Interview with Winston Thomas post-WBC: Lessons learned and new goals set.

Friday, 17 November, 2017

Followers of this magazine need no further introduction to our current SA Barista Champion, Winston Thomas. In fact, many of you tuned-in to the live Webcast from Seoul to watch Winston's performance last Thursday, and would, no doubt, have been extremely proud of the young man from Cape Town in the way he presented his African-themed set and his coffee. 

However, as Day 1 of the event rolled on, and Winston's name sunk further and further down the brutal, live scoring leaderboard, many of us started to ask... what went wrong? 

Well, we decided to ask Winston himself... not just about the rankings, but the experience, the insights and the technical knowledge gained from WBC 2017.

Listen on.....

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Tiny Cafe: Counter Culture

Friday, 15 September, 2017

Things overheard while sitting at Counter Culture:

“Ah, the highlight of my day!”

“You know I tried without sugar like you recommended, I could really taste the coffee, it was delicious.”

"Can I have another pour over please?"

Now that’s what I like to hear when I walk in to a new coffee space. While Counter Culture may have a new home, they’ve been going for a while now on the North Coast of KZN and they have really found their groove on Florida Road.

Nicky is one of my all-time favourite baristas. She literally lights up a room with her smile and charm and when the room is your local cafe, you’re in for a treat. She is finally competing in the KZN barista champs this year, which I am thrilled about! Luke van der Merwe, owner, will also be judging. Really cool to see them entering the competition fray, it's an amazing way to learn.

We tasted the Subculture Blend (50% Tanzania/50% Brazil) as both an expertly extracted cortado and as the Batch Brew filter. Thoroughly enjoyed both: with the milk our cortado had toasted peanut brittle notes (wild!) and the black filter was smooth, with honey sweetness and gentle plum fruitiness. Kudos to roaster Kevin Clark of Bishop Coffee Roasters and Vintage Coffee for a delightful blend.


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Cape Town Coffee Festival

Friday, 17 November, 2017

Well now, big news for Cape Town is that in February 2018, the organisers of the New York, London, Amsterdam Coffee Festivals, is bringing the concept to our very own Cape Town.

We had the opportunity to catch up with Jeffrey Young, founder of Allegra Group who runs these events, in Seoul and he got us really excited about what's about to hit the Southern Tip of Africa.

Having lived in CT for 4 years, Jeffrey has a love for the city and is looking forward to bringing the concepts they have perfected in other cities around the world to our shores. 

Concepts like CMx, which is a condensed version of the Coffee Masters competition which pits 18 baristas against each other in a series of knock-out coffee challenges, the winner of which will win R10 000 and an all-expenses paid trip to compete in the London Coffee Masters! Epic! Lem Butler, who placed 4th in the World Barista Championship and Emcee'd the New York Coffee Masters, waxed lyrical about the experience and the opportunity that the format gives to baristas to really showcase their skills.

The crowd-pleasing Latte Art Live will be running all day, where the crowd can see the best patterns and colours and skills before their very eyes.

The Cape Town Coffee Festival promises the best of what local coffee and international coffee equipment has to offer. The venue is the Cape Town City Hall which in itself will be a fantastic experience. So much to look forward to.

If you're a coffee business and you'd like to exhibit and get involved email Matt here:

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Africa on the World Stage

Sunday, 12 November, 2017
I had the extreme privilege of seeing the coffee community rally around Martin Shabaya of Kenya as he became the first African to progress to the semi-final round of the World Barista Championships through the new Wild Card system.

It was truly heartwarming to watch the team from Ecuador and our own Winston Thomas and SA Team help Martin as he prepared for his semi-final round.

He certainly did Kenya and Africa proud. The buzz around the arena from other competitors and judges alike was hugely positive in response to Martin's performance. 

Rory Rosenberg also represented Africa on stage, both by being a Durban boy and by using a coffee from Long Miles Coffee Project in Burundi. 

And in the Top 6, Kapo Chiu of Hong Kong placed 3rd using an Ethiopian Geisha from the Gesha Village. Kapo is definitely the rock star of the coffee world, we love his swagger.

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World Aeropress Champs - SA's Khan Chang represents!

Friday, 10 November, 2017
In the midst of all the seriousness at the World Barista Championships in Seoul, the World AeroPress Champs swooped in and provided a much needed unwinding session for all the competitors and spectators, especially the SA Team who had  tough day at the office. Khan Chang of Uncle Bear Coffee in Cape Town was the South African representative and he had a blast on stage as you can see below. The vibe was upbeat and exciting and the MC's certainly got the crowd going. Magpie Brewing Co poured delicious craft beers until they literally ran out. In the end it Paulina Miczka of the UK who squeaked into the semi-finals as a wildcard that emerged victorious! Thanks to the WAC team for putting on a great show, we felt it this morning :)

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SA Barista Champion on the World Stage

Friday, 10 November, 2017
It's the morning after Winston Thomas' performance at the 2017 World Barista Championships in Seoul. The team is gutted as the Live Ranking system has revealed that at the end of Day One, Winston is sitting in 22nd, which means his goal of making it through to the next round won't be realised.

