SCASA National Coffee Champions 2024

Tuesday, 5 March, 2024

The SCASA National Coffee Competitions at HOSTEX 2024 came to an exciting end this  week.

The competitors laid it all on the line and we are so proud of the standard at this year's competition. In the Barista Championship Top 6, every coffee that was presented to the panel of judges was of a World Barista Championship level, from some of the best producers in the world. This takes a huge investment of time, money and passion and we were so proud to see this competition take a leap forward in coffee quality. Well done to all the Finalists, you are amazing!

I think it is safe to say that no one could have predicted the outcomes of Barista Champs or Cup Tasters, as two rookies took out the titles in spectacular fashion. A testament to growth in the industry! Well done to both Luke Letts and Andre Blignaut! It is amazing to see some fresh faces in the Champion line up! Jeff Stopforth fought hard and retained his Latte Art crown as he makes history to become a third time SA Latte Art Champion!

Big thanks to all the Sponsors and the SCASA Team and volunteers for putting together a wonderful event this week.

And once again, your Champions are, pictured from left to right below:

SA Cup Tasters Champion - Andre Blignaut, Independent

SA Barista Champion - Luke Letts, Father Coffee

SA Latte Art Champion - Jeff Stopforth, TriBeCa Coffee

All sets were livestreamed on the SCASA website.

Top 6 Barista Champs Final Placement:

Winner travels to Busan, South Korea in May

1. Luke Letts - Father Coffee

2. Fanie Botes - Bluebird Coffee Roastery

3. Harry Mole - Plato Coffee

4. Stevo Kühn - TriBeCa Coffee

5. Christiaan Jacobs - Cupocafe

6. Trevor Fitz - SEAM Coffee

Barista Championship Winner: Luke Letts - Father Coffee

Runner up Fanie Botes (pictured left) raises Champion, Luke Letts' hand. A true testament to sportsmanship and camaraderie.

Luke qualified in the Potchefstroom Regionals, placing 6th in that competition, so it is clear to see that he put in the work to make it to the pinnacle of this competition in South Africa! This highly motivated 22 year old took out the competition with a set exploring some very significant themes around how producers influence natural flavour through multi-layered processes, using Diego Samuel Bermudez double anaerobic low temperature fermentation gesha as his thesis. This tropical explosion of flavours across his three courses hit all the right notes for the judges. Let's get into some detail, courtesy of the Father Team:

"The cherry is picked, sterilised in purified water to minimise microbial activity (so less competition with the added bacteria later). Then sealed in a pressurised steel tank for a low temp anaerobic fermentation. After 60hrs cherry is then depulped, then added back to the tank with a kinda slurry/bath of the mucilage that was removed. Then inoculated with leuconostoc lactis (Diego calls this tropical yeast to make it easier to refer to, but it’s a lactobacillus bacteria strain that typically yields tropical flavour precursors during fermentation). This all gets a 36hr anaerobic fermentation. Then to arrest the fermentation/acid development he does his usual thermal shock wash to it (40°C water followed by 12°C). Seeds are then dried in the Enigma (Diego’s company, Indestec built this). The dryer basically just passed air with a low relative humidity over the coffee (around 25%) at a gentle temp (under 35°C) for 29hrs to get the seeds down to 10% moisture."

So not a simple coffee, by any means. And it took a lot of experimentation to achieve the correct espresso recipe, which was then used across all three courses.

"The espressos were pulled at a ratio of 18g in: 50g out, over Paragons, creating notes of huge white florals and peach skin aroma. Passionfruit, Ripe Strawberry, Dried Apricot and a silky, silky body."

"This unusual ratio on the espressos is down to acid complexity and the lighter roast approach. We needed to ensure those super soluble acids all got balanced out. The Paragon balls had a huge impact on texture and brought back a huge amount of weight so that the long ratio (virtually a lungo) didn’t read as thin or watery."

"For the milk course, we used freeze distilled milk at 30% yield. Notes of lemon cream biscuits, peach tea and Luke's personal favourite note that was accentuated, oat crunchie."

