Interview with Andre Blignaut, SA Cup Tasters Champ and 8th Best in the World

Friday, 24 May, 2024

From South Africa to the World Stage: André Blignaut's journey in the world of coffee tasting 

Words By Ayanda Dlamini

All images by Specialty Coffee Association

Today, we cross paths again with André Blignaut, South Africa’s National Cup Tasters Champion and a remarkable competitor who accomplished 8th position at the World Cup Tasters Championship. Beyond his impressive titles, I must say, what a lovely individual. André embodies a “why not” attitude and a go-getter spirit that drives his success. I had the pleasure of meeting him this week. He shared an insider’s perspective on his experiences at the World Championship, and experiences that fuelled his passion for excellence in the world of coffee tasting.

Tell me a bit about your coffee journey, I’m curious to know where this all started for you?

It started when I moved to Cape Town in 2021, I was fortunate to manage a small coffee shop in Muizenberg. I came to know the coffee culture in Cape Town and got connected with Winston Douglas from Cedar Coffee Roasters (SA Barista Champion). When it comes to coffee you can really fall down a rabbit hole of experiences, this is where my whole foundation of learning about specialty coffee really started. Interacting with someone like Winston, who had been to Worlds, allowed me to set bigger goals, that’s definitely where it kind of started for me. I constantly wanted to push my limits, wanting to learn more, wanting to experience more, staying inquisitive about things and how they work and doing all sorts of coffee related things. I also did my SCA barista and brewing training with Winston. Again it was about pushing my limits, asking myself what’s next and how I can get better. My journey in competitions was really brought onto me by Winston challenging me to try competing, cause that’s where I will learn the most and put myself out there.

How did it feel to represent SA on the World stage? 

Being on the world's stage, I tried to just live in the moment. But when I think about it, it all hits me that I actually represented my country. The big thing for me was more so representing South African coffee culture. I wanted to push for excellence and get the specialty coffee scene out there, and just be able to represent that on stage. The exposure too, was next level. Exposure to amazing coffee, coffee legends and coffee equipment, this was a huge push for me!

What was the preparation process like, and what did that look like for you ?

There's no real golden bullet or recipe to this. It’s all about practice. Making coffee and getting better and better every day. It’s like dialing in a coffee, you taste a few espressos until you get it right and you’re happy with how it tastes, and how it’s finally balanced. Looking back, what also helped me was that I did my intermediate SCA brewing training, a week before the competition. Winston would set up a cupping for us every morning before we started the class. This wasn’t part of the curriculum but was his way of helping us out.

Another big thing that is overseen in this space, is how much of a mental challenge this process can be. It’s quite intense, a lot of it is trying hard to keep your head in the game. There is a competitor that I spoke to from Worlds, Aurore Ceretta from Germany and she came 2nd overall! (Pictured below next to Andre) She spoke about how the biggest way she prepared for worlds was by having mental coaching. She had someone to train her for the mental preparations of being on stage and the competition environment. I thought that was interesting. Some people also follow a certain diet, which I did as well, my diet was intermittent fasting. Some people on stricter diets would avoid oily foods, spicy foods or anything that can affect your palate. It’s really down to preference, people find their own ways to adjust their diet for what works for them.

“I love that this moment was caught on camera! The one lady was the MC and the other person was a competitor, and this was backstage before the interviews. We were chilling and chatting, and I would do this thing where I would sit in a deep squat before getting on stage, just to stretch a bit and keep calm. And it became this thing of “oh that’s how he does it”, so people started doing it with me. It was moments like that, that I loved and took a lot of pressure off certain moments”

How did participating in Worlds influence your perspective on coffee tasting? 

I think my perspective became deeper and clearer on my love for what I do. I really love this, I want to push harder to be here next year, I want to develop my palate threshold and push that further, cause there’s always room for improvement. I want to taste more coffee, and see how I can be a part of this in a bigger way.

Are there particular projects or initiatives that you plan to pursue after your experience at worlds? 

I’ve started a new role with the ASC - The African School of Coffee and we are currently building a world class training facility in Cape Town CBD. I am in the process of setting up equipment lists, creating training manuals and getting to know the team, which is super cool. I don’t see it as just a job, I push because I’m passionate. I see it as a platform for collaborating the coffee industry. 

How do you see the future of coffee tasting evolving? 

I like that there was a big sense of, “do what works best for you”. I think cup tasters has a big element of making things work, based on preference. For example, the use of spitting cups. Not everyone wants to drink all that they are tasting and so that’s an option. Whereas someone like me, I prefer to drink coffee as I go.

It’s so clear to me that this is just the beginning of André’s journey. To me, André’s story is representative of what can be achieved with determination and an open mind. I am looking forward to what lies ahead for him, and most excited for the inspiring contributions he will continue to make in the world of coffee.

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