His performance was great. We are proud of him. He went 39 seconds over time to complete his conclusion, but stands by that decision as what he had to say was important so he wanted to finish. We won't know the reasons behind his scores until he hears from the judges in his deliberation time tomorrow. The coffee was tasting beautiful back stage, but in front of all those people and lights it's a whole other story. He is obviously very disappointed, but this was always a step in the next part of his plan, which is to try get back next year. He will use the rest of his time to soak up as much knowledge as he can. We can only look forward now.

We are in a fortunate position as South Africans, because we have two competitors on stage this year. Rory Rosenberg, originally from Durban is representing Norway and he competes today! We will be there watching! Tune in to support!

Team South Africa is making sure that they make the most of the time here. We'll keep you updated.


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'Twas the night before WBC 2017

Wednesday, 8 November, 2017
By Mel Winter

It is the night before. To be more precise, it is the very early morning (around 2am) of Winston Thomas’ World Barista Championship 15 minutes.

We have long since finished polishing the seemingly endless crockery and glassware for the set to the sounds of Pearl Jam and Fat Boy Slim and Elvis, and although the apartment is quiet now, no one seems to be able to sleep. I wonder if Winston can? I wonder if any of the 60-odd National Barista Champs gathered in Seoul, South Korea to compete over the course of the next two days, can sleep?

There has been too much invested in the upcoming 15 minutes on stage to relax fully. There is too much excitement. There is too much anticipation. There is too much of an opportunity at stake to give it anything other than your best.

And yet every Champion I have spoken to has had the time to connect. Because they know that really it’s not just about that 15 minutes on stage, it’s about every single moment they get to spend amongst this crazy, global coffee community.

They have changed the rules about the back stage area, so there will very limited access given to anyone that is not a barista or a coach. Though I can understand this, it saddens me that I will miss out on that this year, because that is where the magic happens. The camaraderie. The friendships born in times of shared stress. The drama of things not going according to carefully laid plans.

As the competition grows ever popular, evolution is taking place, but just how far can we push this format? As Ben Put, Canadian Champion, said last night over fried chicken and beer, “This is a game where you have to think outside of the box, but inside the rules.” It’s a fine line and all the baristas will walk it tomorrow. We can’t wait to watch.

Winston is an interesting guy, I am in constant admiration of his ability to remain calm. I do not possess this ability (as the other SA team members will be able to tell you). His kind-hearted nature belies his nerves of steel. He is absorbing the pressure with maturity and grace and strength. And yet through all the calm and maturity, you never doubt his passion for one second. Winston wants semi-finals or higher. He wants it bad.

The South African team has done their country proud so far. Everyone has pulled together and worked hard to support Winston (who has given his utmost), and while of course we hope it will pay off on the scoresheet tomorrow, you can be sure without a shadow of the doubt, that the barista representing South Africa is a true Champion.

I feel very emotional writing this, and sure it could be the lack of sleep, but mostly it's just that my heart is just bursting with both pride and gratitude. I'm so proud of each and every person who has put their all into this and I'm grateful to be here to witness it. 

So as for sleep? Well, we can sleep when we’re dead. For now, we celebrate. Good luck to everyone!

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Build up to WBC Seoul: Joel Singer of Origin Coffee, Cape Town

Tuesday, 31 October, 2017
It's all very real now. Our South African Champion is on his way to Seoul to compete next week. Origin Coffee Roasters has produced multiple Champions over the years - they have a culture of competitive excellence within their business and believe that the competition format is incredible training for their baristas. We caught up with Joel Singer, owner of Origin, to hear his thoughts on Winston, international coffee expos and the SA coffee landscape. Photos courtesy of Origin Coffee Roasters.

You have seen many Champions come through your ranks, what in your eyes is Winston’s strength as a Barista Champion?

Winston is very down-to-earth and approachable which I think has a very strong appeal to judges. Like others before him, but to an even greater degree than earlier champions, he has had great support from across the industry in terms of personal support in training and also sponsorships (equipment, towards a very high quality competition coffee) both locally and internationally.

He is technically very capable. And he has shown a level of commitment, dedication, focus and discipline in his preparation for local and international competition at or higher than the level of the best Origin champions of years gone by.

How do you think the coffee landscape in SA has changed from Origin’s first Champion to now with Winston’s endeavour to make history?

The South African coffee scene has obviously evolved enormously overall. The number of roasteries and cafes has exploded. It might have started earlier in Cape Town, but it has spread throughout the major centres now. Consumers are more and more aware of quality coffee and of barista skills as a key contributor to cup quality. The level of competitors at regional and national competitions has improved substantially.

Despite almost 12 years of work (and many years of hard work by many others in the industry) I think the value of baristas’ skills still remain undervalued in the industry, and the price of the best quality coffee remains too low. We are not yet at the level of the best baristas and café practices worldwide – we have made so much progress yet sustained and substantial effort is still required to drive the level higher. In order to achieve this, we need consumers to vote to reward the best – produces, roasters, cafes and baristas – so that the underlying economic fundamentals are in place for developing a world class coffee and speciality coffee culture in South Africa.

What is the best part of travelling to these international coffee events?

The coffee industry is a relationship industry. At these events, we get to meet many coffee friends from across the world. We connect with them, share stories and ideas, and we also get exposure to the best of what is happening worldwide – be it in coffee production, café and roasting equipment, barista techniques or café practices. We get to learn about coffee culture and its evolution in other countries which opens us up to new ways of thinking about our industry. We get inspired to reach higher levels of skill by being exposed to the best of what is happening in coffee worldwide.

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