The juice startup putting Mali in a bottle
Scarlet hibiscus petals infuse their flavour in a giant pot of liquid, where green leaves picked from the west African kinkeliba shrub also swirl. With a pinch of ginger and some baobab fruit, the concoction is ready to be tasted.
Aissata Diakite's juices are part of an all-natural health startup which the 28-year-old Malian launched in December, blending traditional flavours with an engineer's eye for detail.
The idea of launching a range of entirely natural fruit juices using locally sourced products from the African savannah came from her childhood in Mopti, a region in central Mali through which the Niger River flows.
And it was there, while studying agribusiness in France, that the project came to fruition.
"When I was a student, I used to come back to Mali on holiday and I would drive through rural agricultural areas to meet the farmers, to understand the seasons and how to manage the off-season," she explains animatedly.
And last month, she launched her line of "Zabbaan" juices after meeting prospective buyers at the "Invest in Mali" forum. The business takes its name from the zaban -- or saba senegalensis, a shrub-like tree native to the Sahel region which grows predominantly on riverbanks and in woodlands, whose fruit and leaves are highly prized.
There are 10 juices in the range, each bearing names like "the king", a punchy mango and baobab mix, "the duke" -- zaban and baobab, or "the warrior" which blends hibiscus with mint and baobab, with names evoking the pomp of the Mali Empire, which ruled large sections of west Africa for 400 years.
It was her grandmother who told her stories about Mali at the height of its power when it was a world-renowned centre of learning, she said.
Her recipes are based on leaves, flowers and fruits from the African savannah, "most of them growing wild" with fresh, local products one of the trademarks of the range.
"We work with a network of farmers who supply us, who often work on lands passed down through the family," she says.
"And these products are also used in traditional African medicine."
In order to break into new markets and start exporting overseas, the company is also in the process of obtaining organic certification.