2023 South African Coffee Champions Crowned

Monday, 13 February, 2023

Last July, the Finalists in the disciplines of Barista Championships, Latte Art and Cup Tasters (find out more on those here) were determined at Hostex in an unusual format that combined the normal cycle of Regional competitions in one event. Since then a new SCASA Board of Directors has been named and the National Coffee Competition, their first as a board, was held on Saturday 11 February in Johannesburg at Father Coffee.

The rain that had persisted in the city for a full week continued to pour down, making it very cosy for all the fans of the gathered 18 Finalists. The set up in the roastery section of Father Coffee was super professional and all the action was livestreamed. Those videos will be catalogued and available to view soon.

The judges led by Nina Rimpl (Head Judge of World Coffee Events) looked amazing in their colour coded aprons, that matched the new look of SCASA (check out their website).

Thank you for your service Judges! From left to right: Head Judge, Nina Rimpl, Pieter Schoonwinkel (Bruder Coffee), Quincy Hlongwane (UJ), Nicole Siegenthaler (Art Curator + major coffee fan), Tim Krynauw (Ciro), Coen van Sprang (Balloon Roasters, Algrano), Roan Muntingh (Ultimate Water), Chris Faragher (Holiday Coffee) and Chanelle Naidoo (Typo + major coffee fan)

The vibe on the day was in equal measure tense and happy. Tense, because there is a lot on the line in these competitions, a lot of hopes and dreams and a heck of a lot of hard work, time and money. And happy, because everyone was just loving being gathered together.

You can see our on-the-ground snippets in our Nationals 2023 Highlights on Instagram.

The Barista Championships kicked off the day with JP Badenhorst of Culture Coffee, based in Pretoria. His set, using a coffee from Burundi, known as the heart of Africa for its shape and location, focused on the emotion behind the coffee.

Next up was Esther van Rensburg of Toro Coffee in Potchefstroom. A highlight of her set for us was the edible flower infused water that she used to accentuate the floral attributes in her coffee.

Then the Cup Tasters were ushered into the crowed staging area to determine their fates! Four out of six of the competitors were from the Central Region (which encompasses Free State, North West, Northern Cape). 

The coffees were brewed and sponsored by the Team at Father Coffee and it was an incredibly difficult table according to the competitors. It's hard to explain how much pressure there is when you've literally surrounded by people watching your every move and the prize at the end of the line is a trip to Greece to represent your country. Tough to train for the competition environment, but you only get better with each competition.

It came down to two competitors who got 6 out of 8 cups correct and then it was all down to time!

In the end it was Retha van Rhijn of Urban Brew Barista Academy in Bloemfontein, Free State that emerged victorious! The first woman since Maxine Keet around a decade ago to have won the Cup Tasters title.

Final Standings:

Winner: Retha van Rhijn

Runner Up: Augustinus Ramafolo - Bruder Coffee

3rd: Ishan Natalie - Starbucks SA

4th: Marius Schnettler- Bruder Coffee

5th: Tumelo Mahoko - Urban Brew Barista Academy

6th: Kayla Sampson - Toro Africa

We headed straight back into Barista action with Trevor Fitz of Beethoven Coffee. As one of the judges said to me later, there's baristas who have an amazing coffee and just don't nail the brewing on the day and those that have an 'average' coffee and brew it extremely well. A seasoned competitor and a previous Runner Up, we knew he was going to be a strong contender and he did not disappoint, highlighting experimentation and an unusual origin for the competition stage. A coffee from Zambia brewed expertly. 

Next up was Fanie Botes of Bluebird Coffee Roastery. He had two beautiful coffees on the table, one from an up and coming producer in Ecuador and one, a Sudan Rume varietal from possibly the most famous competition producer currently, Inmaculada Farms. He showed such reverence and respect for these producers, combining the new and unexplored and the established and awarded with ease. And obviously the coffees were delicious! Fanie must be one of the most passionate coffee professionals we know and we were extremely impressed with his set.

Then came Stevo Kuhn of Urban Brew Barista Academy. Now, Stevo has in fact already represented South Africa on the world stage in Milan 2022 (the covid year that competitors had the option to defer and Winston Thomas chose to compete in Melbourne) and the experience held him in good stead. Using a coffee with a name South Africans are very well accustomed to, Mandela. It is in fact a special coffee from Colombia created to combat leaf rust, but Stevo deftly wove his SA heritage into the set along with a focus on sustainability after completing the SCA Sustainability Course (one is coming up in SA, check it out), which "changed my life", he told us. Full interview with Stevo to unpack this set and experience will be published soon.

Last, but certainly not least, was Obakeng 'Tiny' Tshabalala of TriBeCa Coffee. Home crowd advantage was real as what felt like the ENTIRE TriBeCa HQ Team and many of the baristas Tiny has trained along the way, squished in to the venue to show their support. It was awesome. And Tiny certainly did them proud. She showcased an anaerobically processed Colombian Gesha coffee. We think that Tiny is a star of the future and we are pretty certain the world stage will be graced with their presence soon.

Then the Latte Artists had their time to shine. And we have such huge respect for these skills. The competitors had to produce 6 cups, broken down into 2 each of  three designs. Two of these designs are 'free pours' which means no tools are used in the creation of these cups. And then there is the Design pour, in which etching tools can be used to accentuate the pour.

Ok. But they have to do this in 10 minutes. Let's just show you an example of the winning pours for some context on this...

On the left is the Design Pour (you can see the dots at the top needed the etching tool) and on the right is a Free Pour

But then you have to do 4 other cups. Eek, not easy. (You can watch the sets here)

In the end, experience again proved important, and Jeff Stopforth of Beaver Creek retained his title with an Astrology themed set, pictured above are Taurus and Scorpio. I mean. We have watched Jeff compete many times and this was a whole new level. His normal shakes were nowhere to be seen and his timing was perfect, this is a Champion that is getting better and better!!!

Well done Jeff!!!

Final Standings:

Winner: Jeff Stopforth

Runner Up: Vincent Majola - Now Coffee

3rd: Jackson Mukhovi - Seattle Coffee Co

4th: Christopher Abrahams - Manhattan Coffee

5th: Augustinus Ramafolo - Bruder Coffee

6th: Malwande Bekwa - Suko Coffee

Then it came time to announce the Barista Champion. The investment of time and money of these competitors is significantly more in this competition and so the emotion is that much more heightened.

But in the end there can only be one. And experience proved invaluable once again, the 2023 SA Barista Champion is STEVO KUHN of Urban Brew Barista Academy in the Free State.

Final Standings:

Winner: Stevo Kuhn

Runner Up: Trevor Fitz

3rd: Fanie Botes

4th: Obakeng ‘Tiny’ Tshabalala

5th: JP Badenhorst

6th: Esther van Rensburg

This humble and determined barista will be a wonderful representative of South Africa on the World Barista Championship stage in Greece. Not only that, he will be travelling with his employee Retha, who won the Cup Tasters. Wow! What an amazing year for coffee in the Free State!

So, the road to Athens begins...

We feel so privileged to have been there to support all the Finalists on the day. Well done to the SCASA BoD, thank you to all the amazing sponsors who made the event possible and good luck to the three new South African Coffee Champions!!!

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