We caught up with Latte Art Champion, Christopher Abrahams, who've retained his title for 2019 at the recent National Coffee Competitions in Ballito (21-24 February). Christopher currently works for Ciro Beverage Solutions in Cape Town, a full service coffee company and says: "...it's an amazing company to work for and allows me to view the coffee industry in SA on a larger scale."
What were your first thoughts when you won?
I must admit, it was a relief! Waiting in suspense, isn’t the easiest thing to deal with after competing in a final, especially knowing that I was up against a tough competitor, a good friend, Rodney Swartz, who is an amazing latte artist. As a latte artist, one always thinks of all the mistakes, rather than everything that was done well during the performance. I knew that I made a fair share of mistakes and it was all I could think about, until the point when I was announced champion.
What was your strategy going into Nationals this year?
It is not always easy strategizing, regarding latte art. The biggest issue around this, is creativity. Unfortunately creativity doesn’t happen over night, so it takes quite a number of hours sketching, planning and attempting to achieve the concept. I found myself changing the concept a few times and eventually I thought of one that could work. My approach up to the competition was a lot different to how I would usually do things. I realised that it would be better to focus on my strengths and eliminate inconsistency.
Talk us though your sets, what did you pour in the Semi-Finals and Final?
My semi-final set was very similar to my final set. In the semi-final set I did a rose, as a free pour, a sea turtle as a free pour and a flaring swan as a macchiato. In the final set, I did a rose, as a free pour, a sea turtle, as a free pour and a tribal angel as a designer pour.
How does this win compare to previous wins?
This win meant the world to me! Unfortunately, I didn’t do so well at the World Latte Art Championship in Brazil. My goal was to ensure that I make it back to the World Latte Art Championship and do much better.
Do you have a support crew? Who are they and how do they help you to prepare?
At this point I don’t have a support crew. I am however supported quite a bit by my wife, who has become quite good at analysing latte art. I am also fortunate to be friends with the two previous SA latte art champions, who are amazing people and are always happy to help.
What approach will you be taking to World of Coffee Berlin, 6-8 June?
I feel that it’s always important to learn from your mistakes and improve. The objective is always to be better and unfortunately one can only improve until you’ve had the opportunity to make mistakes. My approach will be to ensure that I have a clean set.
What is the most difficult design to pour and why?
I believe that every latte artist experience their own challenges, when it comes to perfecting certain designs. Personally the most difficult design to pour, is the free pour butterfly. It is quite a difficult design to pour and is impressive to the eye.
What was the competition like in Brazil last year (2018) when you represented South Africa?
It was amazing! I was truly fortunate to meet quite a few of my latte art role models. On the other hand, I found the competition tough. I wasn’t nearly as prepared as I should’ve been and I found it difficult to adjust to the milk that was used for the competition. I was still humbled by the fact that I was able to finally compete on the world stage, amongst all the world’s greatest latte artists.
What would you like to see more happening on the Latte Art scene in South Africa?
I’d like to see more baristas competing in the latte art competitions. It’s always amazing to find new talent in the industry. I also feel that we need to do more latte art competitions, like latte art smackdowns, etc.
Your thoughts on South Africa's coffee and Latte Art scene, how far we’ve come?
I think the SA coffee scene has grown tremendously! We’ve still got a long way to go, but it seems clear that there is continuous growth. From a latte art perspective, we are still far off, probably a year or two behind, if not more. The important thing is that we are slowly progressing.
Your favourite coffee and favourite Latte Art design and why?
My favourite coffee has always been an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. I enjoy coffee with intense flavour and aroma. My favourite latte art design is the deer in the woods. I enjoy pouring it and usually looks quite realistic when it has been poured well.
Any inspiration or motivation you would like to share with other Latte Artists?
For all the latte artists out there, I encourage you all to love what you do and to strive for your goals. I remember the first time I competed in the regional latte art competition, it was definitely a day that I’d never forget. I was so excited to compete and the only goal I had, was to ensure that my set was perfect. Moments after my performance, I remember thinking of all my mistakes. I was truly disappointed in myself and I thought that maybe competing wasn’t really for me. After the results were given to us, I was given the news that I missed the final by 1.5 points. The judges found my performance quite good. It was a day never to forget! I was absolutely shocked that I actually stood a chance! It was that day that I decided that if I really wanted to reach the top, I would need to perfect every little aspect of the competition. It’s been approximately four years since that moment, bringing me to three national finals and two national titles. So I’d like to encourage all the latte artists out there, to follow your dreams, work as hard as possible, persevere and you will reach the top! It may only happen after a few years or even the following year, but the important thing is to keep working at improving your ability and strive to reach your full potential.
What’s next for Christopher Abrahams and what is on your bucket list?
I’ve still got a long way to go in order to reach my full potential. I’d therefore like to compete in latte art for another two years and hope that I’m able put South Africa on the map from a world perspective. Latte art takes years to perfect and the only way that one can be successful on a world level, is if you continue training and perfecting new techniques.
Christopher's Bucket List items:
1. I’d like to make the top 6 in the national barista championship one day
2. Reach the semi-finals in the world latte art championship