The smiles and friendly faces milling around The Factory Cafe on Wednesday night were masking a hive of nerves and anticipation at the KZN Latte Art and Cup Taster's competition, but as the first barista Dylan of Mokador stepped up to the espresso machine, there was nothing but support from the crowd of his peers.
There are not many events on the calendar where baristas and coffee professionals from coffee shops all over the city can get together and show off their skills. These competitions are an amazing opportunity for the top baristas to make it to the Nationals and to the World Barista Championship. The new kids on the scene get to see the standard to aspire to and hone their talents for next year.
Latte Art may seem little more than a pretty pattern in a cup, but to manipulate the microtextured foam means you have to steam that pitcher of milk perfectly and pull an espresso with a rich, dark crema as your canvas. Did I mention that all your peers are watching you? Try keeping a steady hand when the best in the business are your audience. These baristas have got game.
The camaraderie was evident and you could tell a good pour when the crowd of watching baristas whipped out their smartphones to try get a picture! The cup that garnered the most flashing attention at this year’s competition was from Rory Rosenberg, with an elegant swan that stole the show.
The Cup Taster’s challenge is to distinguish the taste differences between various specialty coffees as quickly and accurately as possible. To explain the row of cups above, three cups are placed in a triangle, with 2 cups being identical coffees and one cup being a different coffee. Using skills of smell, taste, attention and experience, the competitor needs to identify the odd cup in the triangle as quickly as they can. Seems simple enough, but after eight sets of the three, the average tastebuds would be dizzy with flavours, not these folk. They slurp professionally.
The competitors showed speed and connoisseur's agility in their task, but in the end it was Maxine Keet, the defending KZN champion from 2012 that came out tops again this year.
Next week is the KZN Barista Championship, keep yourself up to date with our coverage of the event.