Exclusive with Winston Thomas, SA Barista Champion 2017

Wednesday, 17 May, 2017

Say hello to Winston Thomas, the barista who will be representing SA at the World Barista Championships in Seoul, South Korea this November. Yes, barista competitions exist! And yes, South Africa takes part in an international gathering of the best baristas in the world! We chatted to Winston, a week after he was crowned to see if it's all sunk in yet...

What made you compete in the first place? Did you know what you were getting yourself into?
The opportunity to learn. Origin has such a great educational system, but I feel like I gained my core coffee knowledge from competition. You end up spending so much quality time with the coffee that your knowledge just improves exponentially. Also the community made we want to compete, at every level, regional, national and international, the community of coffee people.

Did I know what I was getting myself into? Up until they raised my hand on stage, yes, I think I knew, but now I’ve got no idea, but I’m excited about the abyss ahead!

Was there a moment in Dublin that switched on the proverbial lightbulb for you?

Ja, I think that the one think I felt was lacking at Worlds was a strong African presence, and I just thought that even if I’m not the person to make that presence felt, I want to help, I want to be a part of making that happen. And ja, you saw me, sitting making notes for days while I watched, I made a promise to myself to step it up.

You quoted Lem Butler, US Champ 2016, in your competition speech, I too watched his performance at WBC 2016 and got chills. Were there any other performances that impacted you at Worlds, technically or emotionally?
Ja that quote was actually from Lem’s Farewell letter at the end of his term of being National Champion, but ja the way he presented himself on stage really appealed to me. The other one that stood out was Ben Put (Canadian Champ). I watched him from the start of his prep time, little things like using a take away cup for this test shots, an extra knock box on his trolley, he was a big inspiration from start to finish. And I think the humility of the Top 6 really stood out for me, they all had that in common.

Ah Ben Put also had one of the best soundtracks at Worlds! I think you had one of the greatest too, actually you and Harry, number One and Two in the end, coincidence? I think not!

(laughs) Ja I used to be a DJ, music is very important to me, especially on stage, I want to get the crowd into a good atmosphere and it keeps me calm when I know I have great tracks ahead.
Track List:
Papa was a Rolling Stone - The Temptations
Marvin Gaye - What’s going on
James Brown - Get up off of that thing
You make my dreams come true - Hall&Oates (500 Days of Summer is one of my best, I’m a romantic movie guy!)

How did you train in the last few weeks before the competition?

We hit a few curveballs in the week before Champs, the coffee flavour notes changed when I got to Joburg, I think because of altitude, so I had to change my signature accordingly. But I think the biggest thing I focused on at the end was mental training, getting focused for that 15 minutes, because in the end it all comes down to that 15 minutes on stage.
100m sprinters say most of the hard work is not on the track, most of it is getting your head right, but its gotta all come out in the race in that 10 seconds. So ja, I just focused on getting my mind right for the sprint.

If you could pick any coach in the world, who would it be?

Ooh tough question, I think I would've said Sasa Sestic before the competition, but now on reflection, I think somebody like Gwilym Davies or Lem Butler, someone who I relate to more in circumstance or journey and demeanour, but that also knows how to go all the way. In this industry you've got to understand where you fit in or what your place is. Like Craig Charity, he's a technical guy, his passion is all things technical and I get lost while I'm trying to keep up and Wayne knows a lot about a lot of different coffee topics, I think my strength is that I'm emotionally driven and I think that's the kind of coach or person I would draw inspiration from.

Charles Babinski, who came second in 2015, also based his set around serving an average consumer in his cafe in a very non pretentious way, do you think the coffee competitions have relevance to the consumers you spoke of in your set? What have you learned through your experiences on stage that will positively impact the consumers at the end of the day?

Well definitely from a service perspective. The competition has very formal service parameters and you can't help but take this back to the espresso bar environment. When I got back behind the bar on Sunday, my movements were different. Small things that make a difference to how you make coffee, for example I'm always known for having milk on my face, from tapping the milk jug to get out the excess bubbles, but after competition I instinctively use my hand to cover the top of the jug when I'm tapping. And this goes through to dosing and tamping the coffee more consistently, just in general giving the customer a better experience.

Because coffee is ever changing, the competition will change and has gone through times where it has become too abstract for the consumer, but I think some of the trends mirror what's going on in the market. This year the NutriBullet was a big hit in many people's sets.

Best coffee you’ve ever;
Made: It was a Kenya Gakuyuini AA. I was behind the bar at Origin, I pulled a shot of espresso, made one adjustment, and right there was probably the best espresso I’ve ever made.
tasted: Oh it was actually in Dublin, I'll never forget it. It was a short milk based beverage like piccolo/cortado, the person working the LaMarzocco bar at the World of Coffee expo made it for me. I have no idea what coffee he was using or where he was from and it was served to me in a take away cup, but it tasted exactly like a Milky Bar chocolate, and that is a personal favourite of mine!!!

