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Here is Cape Town in the morning.  The other photo is of George, our head technical judge.  Do not cross George before he’s had his breakfast in the morning!

SA National Barista Champs: Semi Finals 2

Semi Finals Day 2 went off without a hitch.  It was such a successful day and a real pleasure being able to announce our country’s top 6 professional coffee makers.  Any such announcement comes with its own share of tears and anger, but I truly believe that we found our finalists and hope that those who didn’t make it will be back for more next season. 

But getting ready for each day isn’t exactly a walk in the park!  We start our days at around 6 am with a quick shower and catching up on our emails.  Today, our car wouldn’t start so we tried to free it down a hill to do a cold start.  With one engineer and a veteran coffee technician on the team, we ended up in a pole.  30 minutes later we managed to wake up a college and gave the old car a much needed jump start.  At 7 we arrive at the V&A Waterfront and order the biggest breakfast we can.  By that time, the ladies responsible for organizing the event is already busy setting up the venue and some competitors have started carrying boxes with cups, ingredients, cloths, carafes and grinders into the training section.   After breakfast, we meet with out fellow judges on stage to start calibrating.  Sensory judges calibrate by making several coffees and judging them all together.  This helps them to know what the difference between a “good” and a “very good”, “acceptable” or “excellent” score is when judging difficult things like crema or cappuccino milk sheen and texture.  Us technical judges measure out 1g or coffee and makes sure that we can recognize it from a 0.5g of coffee that might be strewn around the grinder area.

After calibration, we start the day off with an introduction and then get the baristas ready.  By 6pm, we finish with our 12 competitors and have a quick break while the scores are tallied up.  Yesterday, they only finished at around 7, when all the baristas head home and we head to the nearest eating place.  After some much needed food, the prep work start again, and we finished at 11pm last night.  Although us gents are not exactly very helpful when it comes to all the admin behind these events, we have some incredible ladies and staff around us all day who are more than happy to take up the reigns.

Angeline and Lani Snyman are two of the ladies who have generously accepted the responsibility of getting all of this organized.  They are two absolutely incredible people.  I only met Angeline late last year at the Eastern Cape Regional Barista Championships.  She was in charge of organizing the event, and did an incredible job!  She has a never fading smile to her that seems genuine.  Dealing with stressed out barista’s all day cannot be an easy task, so I admire her ability to keep calm during the worst of times and always giving you an ear-to-ear when you need it most!  Lani is one of our head judges and also chairperson of SCASA.    She is present at almost every single regional championship and has dedicated the greater part of her career to making sure that our baristas are world class.  Her energy and commitment is legendary, and these events will never be possible without such incredibly capable people.  My hat goes off to all of the people behind the scenes at our South African Barista Championships!

But today, all of the fun and games is put on hold.  Today is finals, where we search for our South African coffee ambassador.  I am looking for the most professional barista that I have ever seen, and none of us will settle for anything less.  Good luck to all of our 6 competitors.  Do us proud!

SANBC Top 6 Finalists

A massive congratulations from me and all the judges to our top 6 finalists for the 2012 South African National Barista Championships held at the V&A waterfront, Cape Town.  We are incredibly proud of all the competitors, and wish you all the best!

Here are the final six who will be competing tomorrow morning for the top barista…

  • Bilbo Steyn
  • Wayne Oberholzer
  • Kyle Fraser
  • Mkhael Bou Rjelly
  • Travis Scott
  • Dirk Maritz

Make us proud tomorrow!!!  For you, there is no sleep tonight.  To all the rest of our baristas, go catch up on your sleep, because next season we will do it all again!

View videos of the all the competitors on Livestream

Take a look at Alejandro Mendez from Al Salvador’s 2011 winning World Barista Championship performance held in Bogota, Columbia. It gives you a great look at how these competitions work and the amount of effort that goes into each and every performance.

SA National Barista Champs: Semi Finals 1

The South African National Barista Championships 2012 is well underway.  We had incredible first day on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.  The first round of the semi finals saw twelve barista competing for the title of SA’s best professional coffee maker. 

The barista championship is a platform for professional coffee makers, called baristas, to show off their skills and enthusiasm for their chosen craft: coffee.  The championship is organized by the governing body called SCASA.  Competitors must first survive a regional championship which is held in the Western Cape, Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Kwazulu Natal where the top six competitors go through to the semi final rounds, held in Cape Town this year.  

To compete, baristas must take part in a 45 minute set which comprises of 15 minutes for setup, 15 minutes for presentation and a 15 minute cleanup session.  Although only the presentation section is judged, the preparation and cleanup sessions can also make or break a competitor’s performance.   During the presentation, baristas must prepare 12 drink in total; 4 espressi, 4 cappuccini and 4 signature beverages.  The signature beverages are colourful concoctions that showcase the barista’s creativity and understanding of coffee.  All 12 drinks must be served in sets of 4 within the allowed 15 minute time period. 

The judges panel consist of four sensory judges, a head judge and two technical judges.  Sensory judges score the competitor on things like taste balance, colour of crema, consistency, presentation and  professionalism.  Technical judges are focussed on the more quantifiable aspects such as form and technique, work flow, station management, espresso and milk preparation and even hygiene.  The head judge is an overseer of sorts, and makes sure that all the judges are being objective and fair.  After the competition, all the judges discuss their scores in the deliberation room, where they have to justify every point and comment that they made during the presentation.   Judges are encouraged to make constructive comments on their score sheets, which are discussed with the baristas after the event.  This helps them to put their marks into context, and encourages them to work more on certain aspects.

