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How starting a keto diet led Smamile Ngubeni to bring premium African coffee to Eswatini

Editors note: Legend has it that Isaac Newton 'discovered' Gravity after watching an apple fall from a tree. Well, our bird story of the week comes off the same page, only it's about coffee, not Gravity, and it's definitely not a legend.

bird takes you to the Kingdom of Eswatini, where we meet Smamile Ngubeni, whose decision to start a keto diet led her to 'discover' single-origin coffee.

Want to add zest to your day? Dive into this story.


Smamile Ngubeni decided to get healthy. Now she is a purveyor of the finest African coffee.

By Nokukhanya Musi–Aimienoho, bird story agency

When Smamile Ngubeni decided to take charge of her health and incorporate a low-carb, high-fat diet in 2020, she never imagined it would lead her to start a coffee business.

"As part of the diet, I had to have a "bullet-proof coffee", which is a very high-fat drink and intended to replace a carb-heavy breakfast," she explained.

However, the available coffee in Eswatini had high-level caffeine. In a quest to find low-caffeine organic coffee, the young accountant started researching different coffee beans, variants, blends and where she could source the best coffee.

"It was the whole research process that inspired me to open a coffee bar in the country," she said.

Smamile Ngubeni holding a packet of Satis Coffee. Photo Courtesy : Smamile Ngubeni

But while working on the concept of a coffee bar, she decided to go bigger.

Ngubeni embarked on an entrepreneurial journey, literally travelling to Rwanda to learn about coffee cultivation and production processes and meeting contacts from Burundi and Ethiopia.

Upon her return to the country, the Satis Coffee brand was born. The brand is currently the Kingdom of Eswatini's leading premium speciality (single origin) coffee brand.

Satis Coffee in its new packaging. Photo Courtesy : Smamile Ngubeni

While the coffee is available at select upmarket establishments, Ngubeni also takes advantage of local events and festivals to market the product while engaging with coffee lovers and potential clients.

"The day I took part in my first official coffee cupping (the professional method of tasting and observing the aromas and flavors of brewed coffee) and my brand was also present and passed the score, that was one of the highlights of this journey," she said.

And while she has seen considerable success in under three years, it hasn't been smooth sailing for Ngubeni.

"It's a challenging playing field. Entrepreneurs like myself face major difficulties in getting financial support from financial institutions in Eswatini. It's all the more difficult when you are young and a woman," she said.

She speaks of experiencing outright rejection when approaching potential financiers.

"I was ready with my business plan in hand and was straight up told that they could not assist me in any way unless I had already traded for at least 12 months. That's enough to deter anyone from pursuing their dreams," she said.

According to Ngubeni, the challenge is exacerbated, as she's in an industry where most people don't appreciate her product.

"The food and beverage industry is tricky because Eswatini culture doesn't embrace coffee that much. Statistically, it has been found that only 3 out of 10 Swazis are likely to drink coffee. So building a clientele is not an overnight process which is probably why financial institutions are a bit reluctant to invest in it," she explained.

Coffee lovers savouring the taste at a recent event. Photo Courtesy : Smamile Ngubeni

Nevertheless, she is still upbeat about the future of her business venture.

"I've met people who have been willing to help me. I hadn't expected there would be so many technical difficulties along the way. Ensuring your product is outstanding takes a lot of work," she said.

Although Satis Coffee is relatively new in the market, the young entrepreneur already has plans to scale the brand.

"Over time, the plan is to have a central place where people can come and enjoy the coffee because what we do now is mainly distribute to vendors, albeit on a small scale," she explained.

Coffee Cupping during an event. Photo Courtesy : Smamile Ngubeni

By mid-year, she wants to have a few major stores supplying Satis Coffee to increase her visibility and availability. She also plans to go back to her original plan of opening a coffee bar.

"I am looking at setting up an exclusive Satis Coffee Bar. It will be a space where business executives and professionals can come and work peacefully. A place for teams to gather and have brainstorming sessions, or close deals with clients in a quiet, relaxed environment as they savour the aromas and flavours of our brewed coffee," she explained.

In the meantime, her focus is on quality.

Prepping a cup of coffee during a recent event. Photo Courtesy : Smamile Ngubeni

"I fully believe in the quality of the product. This is the sustainability factor of the brand," she concluded.

As for the diet: having achieved her goals, she's still generally following it, but "less religiously."

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