"It is always a challenge to create a thread throughout all courses so we wanted to build something that was informed by the layered processing. So base was a kefir (fermented milk rich in lactobacillus to echo Diego’s use of that bacteria in process), this added a tanginess and texture that moved passionfruit to mango drinking yoghurt. (50g for 4 sigs)

Next was a fresh pineapple maceration (chopped pineapple with equal weight of white sugar left for 36hrs – same as Diego’s 36hr mucilage maceration). Sugar leeches the pineapple flavour and melts into a syrup. This moved the dried apricot note to toffee. (30g for 4 sigs).

Needed some balance and extra sweetness so added 50g of the same freeze distilled milk  from milk course. This helped move the strawberry to that leftover coco pops cereal milk note.

And then added that to his 4x espressos that were poured over a frozen steel sphere at the start of the set to lock in as many volatile aroma compounds and avoid evap. 

All shaken with the ball in shaker to combine and aerate for a slightly creaminess to make the whole thing take a drinking yoghurt texture. Then served in a chilled glass over a paragon ball (just to make sure everything stayed cold)."

WOW. Luke let the coffee do the talking, and through his skill, it shouted from the rooftops that it was a deserving Champion. Congratulations to the team.

Latte Art Championships

The Finals round format is two free pours and one design pour in 10 min. Winner travels to Copenhagen in June!

CHAMPION:  Jeff Stopforth - TriBeCa Coffee

2. Christopher Abrahams - TP Coffee Academy

3. Watiko Mithi - Wiesenhof Coffee

4. Deion Munjaja - Seattle Coffee Co

5. Jenny Mokwena - Seattle Coffee Co

6. Sabelo Mawanga - TriBeCa Coffee

When Jeff completed his Finals round, he left us all a little nervous after going 50 seconds over the allotted 10min time. But he was confident that the integrity and detail in the pours was enough. And he was proven right! In the Latte Art game, the pours are judged on a lot of criteria, but one of the main components is the complexity and intricacy of the designs. With the experience Jeff has gained over the years, he knows that it needs to be very creative to compete on the World Stage. 

Jeff created a Disney themed set featuring The Little Mermaid, Simba of The Lion King (design pour) and Mushu, the dragon from Mulan. Talk about creative!!!

The standard has also increased in the Latte Art division, but we had a feeling it would come down to the pair of two time Champions, Christopher Abrahams and eventual Champion Jeff, but unfortunately Chris had a bit of an issue with his milk texturing on stage. It could have been anyone's game with Jeff going 50seconds over time, but in the end his pours were enough.

Cup Tasters Championship

Winner travels to Chicago, USA in April!

CHAMPION: Andre Blignaut, Independent: 7 cups - 5.18min

2. Thabang Maluleka, Wiesenhof Coffee: 6 cups - 6.03min

3. Leigh Wentzel, Cedar Coffee Roasters:  5 cups - 4.59min

4. Retha van Rhijn, Plato Coffee: 5 cups - 7.06min

5. Kayla Sampson, Toro Coffee:  4 cups - 5.04min

6. Fanie Botes, Bluebird Coffee Roastery: 4 cups - 5.09min

There was a nail-biting finish to the Cup Tasters competition, that is run in sets of two competitors at a time and the results are revealed live, straight after they complete their 8 min. It came down to the final duo to see if they could beat Leigh Wentzel's 5 cups up until that point. It was a difficult set of coffees sponsored by And Sons and roasted by Father Coffee.

The duo was rookie Andre Blignaut from the Western Cape and former Cup tasters Champ, Thabang Maluleka. In the end the underdog emerged victorious and Andre scored a whopping 7 out of 8 cups correct to take the title! And incredible journey for this currently unemployed and hugely passionate coffee professional, he is headed to Chicago to represent SA! Congratulations to all!

A huge thanks to all the volunteers, the scorekeepers, the runners, stage managers, Emcees, prize sponsors and of course...the judges, without whom, we wouldn;t be able to run any of these competitions!

L-R: Tim, Chanelle, George Henning, Nicole, Roan, Bongani, Armin, Theo, Kevin and Salman.

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