Stone Town in Zanzibar is a crossroad of cultures

Two things spring to mind immediately when hearing the word Zanzibar: coffee and spices. And there is no better place to experience a blend of these than the Zanzibar Coffee House, where you’ll get to taste the best spiced coffee on the island – black for the most daring taste buds, or white for the faint of heart.

Dating to the late 19th century, the Coffee House was originally the residence of Tharia Topan, a minister of the Sultan. Subsequently taken over by the Utengule Estate, it was opened as a hotel and coffee shop in 2005. With high ceiling, airy rooms with big windows and lots of light, and beautiful wooden fixtures, the Coffee House resonates with history and is filled with the smell of freshly roasted coffee pretty much all day long. You can enjoy an excellent cuppa in the original coffee shop downstairs, or a tasty breakfast (included in the room price) of freshly baked bread and muffins, fruit, yoghurt, fresh juices and an a la carte menu, all served on the beautiful rooftop restaurant, open to non-residents from 11am to 3pm only, and all day for guests.

The coffee comes straight from their farm at Utengule, and they organise roasting workshops on request for guests and visitors alike – their head barista Asmah is an inexhaustible source of knowledge about the coffee and the house, having worked there since the opening.

It was the perfect place for us to recover after yet more travelling drama. Our motorbike battery decided to abandon us completely while at Kisolanza Farm, which resulted in a day long rambling around nearby Iringa, looking for a suitable replacement, getting it filled up with acid and charged, and finally embarking on the perilous journey back to Kisolanza on the infamous Tanzanian minibuses. A word of advice for the newbie traveller: don’t take them if you hold your life dear!

We fitted in the new battery and everything was A for away. We finally got to Dar Es Salaam after a seven hour ride, then jumped on the Azam Ferry to Zanzibar ($70 return for economy) the following morning. If you don’t have much time on the island or are travelling in high season, make sure you book the ferry you want as places sell out very quickly.

Two hours later you’ll disembark on the fascinatingly decadent Stone Town, a chaotic collection of narrow streets, crumbling buildings with beautifully carved wooden doors, noises and smells straight from an Arabian Night fable. Enjoy losing yourself amidst the tiny pathways weaving through the stone facades, taste a spiced chai (tea) or coffee from one of the many corner “shops” (more like a table with thermoses and cups outside someone’s home!), and stop for a bite at a local restaurant such as Lukmaan or the stalls at Forodhani Gardens, to enjoy the best biryani beef, pilau rice, chapatis with beans and vegetables, freshly grilled fish and much more – and all for a maximum of $4-6 per meal!

Apart from amazing food, Stone Town is also filled with history, and the Coffee House is conveniently located in the midst of it all, a short walk away from the Anglican Cathedral built on the site of the former slave market, the Darajani spice market and, a little further, the 17th century Old Fort, standing like a bastion of culture on the elegant seafront promenade.

Though a bit touristy and filled with souvenirs and local artefacts that look very much alike, Stone Town is the perfect mix of history and relaxation, with the beautiful beaches of north Zanzibar only a short bus ride away.

Here is a tour that we recommend in Stone Town Zanzibar

Words and pictures by Arianna Meschia and Reggie Khumalo