EXCLUSIVE: Thabang Maluleka & Christopher Abrahams share their Berlin WCC experience June 18 2019

SCASA's 2019 National Cup Tasters and Latte Art champions are back in South Africa after competing at the Specialty Coffee Associations' World Coffee Championships in Berlin (6-8 June). Unfortunately for the Ciro duo they didn't progress to the semifinals, yet the effort and detail put into their performances go beyond distinction.

Welcome to World of Coffee Berlin! Thabang Maluleka (SA Cup Tasting Champion) and Christopher Abrahams (SA Latte Art Champion) taking in the moment 

The Ciro trio - Tim Krynauw (WCC Latte Art Judge), Thabang Maluleka (SA Cup Tasting Champion) and Christopher Abrahams (SA Latte Art Champion) representing South Africa at the World Coffee Championships in Berlin

Perhaps SCASA's chairman, Bernard Muneri, summed it up best commenting on their performance: "It's an overall great adventure for our team and we can only grow from here. On behalf of the SCASA Board of Directors, we are super proud of our champions who really made progress at Worlds and did us all proud. We are looking forward to learnings from our champions and are looking forward to learning from their experience and uplifting the standards of SA competitions. Tim (Krynauw) being part of the semis latte art judging is another positive from the event and puts us at par with what is required at highest level of judging."

Christopher Abrahams moments before his latte art set at the World Coffee Championships in Berlin, 6 June

Another person who've been following their progress closely is Customer Service Executive at Ciro Full Service Beverage Company and former SCASA chair person, Lani Snyman: "Christopher has great talent and ability to focus as well as a great determination to drive achievement – this was evident recently. The second time round at the WLAC also brought more confidence which contributed to the rise in his scores from last year to this year. We are very proud of his achievement at this competition and of his final ranking (Christopher placed 27th out of 41 competitors in Round 1). We believe that as a whole, South Africa is moving forward with coffee, and this is just another result of the efforts in the industry and individuals like him delivering excellence through their skill - continuously. Well done Christopher, excellent Latte Art delivered on World Stage!"

Thabang Maluleka (far right) moments before his cup tasting set at the World Coffee Championships in Berlin, 6 June

On Thabang's performance Snyman believed the experienced gained this year will be greatly beneficial in the long run: "Being introduced to the World stage for the first time, soaking the coffee experience with everything in him, Thabang has performed really well. The experience only, will benefit Thabang’s skill to grow and develop exponentially within the coffee cupping and tasting space. Thabang’s commitment to the competitions and willingness to learn more, has provided him with the opportunity to compete with internationally skilled coffee cupping champions. Well done Thabang, you made us so proud to see you compete and experience the depth of the world of coffee!"

With the dust settled on Berlin WCC, we asked Thabang and Christopher to share their experience with us.

The World Coffee Championship in Berlin was such an amazing event, tell us more about your first impressions and your overall experience just being there?
I was honestly shocked at how big the event was, I’ve never seen anything of such a magnitude especially in the coffee industry. Coffee people are very kind and open minded, I wish I could be exposed to such on a more frequent basis. Just being there I’m already addicted to that environment, this has taken my passion to levels that I never thought existed.
It was certainly a great experience! I felt a lot more comfortable, as it was my second World Championship, so it was great to see a few familiar faces again. I was fortunate enough to view the venue the day before the event, which was great! It made it slightly easier to navigate myself around the three halls. It's also always a bit daunting looking at the very stage that you’ll be competing at realising that you’ll be doing a set in front of a bigger crowd than usual. This time, I tried speaking to as many people as possible, and got to meet quite a few successful coffee specialists within the industry. The event was filled with amazing coffee and I tried to make the most of the opportunity.

If you could go back, what would you do differently?
Honestly I would not do anything different, I did my best considering it was my first time in such a platform, also the level of difficulty is very high on the world stage. I panicked a bit on my 3rd set and that threw me off a bit but it was a learning curve for me, next time I know I need to keep my composure.
Christopher: I must be honest, I wouldn’t do much different, but of course, more preparation would always be the answer! I did what I could to prepare as much as I could under the circumstances and I feel like the outcome wasn’t bad at all.

South African Cup Tasters Champion, Thabang Maluleka (right) with 2019's World Cup Tasters Champion, Ireland's Daniel Horbat (left)

Did you guys follow any of the other competitors’ sets? Whose did you enjoy? What stood out for you?
 I followed some of the sets as I also wanted to explore the whole show, I was impressed by the winner Daniel Horbat, and I followed him from first round to the finals. I was totally impressed on the confidence he has when he is performing even before he tastes, a lot of people have said cup tasting is a guessing game but the consistency of the world competitors will definitely say something totally different, everyone on that stage has worked years to be there and the results proved that.
Christopher: This year the level shot up quite a bit! So most of what I got to see was quite impressive. The designs were not too unique, but I enjoyed the fact that the baristas were focussed on engaging with the judges during their presentations.

The Ciro trio - Tim Krynauw (WCC Latte Art Judge), Thabang Maluleka (SA Cup Tasting Champion) and Christopher Abrahams (SA Latte Art Champion) with his wife Shannon, taking in some culture in Berlin.

Berlin, a great city for this type of competition. What about the city, sights, experiences, etc. did you enjoy?
I wasn’t really myself due to temperature changes for some of the days. I was really impressed with the transport system and German buildings, also the city is very multicultural, I loved that around the same place I could eat food from different nations in their original form as if you are in that country. I really enjoyed how you can just travel the whole city with public transport. There were a lot of things to see but we didn’t have enough time as most of the time we were at the coffee event however with the little time we had we actually managed to see some great historical sites which included the Berlin Wall, TV tower and most of the buildings that had a historical background.
Christopher: It’s definitely a country worth seeing. I’d definitely advise anyone fascinated about history, to visit Berlin. I felt quite fortunate having the privilege of seeing the Berlin Wall. A lot of what I saw had both a happy and a sad impact on me. I enjoyed the food and the daily lifestyle. Transport is extremely efficient and everything is kept clean.

Did you bring back any souvenirs?
LOL yes, a spoon and a coffee dictionary!
Christopher: Unfortunately not. From a personal perspective, I’m not really someone who’s into souvenirs. I prefer to get as much out of the event as possible. It is all about the coffee for me.

What’s next for you guys?
Thabang: After seeing the magnitude of the world coffee industry I feel like I have a bigger role to play in the South African coffee industry, it’s no longer about me anymore it’s about the industry and its growth to match the world standard. For me personally I just want to learn each and everything I can about specialty coffee, read coffee books, taste whatever coffee I can get my hands on, go and compete again, hopefully I make it through the regionals and nationals again.
Christopher: I’d like to try my best to make it back to the World Latte Art Stage again. I feel that I am just a few steps closer to making an impact for South Africa on the world stage. My goal remains to make the semi-finals, and will continue to work towards that. I know that to stop competing in latte art now, would be a huge mistake, knowing that successful competitors on a world level compete for up to ten years, before reaching finals.

Thanks for making us proud back in South Africa and for representing. Do you have a message for your fans?
I would like to thank everyone who wished me luck, everyone who prayed for me and most especially everyone who took their time to watch my set. I’m very thankful to all who supported me throughout my coffee journey.
Christopher: I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s supported me and I feel absolutely privileged to have represented South Africa. Thank you to the SCASA board for making it all possible!

Photos: GENIO ROASTERS, Thabang Maluleka, Christopher Abrahams & Screen Grabs/worldcoffeeevents.org