the same time look for mentors as well.
Do not back down if you have less capital as there are so many options of investment and seed fund that can be explored these days; you give your all to create your idea and bring it to life and people will be there to support you in any way they can. No money is no reason to quit and not implement your idea.
Start to accept failure, as it is really important as it the part of the process.
Any opportunity to work with you here at KARMA?
There is always an opportunity here. I am always happy to explore. So, if anybody wants to collaborate, work and share ideas then you can surely drop us a message in our Facebook page.
Written by The Octopi
Some of the products that KARMA coffee Nepal has to offer you are showcased here.
Image Credit: Birgit Lienhart Gyawali