The barista championships are about more than just technical skill and practice.  It tests a barista’s competence as a professional, how they present themselves to their customers and what type of energy they bring with the coffees that they serve.  Baristas are truly unique performers, and the barista championship is the perfect place for competitors to show just how passionate they are about their craft.

When all the excitement comes to an end and we close the stage doors for the evening, most of the competitors  returned to our hotel rooms and guest houses.  However, as per usual with Genio and Koldserve, we headed out to find some proper food and anything other than coffee!  There is no time for eating during the competition, so by 7pm we were all famished!   We settled on a small Greek restaurant called Aris Slovakia.  We ordered a few beers, some proper Gr∑∑k food and enjoyed the great company!  The waiter bravely offered to make us (the panel of judges, unknown to him) a cappuccino and some Greek coffee.  He failed miserably, but at least he tried!  We all left the restaurant happy but tired, and went to bed to get ready for the second day and last day of semi finals.

More photos from the National Barista Championships 2012 being held over the next 3 days in Cape Town, South Africa.

Check out the South African National Barista Championship!!

SA National Barista Champs: Training Day

After a few weeks of planning, we finally decided to make the 1200km trip to Cape Town for the South African Barista Championships 2012.  I will be doing a 4 part post on the whole event, following all the ups and downs of the championship from behind the scenes.  Having been a competitor myself, I know what it looks like from one side of table, but it is a real blessing to be at the other side this time, seeing how hard the judges and staff work to make an event like this happen.

                           SA National Barista Championship 2012

We arrived yesterday morning by plane and quickly set up some transport before heading to the venue for training.  The event is taking place at the V&A Waterfront, which is an absolutely stunning place to have the 6th National Barista Championships for South Africa.  The first day was only a training and orientation session for the judges and competitors.  The actual competition is a 3 day event spanning from Thursday to Saturday.  We have 24 competitors who have all placed in the top 6 in their respective regions, and they will be battling it out on the stage for the next 72 hours.  We also have the National Cup Tasters competition and the National Latte Art competition at the same time.

We started off the training sessions with a short speech from Lani Snyman, chairperson for the Specialty Coffee Association of South Africa (SCASA).   After that (and after lugging around a few fridges and water pumps), we set about discussing various score sheets from Trevor’s performance at the World Barista Championship (WBC) in Bogotá.  After the speeches we went to the stage and prepared a few coffees to calibrate on.  Sensory judges all take part this, and discuss and cup various cappuccini and espressi to ensure that they are all on the same page when it comes to tasting.  While the two baristas made their coffees, the technical judges calibrated on exactly how much 5 grams of coffee really is, how much 20ml of spillage is and refreshed our memories on the various little technical points that can make or break a competitor’s performance.  

 Cape Town

Having finished training, we set off to our accommodation for the next two nights.  It ended up to be a very quaint, weird little place owned by a man called Bernie.  Bernie has travelled to 101 countries, and has collected souvenirs from every country which he has framed and hung up all over the tiny little apartment.  However weird it may be, it really added a great felling to the place, and we settled in quickly before heading out to town for dinner with the rest of the judges.  We ended up at a local restaurant and had a great dinner and some very interesting conversations with our fellow judges.

But the fun didn’t really start until after the dinner, when most of the people went home to catch up on some much needed sleep.  George and I were invited to have drinks with Lionel and his wife, owner of I&J Smith.  Lionel grew up on a tea farm and has been in the coffee and tea trade all his life.  His company now exports coffee to the likes of Douwe Egberts and Jacobs (to name but a few) and his knowledge and influence in the African coffee industry is nothing less than legendary.  We spent the rest of the night with them on a rooftop bar overlooking the waterfront harbour, sipping whiskey and cigars until 11pm.  We chatted about everything coffee and tea.  Learning from such an old master is a real opportunity, so George and I kept quiet and tried to take everything that Lionel said in.  His vision for the country is to incorporate tea into the SCASA vision, and I think that he has a point!  Tea is as much a specialty beverage as coffee, and has a very rich background to it.  Although Lionel doesn’t see South Africa’s very own Rooibos tea as a member of the tea family, he still has a lot of hart for it and would also like to incorporate Rooibos along with the whole specialty coffee and tea movement.

Ishan Natalie

After a truly amazing day and a really special conversation with Lionel, we finally turned in for the night.  Tomorrow the competition starts, and we’ll need all of our strength to make it through the next 3 days of judging!  All the best to the competitors, and I wish you all the best!

Washed Coffee Video

Have a look at what Stephen Leighton from Has Bean Coffee came up with.  It shows how washed coffee is, well, washed.

Cooling tray efficiency

During the first test roasts of the new Genio Mezzo, I was very upset by our rate of cooling once the beans have been dropped out.  We spent a lot of time and energy on getting a massive fan made in Germany, and designing a chaff collector that has a minimal pressure drop during the cooling phase to ensure a very rapid cool down of the hot beans.  This was very strange, since the fan that we used in the prototype machine (see below) was 2.5 times weaker than the current one, yet its cooling time was also 8 minutes.

After some head-scratching, we decided to play around with hole perforation in the cooling tray.  The base of the cooling tray is a large, round stainless steel screen (600mm diameter) punched full of holes.  The holes allow for cool air to be drawn through the beans and pumped out of the building to stop the roasting process as fast as possible.  The target time is below 4 minutes, whereas the current time is around 8 minutes.  Since the beans drop at around 220 degrees Celsius, roasting can continue long after the beans have dumped.  This process needs to be stopped as soon as the beans drop out.

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