NATIONALS 2020: The Judges Speak Out!

27 Feb 2020 | Coffee Competitions, Nationals, News

With Nationals just around the corner (1-3 March at Hostex – Africa’s Food, Drink and Hospitality Trade Expo, at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg), we spent time with some of this year’s judges to get to know them better and to learn what advice they have for competitors. Meet the rest of the judges panel.

Chris Burke: I’m a coffee consultant and barista trainer.
Wildon Pretorius: I work at ‘Flip Out Centurion’, an indoor trampoline arena in Pretoria. Flip Out has a little café, and that’s where my journey in coffee started.
Henning Lubbe: I’m a lecturer, moderator, skills developer and industry service consultant at Guvon Hotels and Spa’s Guvon Academy.
David C Ballance: Owner operator at Country Ground Coffee. We also have a shop and a mobile set up.
Waseem Jadwat: I’m with TriBeCa Coffee Company, the regional beverage academy head for Johannesburg (Woolworths Cafés).
Ishan Natalie: Central Operations Specialist at Starbucks Coffee Company.
Shaun Aupiais: I’m a coffee consultant and barista trainer.

How many competitions have you judged (or worked, competed at) thus far?
CB: Five years judging as a sensory judge. Also hosted cup tasters and three years a latte art judge.
WP: I have judged both Gauteng and Western Cape Regional Barista championships in 2019, and now the upcoming Nationals in 2020.
HL: Judged at four Regionals. It will be my first Nationals but I have observed Nationals. Both barista and latte art.
DCB: I been judging since 2009 not sure the number but in that time I’ve missed two years. Judged all KZN, one Eastern Cape, two Gauteng Regionals and four National finals.
WJ: Gauteng Regionals and Nationals, from 2016 onwards.
IN: Too many to count. I’ve competed since inception in 2007. Took a break from competing in 2012 – 2013, and 2016 – 2017. I have judged across regional and national competitions during my 2012 – 2013 break and did fulfill a head judge in training role during that time.
SA: Ten years regional and national competitions.

Any particular SCASA competition that’s stood out for you?
CB: I plead the fifth to reserve the right to comment.
WP: The Western Cape Barista Champs stood out for me because of the level of expertise that the Western Cape Baristas have. The professionalism, efficiency and workflow of the baristas are amazing. As a technical judge myself I didn’t get to taste any of the coffee served, but I am pretty sure it was amazing as well.
HL: Last year, we had our first competitor from the Guvon Group take part in Latte Art.
DCB: Nationals at Hostex a few years ago.
WJ: Nationals 2018, in a warehouse in Cape Town in the midst of a water crisis!
IN: There’s too many to list but I would say the first one in 2006/2007, the KZN regional where Kyle Fraser and Craig Charity were the top two.
SA: 2007 Nationals in Cape Town. Meeting the South African coffee community and the World Champion Klaus Thompson, that really made me feel that this was my new journey!

Do you need to have any specific skills to be a coffee competition judge?

CB: I don’t think it’s really necessary to have a skill. Just the ability to learn from those around you. An appropriation for coffee and the coffee community and willingness to grow.
WP: Well we have technical as well as sensory judges. As a technical judge for SCASA, you need to have solid know how on how espresso-based beverages should be prepared and industry best practices. As a sensory judge you need to have a very developed palate, as the beverages will be served to you, and you need to score on amongst other things, expected flavour descriptors, mouth feel, etc. given by the barista.
HL: Yes, either from being a barista or coffee industry or a strong hospitality food background. For me it’s the latter as well as being in the education part of the industry. Being an assessor of chefs for many years has definitely helped with a consistent assessment for myself as well as adding a more academic perspective.
DCB: I think you should be an accomplished barista/roaster. Some skill can’t be taught.
WJ: Attention to detail, patience, friendliness, and a refined palate. Not that I possess any of those…
IN: Being sensory proficient is important as a sensory judge. Taste is subjective but you have to be perceptive and aligned with all the judges. Multitasking and attentiveness are also important, especially as a technical judge.
SA: A real passion for coffee and the people in coffee, the rest will follow!

<strong”>Why do you like judging (and/or competing)?
CB: I get to interact with other like-minded people in our industry. I get to learn about new coffees and watch the passion the competitors have.
WP: Before judging I like to go through the SCA rules and regulations, but SCASA always has judges calibration where all judges go through the rules together to have a united understanding of what we are looking for both technically and in sensory experience.
HL: Coffee is a different beast from all the other forms of food and beverages and hence a challenge for me to learn, improve and personally get that very elusive wow moment, where you are treated by something that provides pleasure and surprise at the quality of taste experience.
DCB: Judging keeps me abreast of what is happening in the industry in SA and globally. Contestants have to keep themselves current. So it keeps me current.
WJ: Selfishly, to taste delicious coffee! But for me, the greatest facet of barista competition is the fact that we all get to hang out together, put our differences aside, put coffee first, and learn from each other.
IN: The competition arena has been one of my favorite places to spend time because I enjoy being pushed towards excellence in coffee and supporting the barista/coffee community as much as I can.
SA: I feel it’s another way to give back to the industry especially with the generations to come! It also helps us to experience many different coffees and people in the coffee industry.

Any preparations you do before judging (and or competing) a coffee competition?
CB: Nothing really I just prepare my palate for the coffees that I will be judging.
WP: I love judging because I feel like I am actively contributing towards the advancement of the local coffee community in South Africa. I see it as an opportunity to congratulate and encourage best practice, as well as suggest positive changes to enhance workflow.
HL: The rules and score sheets are of course the most important aspect, but I also do align my taste buds with an espresso or five. The calibration before the competition is the main part for getting me mentally ready as my taste buds are always ready to go.
DCB: Brush up on palate/taste profiles. Review the years judging requirements.
WJ: None.
IN: I’ve never really prepped for judging except for attending the judges training and calibration. For competing, there are so many things to prep – finding the right coffee and roast profile, the brew parameters, the flow and presentation in the 15 minutes.
SA: I like to replace the batteries in my stopwatch.

What tips do you have for competitors who’ll be taking part in this year’s National (and Regional) competitions?
CB: Rest well, relax and enjoy the experience. Try to be as natural as possible. Practice, practice, practice, practice.
WP: Too all competitors, repetition is the name of the game. Know your coffee and practice your set as much as possible. Have fun displaying the coffee you chose, and make sure you know how to work the grinder (if not bringing your own) and machine used in the barista competitions. If you make a mistake, bounce back, and own your stage. Good luck, and thanks for competing.
HL: Do what you feel comfortable with and confident in. And the main thing is, treat it like a practical. Practice, practice, practice and let different people taste and judge your set. And of course, there will be no purpose to the exercise if you don’t enjoy it.
DCB: Keep it real. Think outside of the box. And just be yourself, let your personality show through. You can always be yourself, if you try to copy someone else you have to work twice as hard.
WJ: Know the score sheets and rules, and nail the basics. And beyond that, let your personality shine through!
IN: Find your purpose for competing. And it shouldn’t be to prove that you are better than anyone. Your higher purpose should be the reason for being there and being an ambassador to support the industry and other baristas. My purpose has always been, since 2002 when I first came across what barista championships are, to be a World Barista Champion.
SA: Always have fun!

Thank you Judges, wishing you and the rest of the panel, discerning palates, wisdom and a great taste adventure.