When it first opened in 2012, Kar.ma Coffee became instantly famous as the café where you pay as much as you like. Intrigued by this novel concept, visitors flocked to the humble one-table room located in the Moksh building in Jhamsikhel. Two years later, there are four tables and the straw seats cover the entire corridor.
But the 'pay as you like' policy remains. So does the Kar.ma chicken mascot that has been collecting payments. Owner Birgit Lienhar-Gyawali says she wanted coffee to bring together different kinds of people who frequented the Moksh centre: artists, musicians, students, professionals, and expats. Go in there for a cuppa any day of the week (except Sundays when it's closed) and you can see the Austrian expat has achieved her goal and spread a strong eco-friendly message as well.
Used coffee filters decorate flower pots that line the balcony and ground coffee beans from the filters are discarded onto the plants as compost. All the furniture and accessories (coffee tables, lamp shades, coasters, cushions) are designed by Birgit herself and made using recycled and repurposed material.
Positive responses and curious queries from visitors and friends about the pieces encouraged Birgit to start selling them. At present she works with a local carpenter to produce the pieces. But with increasing demand, she plans to hire more. If a visitor likes the table where her coffee's being served, she can buy it on the spot, just like everything else in the café. The only exception is the big community table inside, which must be ordered.
Customers can also order pieces with specific measurements.
Most of Birgit's furnitures are made using mango wood because of its hardness and durability. "It is not the easiest wood to work with but it's deep dark quality is beautiful," says the designer. Although Birgit has no background in furniture design (she worked as a tourism development consultant before starting Kar.ma), she started designing furnitures out of pure passion, and says her inspiration for pieces mainly comes from her three-year stay in Ghana. Besides Kar.ma Coffee, Birgit has also designed the Himalayan Java Outlet on Mandala Street in Thamel and the LifeCycle office (pic). Currently, she is busy with a renovation project for a guesthouse in Bhaktapur and Hattiban Resort.
Kar.ma Living is Brigit's yet-to-be launched line of designer items, but you can see some of them at the monthly fleamarket at Gyan Mandala, or order through its facebook page. Kar.ma furnitures will also be on display at the first Karavan Kathmandu pop up bazar on 31 May at Tamas.
Says Birgit: "Nepal is a teasure trove for old furniture, but most people don’t appreciate the old. They believe whatever comes from outside is better. With our upcycled furniture pieces and accessories we want to show that you can create incredible hip and chic interiors," says the petite woman.
Tsering Dolker Gurung
Kar.ma Coffee is located on the third floor of the Moksh building in Jhamsikhel. Open Monday to Saturday (closed on Sundays), 10am to 7pm
Coffee and conversations
A day at the museum