Favourite piece of equipment currently?

Ah I was so lucky to have the new version of the OCD tool on stage with me. I'm having a lot of fun with it! I'm using the technique that Lex Wenneker (Dutch Champion) used at Worlds. It's a highly effective tool.

On stage with the OCD tool, ensuring even distribution of the coffee before tamping.

Got something to say? Then leave a comment!

Win Tickets for the Good Food and Wine Show Cape Town

Thursday, 18 May, 2017
And just like that the next coffee competition cycle begins!! The SCASA Western Cape Regional Barista Championship kicks off at the Good Food and Wine Show in Cape Town from 2-4 June!

The Coffee Magazine is giving away tickets to go support your favourite baristas and to check out all the other amazing coffee related goodness that will be happing at the CTICC over the weekend. We've got 5 sets of double tickets to giveaway! All you need to do is fill in the entry form below. We hear that current SA barista champ is keen to compete again so he is in the running for next year's Nationals, so you are in for a treat!

Win tickets To GF&WS Cape Town

Got something to say? Then leave a comment!

2017 Coffee Champions Announced!

Thursday, 11 May, 2017

This week reminded us just how amazing the people behind your morning cup of coffee are.

We are so proud of the way the South African coffee community came together at this year’s Hostex. The coffee village was definitely where all the action was!

On the SCASA stage, three new Champions were crowned and we are just thrilled at the results. You can watch all the Nationals Finals here.

Thank you to all the sponsors, including the Tea&Coffee Africa Pavilion presenting sponsor, Huletts.

In the Barista Championship, Winston Thomas (Origin Coffee Roasters) won in a Top 6 that had six competitors who all could have successfully represented South Africa at Worlds. Since his trip as SA AeroPress champ to Dublin last year, this young coffee professional has properly upped his game, coming back inspired and with his sights firmly set on getting back to the World Championships. He is an extremely humble guy and we know that he will do South Africa proud. Winston won it with a beautiful Tanzanian coffee in a set that was well thought out and exceptionally well executed.

Shout out to TriBeCa Coffee who had 3 competitors in the Finals. Origin and TriBeCa hold many champions, such is the competitive culture of excellence at these two companies.

1. Winston Thomas (Origin Coffee Roasters)
2. Harry Mole (TriBeCa Coffee)
3. Khulekani Mpala (TriBeCa Coffee)
4. Bruce Manning (TriBeCa Coffee)
5. Alicia Bulter (Molecular Bars)
6. Wency Masawi (Nino's)

In the Latte Art Championships, Alhenrico Thomas who was runner-up last year, rightfully claimed the National Title and will travel to Budapest, Hungary next month to represent South Africa. He is a seasoned competitor and in the end, his experience and cool nerves under pressure saw him snatch the title from promising newcomer (and all around great guy) Christopher Abrams. Two Western Cape representatives in the final! Mention must be made of Zeus Gqabu from Masterton’s Coffee and Jeff Stopforth of Beaver Creek Coffee who are definitely ones to watch out for in years to come!

1. Alhenrico Thomas (Famous Brands)
2. Christopher Abrams (Ciro Beverage Solutions)

In the Cup Tasters, Simphiwe Adams of Sumatran Coffee, Eastern Cape scored an incredible 8 out of 8 in the final round to claim the title and a ticket to Budapest, Hungary. He and 3rd place competitor Shaun Aupiais had been training solidly for the last 16 weeks to make sure that his 4 year goal of becoming National Cup Taster’s Champion became a reality!

1. Simphiwe Adams (Sumatran Coffee)
2. Wency Masawi (Nino's)

You can see the full gallery here.

Got something to say? Then leave a comment!

Q Square Coffee Festival in Worcester, Western Cape

Thursday, 11 May, 2017

You can contact Debbie for more info: marketing@quenets.co.za

Programme of Events: 23 & 24 June 2017


18:30 for 19:00 - Food and coffee pairing dinner (attended by guests who have purchased tickets to the dinner (20 pax) R350.00 per person


Coffee stalls
Coffee related stalls at market
Live Music
Kids entertainment

08:00 - Festival starts
Coffee vouchers handed out at Park Run
08:30 - Deon de Bruyn demonstrates live coffee roasting in Café Hugo
08:30 - 12:00 - Guests taste different coffee at the stalls and enjoy the food stalls
12:00 - Latte Art competition (barista contestants)
13:00 - Coffee tasting competition (public contestants)
14:00 - Festival closes

Got something to say? Then leave a comment!

