Meet Kgune Dlamini, the KwaZulu-Natal Region’s Barista Champion for 2019

11 Nov 2019 | Coffee Competitions, Competitions, KwaZulu-Natal, News

(Kgune Dlamini from Lineage Coffee, the winner of the 2019 KZN Barista Competition, here with 2018 winner Dieter Liebenberg. Photo: The Coffee Magazine)

After placing third at the KZN Coffee Competitions last year (2018) and sixth at Nationals this year (2019), Kgune Dlamini from Lineage Coffee was ready to step up and win his first barista competition (Photo: The Coffee Magazine).

Tell us a bit more about yourself? Who do you work for? How did you get into coffee?
Well I am creative by design, a Performance Poet to be specific. When I am not writing a poem, I am writing a book. In fact as we speak I am working on my book titled ‘Silence, a Love untold.’

This is infact all of Kgune Dlamini in one sentence. As ‘Silence’ is the tool with which I have come to pursue my love for people (Which is funny because I talk a lot).

However, this mantra has become the very foundation for my Coffee journey. Because I have come to believe and conclude that Coffee is People. And this epiphany came about in March of 2016. When our systems Manager asked the team at work, what we loved the most about our job. Without a second thought I replied: People, because Coffee is People.

And this marriage, of Coffee and People, began at Lineage Coffee with Craig Charity in 2015. I have only worked for Lineage Coffee and to be trained by the highest ranking Barista in South Africa to this date, has been nothing but an honour and a privilege and it is the very reason why, 3 years later into competing, I have won my first ever Barista Championships competition.

Tell us a bit more what this win means to you?
I think this win came at the right time. Had it come sooner, I probably would have assumed the position of “Better THAN”. And my being here and or winning, is not to be better than anyone but to stand with everyone. I guess when you have taken your losses, from being disqualified, to making rookie mistakes like spilling an Espresso on stage, I guess to win simply means: To learn. This is my position and centre, really. I am here to learn, have fun and with Coffee as a medium, love as many people as I possibly can hahaha.

How long did you train? And what specific methods do you apply when approaching a competition?
Well this time around I felt somewhat rested, so my preparation began 4 weeks before the competition. But that rest soon went out the window as I realized, ‘Champions are not built on hope, but hard work.’ Having placed 6th at Nationals, the trap was almost too easy, “Rest, you have been in the deep end, you got this.” And I am super thankful that I never fell into that trap of complacency. Because where I come from, you are as good as your last poem. And in this context, you are as good as the last coffee you make.

With this in mind, my preparation would begin 5am in the morning for 45 minutes, then again from 17:30 in the evening to 23:30. I did this for 4 weeks. However I wouldn’t say this is the only formula. For advice I’d say, prepare in time, pace yourself, all in all enjoy and learn from the process.

What are your interests outside of coffee?
Well I am a Performance Poet, Writer and a Dancer.

The KZN Region Coffee Competitions were such an exciting event this year, tell us more about your experience and how it felt like competing and your set?
This year was absolute fun, in fact my plan was quite simple, ‘to have fun’. I made this my daily mantra. Because truly, if I wasn’t going to reserve myself the right to have fun, I don’t think I’d want to compete. That was the plan, to go there and have fun, and if you saw my set, I think I did exactly that. As for my Signature Drink, I wanted to explore species. For me it was an untouched terrain. So I did that, I made a spice infused cacao reduction. Added cloves, cinnamon and star anise and some coconut cream with some grapefruit. And guess what? The whole thing tasted like dark chocolate with Orange notes hahaha truly beautiful.

(Kgune with his two Specialty Awards for Best Signature & Espresso Drink, here with SCASA chairman, Bernard Muneri. Photo: The Coffee Magazine)

Did you ever expect to win two Specialty Awards?
Well that was the idea, to get at least two. I love Espressos, so I always expect to get that one hahaha. So when I don’t, you best believe I look myself in the mirror and give myself that scolding look hahaha. So when I was done experimenting with the signature drink, I was almost certain that I would get the award.

What is great about coffee in KZN?
We are a huge family and a bunch of coffee enthusiasts and professionals who truly enjoy each other. I have not been to other provinces but for what I know here, we don’t compete against each other, we sharpen each other for the sole purpose that, in the end Coffee wins.

What is your favourite coffee at the moment, and why?
Guatemala Canalaj from Bluebird Roastery. Absolutely clean. In fact the word that I used to describe it when I first tasted was, crisp. A crispy clean coffee. Now that right there, is magic in a cup.

Is there anyone you would like to thank or recognize, or who helped you to prepare for the KZN Region Coffee Competitions?
There is a legion of people, however in no specific order. Craig Charity and the entire Lineage Team at large. My family, leaving the house at 5am and only to return at midnight hasn’t been easy, but my family’s support has truly been my back bone. Also our Lineage Customers, Karl of Salt Rock Coffee Company. Toni of Back in Thyme. These guys have been absolutely, absolutely amazing in this whole journey.

What’s next for you and where do you see yourself in five years?
The next stop is Nationals next year (2020). And the idea hasn’t changed. To go there and have fun and learn as much as I possibly can whilst I’m at  it. And in five years time? Well I have a very strong passion and heart for the deaf. So in five years time, I probably would be owning my own space. Where I would offer my heart, my coffee skill set and also my expertise in the arts, to partner with the deaf community and therefore empower the ‘Hearing to See’. To see as in, to see as I have always dreamt. The Hearing and the Deaf in one space, enjoying Coffee, Art and Love and People. Without the slightest reminder of language being a barrier.

Sounds great Kgune, thanks for chatting to us and all the best with your preparations for Nationals in 2020.