(Photo: Justin Groep)
Winston Thomas back into competition in 2019 after taking a year off. The two time National Champion (2017 & 2018) had quite the busy year, after winning the 2019 African Fine Coffee Association’s (AFCA) Barista Championship earlier in the year and now the Western Cape Regionals, walking away with not only the title, but also four out of five Barista Specialty Awards.
What a great win for you in the Western Cape Regionals (on 6 September 2019). Tell us a bit more what this win means to you?
This win means a lot especially considering taking a year off. There’s still a lot of work to do for Nationals but it feels great being back in the swing of things and coming off with a win is the cherry on top.
How long did you train? And what specific methods do you apply when approaching a competition?
The preparation started two to three months before competition, which was mainly choosing a coffee and finalising a concept. This was a challenge because I already had a concept I wanted to use if I qualified for Nationals. So I had to put that aside and focus on something simple for regionals first. I’ve done a few tastings and finalised my signature drink about two weeks before the competition and I started running sets a week before the competition. Due to illness I only managed to fit in five full sets.
The Western Cape Region Coffee Competitions were such an exciting event this year, tell us more about your experience and how it felt like competing again, your set, your beverages and signature drink?
This was a very strong year in the Western Cape. It reminds me of my first year competing in 2016! I enjoyed the camaraderie backstage but also the crowd support. It seemed like there was a lot of supporters interested in watching the competition which was a first to see in the Western Cape (for me at least) which made competing and the time on stage a lot more enjoyable. There is also a strong crop of young competitors that competed for the first time, which is a good sign for future competitions.
My set revolved around customer perception and how the barista can influence this in a positive and meaningful way by using excellence, consistency and familiarity. I served a Natural Processed Kenyan Coffee roasted by Father Coffee and sourced by Project Origin. The espresso was amazing and represented excellence. So was the milk and it represented consistency. I used a specific milk from Zarmi Foods based in Benoni. Lastly my signature drink represented familiarity and to do this I created a coffee cola soda using a homemade cola recipe.
Did you ever expect to win four specialty awards?
I did not expect to win four but my goal was to win as many as possible. I think that is the goal for every competitor, to create a set that is able to win all five awards. I was very strategic about the set and took a few intentional risks and fortunately it paid off for the most part by winning the title and 4/5 specialty awards.
Two wins in one year, AFCA and now Western Cape Regionals, how did the two competitions differ?
For the AFCA competition I focused on finding a good coffee and serving it well. There wasn’t as much focus on a specific concept for my set or an interesting signature drink, because I was also running the barista bootcamp for all of the competitors. So the biggest difference was my preparation and focus on performance. Although at regionals my goal was to serve the coffee well, I also wanted to give a message and provoke thought with the judges whereas at AFCA I had a much simpler goal to serve good coffee and inspire the judges.
We see you entered yourself under Winston Douglas Coffee, what’s your plans with the company/label?
This is still under wraps for now 🙂 I am in the process of finalising admin and conceptualization. I am hoping to launch by the end of this year or early next year.
What is great about coffee in the Western Cape?
The WC is pretty small, especially central Cape Town so visiting stores is very easy – roughly within a 10km radius. So accessibility is great.
What is your favourite coffee at the moment, and why?
This Kenyan Thageini from Father Coffee is my favourite at the moment. Getting to explore this coffee in the build up to competition has made me appreciate it even more. And it is very versatile in brewing methods.
So many questions have been asked by us on coffee over the years, but what are your interests outside of coffee?
I enjoy the outdoors so hiking and surfing (although I haven’t been in the water for a while!) or just general time in nature. Family time has also become very important to me so I often go to visit family in Strand / Gordon’s Bay outside the city.
Is there anyone you would like to thank or recognize, or who helped you to prepare for the Western Cape Region Coffee Competitions?
There are so many people to thank! Individual thanks goes to Khan Chang (the Coach), Nicole Jacobs (the Girlfriend) and Keaton Nicol (the Right Hand Man). In addition to that we have Father Coffee, Rock & Roller, Rosetta Roastery and Zarmi Foods. Thank you all!
Secondly is getting an African into finals of WBC – whether this is me or if I am assisting someone it is a very important goal I would like to achieve. After coaching Ndumiso Qolintaba I realised that, with my experience at WBC and the time I’ve spent with coffee pros from all over the world, I might be a better coach than I am a competitor! But I would like another shot at WBC before I say that for sure 🙂
What’s next for you and where do you see yourself in five years?
I will continue freelancing and training and of course get back to my Nationals prep. But my two main focuses are providing more growth opportunities for baristas in the industry through education and opportunities that have come my way.
Thank you Winston. All the best for the rest of the year and Nationals in 2020.