South Africans on the World of Coffee stage

Friday, 30 June, 2023

It was quite amazing to see so many familiar faces in Greece from our local coffee community, all pushing forward and making sure they're at the forefront of what's going on in the global coffee world. From Genio hosting roasters and coffee celebrities from around the world at their booth, to local distributors connecting with the amazing brands they bring into our market, to coffee businesses carving out space for themselves in the Roaster's Village and coffee professionals volunteering their services to the Specialty Coffee Association.

But all eyes were on the 2 SA Champions who had fought their way through the sea of talented coffee humans in South Africa at the SCASA Coffee Championships to make their way on to the world stage at the World Barista Championships and the World Cup Tasters Championships. They both happen to hail from the City of Roses in the Free State and the same company, Urban Brew Barista Academy. So they have had an extreme couple of months!

First up on Wednesday 21st June was Stevo Kühn at the WBC arena. An intimidating stage, to say the least. A lot goes into the 15 minutes that begin when you step on to that stage. Months of prep and practice. So much money. Emotional energy. You've already run a marathon by the time you get to the bright lights of the WBC stage. And then you've got to give it everything. And Stevo did all his hard work proud.

He was calm and collected and he moved smoothly through his courses, bringing it back to the tools we have at our disposal to make coffee better and easier to allow for connection, in each round. He utilised the PuqPress (custom design!), the Nucleus Tools Paragon tech and NCD (which also meant he had the wonderful Sasa Sestic backstage with him to dial in his espresso!) among other gadgets like Acaia scales. 

The judges were especially impressed with his milk beverage which was an interesting category this year with the introduction of alternative milks to the mix. He used a blend of 75% freeze distilled cows milk and 25% oat milk, and when combined with his espresso gave the judges flavours of 60 % dark chocolate, rich caramel and chocolate covered raisins. Um, yummy!!!

Chad Goddard of Father Coffee, coach and sponsor of the Nestor Lasso (very highly regarded producer, whose coffee won in 2022) Colombian Red Bourbon used in his set, paced nervously on the sidelines, reciting the lines and descriptors they had worked so hard on fine tuning. All the South African coffee professionals came together in the stands to cheer them on!

In the end Stevo placed 23rd in the World! Congratulations Stevo!! He had this to say on the experience:

"What a journey it has been. Winning my first National title and having the privilege to work with this team on my set was nothing short of inspirational. To put something on a world stage is extremely difficult, but to make it possible takes a team and this year showed me that people actually want to help.

I’d like to attempt a thank you to the following people for assisting me on this journey (especially in Athens).

First, thank you to for fighting to the bone to get me to Athens and for the effort in raising coffee comps in SA. 🤘🏼

I’d like to thank @nucleuscoffeetools for the support in making me espresso paragon dreams a reality. Thank you for sharing the knowledge and being so generous with your time. There will be loads of espresso masterclasses when I get back home, so be on the look out for info on this.

@angus_gus_mackie & @sasasestic for your real humility and generous open hands. It was such an honour for me touching bases with you both. I look forward to more connection soon. Gus - you are a legend and I hope to share a stage with you soon.

@wedgethemong @father_coffee for sponsoring and roasting this incredible coffee! Chad even picked out the “heart and soul” out of my comp batches which turned out to be the banana flavour after all. To go to worlds with you guys after being introduced to specialty coffee by your first cafe is the perfect loop to me and I love working with you all. THANK YOU 🙏

Then I’d also like to thank my colleague and team mate, @rethavanrhijn
You are such a servant and excellent at it. I appreciate your attention to detail so much and us at @ubbaristaacademy are so lucky to have you. I can’t wait to see you take on your first barista competition soon - know that I’ll pack that trolley and have your back.

Thank you to equipment sponsors  @puqpresssa @puqpress_official @equipmentcafe for your support in the past few months! 🙏

It was great to see friends again and meet new ones.

Thank you to all the kind words, messages and well wishes on this journey. Retha and I really appreciate it so much!"

You can watch his full set below:

And then the next day was Retha van Rhijn's time to shine! Retha is the first woman to represent South Africa in the Cup Tasters since Maxine Keet 10 years ago! We're still waiting on a female SA barista Champ, come on ladies!

This competition might have the "least" prep because you don't have to prepare a speech-like performance, but this competition is all about skill and speed, so you have to have some giant-size Big Match Temperament. There is a lot of pressure to taste those 8 sets of coffees and we know that the brewers make it extremely difficult for the competitors, sometime even using the same coffee but at different dilutions in the same grouping. Eek. Not easy!

Retha got an amazing score of 6/8, and while this is excellent, there were a few competitors which got the same score in a quicker time which meant she narrowly missed out on going through to the next round (Top 16), and landed in 23rd place! (Same as Stevo!) To give you some context of the standard,  the eventual winner Young Baek of Australia scored 8/8 in a time of 3.02min in the Prelim Round! 

She's definitely got a taste for the World Stage now, and we are certain we will see Retha back to compete!

See all the World Champions and rankings here.

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