Catching up with Jeff Stopforth, South African Latte Art Champion

Wednesday, 26 June, 2024

On a sunny evening in Copenhagen, I sat with Jeff Stopforth, current South African Latte Art Champion and his coach Chris Rootman, and had the chance to catch up about their build up to the World Latte Art Championships as the Danish football fans behind us prepared for their Euro game against Serbia.

Team TriBeCa, Chris Rootman and champ Jeff Stopforth celebrating arriving in Copenhagen successfully!

This is Jeff's third time competing at this level having represented SA in Taiwan and Milan previously. He is a seasoned competitor. But this year will certainly be different for everyone with the introduction of Thermoplan as the Official Machine Partner. For the first time, a fully automatic machine will be featured on stage and with a touch of a finger, espressos will be dispensed for competitors. This will mean that the focus shifts very firmly on to the art, rather than a technical score that is normally awarded for pulling accurate shots. The cups have also changed, and they are without a handle, which also means that you can't put the cup the wrong way in front of the judges, which also used to bring down technical scores. So while there was a lot of controversy around introducing a fully automatic piece of equipment to the World Coffee Championships stage, Jeff is of the opinion that it will just give him more time to focus on the art.

At the SCASA Nationals earlier this year, Jeff won with a set based around Disney characters (see below), very original! And he is bringing a proudly South African set to the stage in Copenhagen, featuring designs inspired by the wildlife on our currency, the humble ZAR. A concept which the judges loved!

A curveball was thrown at the competitors in that they had to use the sponsored alt milk, Oatly to create their free pour. While the product obviously works beautifully, it definitely behaves differently than dairy and with only a short amount of time to practice on the machine and with the Oatly, his design pour didn't go according to plan which cost him on the day.  But he was so enthusiastic and optimistic, having learnt so much and gotten to experience the Latte Art Champs again. His plan moving forward is to switch focus to coaching and try to bring up the level in SA as a whole, as we have a lot of work to do if we'd like to be competitive in this discipline.

There were 38 competitors in the Latte Art Champs this year and Jeff placed 33rd.

How it works courtesy of World Coffee Championships:

The World Latte Art Championship (WLAC) highlights artistic expression in a competition that challenges the barista in an on-demand performance.

For the preliminary round of the championship, competitors have eight minutes to create two identical free-pour lattes and two identical designer pattern lattes (which allow etching and decoration).

This year’s rule changes moves the Art Bar round to Semi-Finals along with the stage component. The Art Bar is a chance for the audience to get up close and see some eye-catching designs, with competitors producing one latte pattern in five minutes. On the main stage, competitors produce six beverages in 10 minutes – two sets of matching free-pour lattes and 2 matching free-pour macchiatos.

The top six semi-finals competitors qualify for the final round, where competitors make two sets of matching sets of free-pour latte patterns, and two matching designer pattern lattes. The top-scoring competitor in the final round is declared the World Latte Art Champion.

 Baristas are judged based on visual attributes, creativity, identical patterns in the pairs, contrast in patterns, and overall performance.

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