A confident, well-spoken and experienced barista, Winston Thomas knows his coffee and sees himself as an ambassador of this extremely popular pastime both locally and when competing abroad. As the 2017 and 2018 South African Barista Champion, he represented SA on the world stage in Seoul and Amsterdam.
To compete; the challenge is simple, within 15 minutes, contestants present three different coffee beverages to four sensory judges, ensuring that the coffee taste they experience is as you the contestant describe it. All coffee ingredients must be prepared on stage and easily put together without the use of alcohol or flavour essences. A further two judges, a technical and head judge mark overall performance, workflow, measurements, and cleanliness. All this is done while you are on stage, miked-up in front of up to 2000 spectators, your performance streamed globally via live video feed.
The three coffee beverages presented are; Espresso, milk, and a signature beverage of your choosing. The first two coffees are standard, but your signature beverage must be simple to make while presenting a unique taste experience.
Contestants need to explain to the judges what it is they will be tasting and experiencing with each beverage. Judges mark contestants on, texture, mouth feel, bitterness, acidity, sweetness, flavour and finish. It is all about how accurately the contestant can replicate the drinking experience they have described to the judges. Professionalism, attention to detail and the overall impression delivered are also critiqued. You clearly need to know your coffee, where it comes from and where it has been, as well as understanding all aspects of its preparation to the point of cupping, no simple task.
This performance or “set” as it is called is carefully scripted and then learned word for word. Tastes and flavours are developed so they are universally recognisable on the world stage. The “set” is refined and practiced over and over, even presented a number of times at competition level. To get to the world stage you need to win the SA Barista Championships first, there can be only one.
Ben Ferreira, the owner of Brothers Coffee in Great Brak River, met Winston in Kampala, Uganda a couple of years ago while they were both attending AFCA, an African coffee convention, and invited Winston for a ‘country trip’ to Great Brak to visit local coffee shops, roaster’s and customers. Ben’s ultimate goal is to grow the local coffee industry to a point where coffee lovers will make the effort to go to specific baristas operating in unique coffee shops, to taste and experience high standards of coffee flavours and tastes.
Ben (left) and Winston at Brothers Coffee in Great Brak River. Image by @eonmedia
Winston competing at his coffee station, always against the clock. Image by Lee Henriques. (right image)