Almond Breeze Barista Smackdown at Nationals

Thursday, 11 May, 2017

Got something to say? Then leave a comment!

GIVEAWAY: Barista Wine!

Thursday, 11 May, 2017
We are in the mood for giving! It's time to celebrate the season for coffee and red wine with a case of delicious Barista Pinotage! If you're a fan of two of our favourite things, then hit the like button and share this with someone who you would drink this wine with in the comments section! It's as simple as that!

Got something to say? Then leave a comment!

SCASA Nationals is upon us! 7-9 May in JHB

Wednesday, 3 May, 2017
Alicia Bulter is competing again this year and we know she has her sights firmly set on being Champion! Photo: Erin Wulfson

Well it's that time of year again!

We've been feeling the excitement building across the country and now the week of Nationals is finally here.

You can see the full Schedule here.

We'll be providing LIVE updates via Twitter and there will be so much going on at Hostex beyond the competition stage that we're excited about.

The amazing news is that we already have one South African represented at Worlds this year. Rory Rosenberg, a Durban boy living abroad, went ahead and won the Norwegian Barista Champs earlier this year!

The judges are in training honing their skills and the competitors are on their way to Joburg! It's all happening!!!

Judges! Judges! Photo by Erin Wulfson

This article (5 Reasons we love Coffee Competitions) stills holds true! We can't wait to hang out with the craziest of coffee people!

Hopefully see you there!!!

Got something to say? Then leave a comment!

REVIEW: Nuova Simonelli Home Espresso Machine

Thursday, 4 May, 2017

The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II - beautiful and easy to operate!

If you’re wondering what espresso machine to buy or you’re looking to upgrade your old single group machine for something new, the Oscar II is a very good option.

When I first started making espresso at home I didn't think there was any difference in what equipment you used…WRONG!

Everything is important, and as with most things in coffee, the variations in anything will affect the final flavour in the cup - from the beans that you choose, to the grinder, to the water and so on….this blog is just about the machine and what you should be considering before you outlay hard cash.

Yes, there are cheaper machines on the market for home use… and like cars or anything else, you get what you pay for. I started on the Oscar I, and it’s a machine that a lot of home baristas start with mainly because it’s a reputable brand (Nuova Simonelli has been the supplier of the World Barista Championships for the last 6 years with the Aurelia II) so you know the technology is excellent and the build quality is top. The group-head is the same as the professional / commercial machine with the same 58mm portafilter (the part that you grind the coffee into and tamp) so no different to the one in your local cafe.

The upgrade from the Oscar I to Oscar II are significant - being Italian, the sexy metallic panels make it more durable and more similar to a cafe look than a domestic appliance, but it’s still very sleek and compact at 40cm high x 41cm deep and only 30cm wide. (This is important, as space is at a premium on kitchen counters which are usually 60mm deep, and usually there’s toasters, kettles and other things fighting for space!)

Back to pulling shots - the Oscar II has borrowed the volumetric interface of the Professional model, the Musica (the upgrade from the Oscar and a semi-professional machine) which means you can lock in your portafilter, hit the “double shot” button and the machine will run the exact right amount of water through the coffee and into your cup - you can multi task with other things without having to worry about the shot. (If you don't get 60mls of espresso after pressing the double shot volumetric button - you need to dose less, make the grind a tiny bit courser or tamp with slightly less pressure - but these three variables are the subject devoted entirely to espresso extraction! )

This is the Musica, the semi-professional machine. Previously one had to go straight from the Oscar I to the Musica (and double the price!) but now the Oscar II is the perfect in-between step in terms of machine and price. Win-Win!

Then onto the milk, so you can perfect your silky, smooth cappuccinos! In the words of All African Barista Champs, Craig Charity, cappuccinos are all about experience - and by this, the texture of the beverage is everything - The Oscar II has a lever instead of a wheel to open and close the steam wand (which on the Oscar II is extra long and straight, which I love!) This means more control and precision when steaming milk.

Other technical things that I like - The boiler has excellent insulation and thus uses less energy and builds pressure much quicker than other espresso machines (especially when you’re making for more than 4 people at a time!), the water tank is a 3l reservoir (up from 2,5l), so you you can make quite a few coffees without having to re-fill, and it’s super easy to remove and drain the drip tray.

All in all, it’s a great little espresso machine - I take this and it’s partner in crime, the Grinter Grinder with me away on weekends (I kid you not) as they are small enough to pack into the van and make the weekends away so much more enjoyable, knowing you’re going to enjoy a perfectly crafted cappuccino in a magical setting.

Delicious coffee in a magical setting - even at the beach cottage!

Got something to say? Then leave a comment!