Coffee Culture: A Review Of Durban’s First Barista Throwdown

Durban is owning it in almost every sphere right now… and coffee is no different.

My local BFFs from Blackwood Baristi, together with Colombo Fine Beverage Co. hosted Durban’s first Barista Battle Throwdown just under two weeks ago. Glen Surtees of Blackwood, also known as Zero31 writer, Factory, let’s us all take a peek at what happened and what we can expect next time.


Glen from Blackwood (writes below) with Kyle from Colombo at the event.

What happened for Durban coffee on Friday 26 August was big. It was a lot bigger than most of you might imagine. In fact, I would go so far as to call it potentially huge.

In a somewhat paradoxically low-key event, ten very talented baristas from various coffee shops around the city came to the Colombo Roastery to do battle against each other in order to find the best latté artist in the city.

Having just read the above paragraph, your thoughts might echo those of a friend of mine: “Are you serious? Baristas competing against one another? What the hell? You guys take this coffee thing far too seriously!” I proceeded to tell him that there is, in fact, a huge annual competition called the World Barista Championship or W.B.C. for short in which the national champions from each country compete against each other for the coveted title of World Barista Champion.

At this competition, everything from the baristas’ time management to the taste of the coffee is scored by a panel of highly knowledgable and experienced judges. There is a seperate category at the W.B.C. for latté art that rewards baristas’ skills in freehand pours using only milk and coffee to make appealing shapes such as hearts, rosettas, swans and tulips.

Psyching out the opposition



So, you might ask, how is all of this relevant to me as I happily sip away,  cappuccino in hand, at my favourite coffee shop? Well, it’s simple really. In order to pour good latté art, one needs a decent shot of espresso (in case you don’t know, most coffee beverages served to you at coffee shops are espresso-based) and so it is reasonable to assume that if you pour latté art, your espresso should be at least decent if not great. So by judging latté art, we are, in a way, helping to make your coffee better.

Back to Friday evening. The Barista Battle was important because prior to it, apart from the Specialty Coffee Association of Southern Africa’s (S.C.A.S.A.) regional champs, I can think of two events that were similar. Two. In four years.

The organizers of the Barista Battle – Blackwood Baristi and Colombo Tea & Coffee are committed to raising the standard of Durban coffee.  They understand the unique position in which South African baristas find themselves as professionals and brand ambassadors whilst simultaneously commanding significantly less respect than their first-world counterparts. Because of this, they came up with the idea of holding regular latté art ‘throwdowns’ as a way for baristas across the city to form relationships that lead to the sharing of skills and ideas, an opportunity to show our appreciation for the baristas as professionals and as a platform for the baristas to show off their skills a little to their peers.

naked portafilters rock

Announcing the winner

I had the privilege of judging with the erudite Mr. Kyle Fraser of Colombo.  We used a slightly amended version of the W.B.C. latté art score-sheet.  It might be worth explaining what we were looking for in a good pour:


One of the first things about good latte art is that the shape poured is symmetrical. The art should be the same either side of the cup’s diameter.  There are a few pours, such as a swan, where this is not necessary but in those cases, we looked for an indication of size and how the barista had used the space.


When latte art is done well, there is good contrast between the ingredients (coffee and milk).  In other words, the ‘canvas’ should be a rich, dark brown and the art should be very white.  Any mixing of the ingredients, unless there was clear intent, was duly penalized.


This category involves judging how well the barista has used the whole canvas.  Firstly, and most importantly, the art should be framed by a ring of brown crema. The art should fill the cup well and should not be not too big or too small.  If the cup contained several elements,  the aesthetic balance of the elements played a part in the decision.


Basically, we were looking for something that showed that the barista was thinking ‘out of the box’ here.  Originality or a new take on an established pattern scored high here.


The keyword here is successfully.  Obviously, a barista could attempt a really difficult pour and would score points for creativity but a hard pour that is not done well would score low.  I have included a table below to help out:


This is, in many ways, the way that a customer might view the drink.  It is basically an overall impression that the drink has made on them in its totality.

The standouts on the evening were Travis from Woolworths, Rory and Nkosi from Bean Green and Sipho Sithebe who entered as an independent barista.  These baristas all produced quality pours and Travis was in the lead from quite early on.  It went down to the wire though when Sipho busted out an incredible four-tiered tulip, the base of which was itself layered.  This was enough to secure first place – albeit by the narrowest of margins – and win the R500.00 ‘pot’ that was formed from the entry fees.

Harp gives Siphs a cash shower..

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the Colombo Roastery. Well done to all that competed. I hope that next time, there will be more baristas entering. Also, kudos to all those who came through to support – who said that Durbanites were apathetic?

Check out some more of the excellent work below…

Keep Vibing the Vibe,

Travis’ Tulip

Siphs’ pour

Siphs’ Winning tulip

Rory’s Swan


Rory going for glory

Layered heart..