Meet Sisa, PE’s best barista!

Valley Harvest's Sisa Mapetu has excelled in the Eastern Cape leg of the national barista championship. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

By Louise Liebenberg

FOLLOWING the Speciality Coffee Association of Southern Africa’s first ever Eastern Cape leg of the national barista championship last month, Valley Harvest’s coffee kahuna Sisa Mapetu can now call himself Nelson Mandela Bay’s top barista. And, as as a regional finalist, Sisa now has a real shot at national honours, with the national competition scheduled for March next year in Cape Town.

Sisa is already in preparation mode for the big event, whose winner will jet off on a prize-winning trip of a lifetime to one of the world’s coffee-loving capitals, Vienna in Austria, for entry into the World Barista Championship.

And, even though his triumphant regionals were just the other day, Sisa has been feverishly researching beans and blends, and experimenting like crazy, says Valley Harvest owner Penny Sawyer, who has mentored him since taking over ownership of the popular Sixth Avenue cafe last year.

Sisa was a waiter back then, and a good one at that, but Penny and her partner Johan spotted potential in him when their first top-notch barista resigned and they were stuck for another.

“Instead of hiring another barista we decided to invest in one of our own staff, and train them up in their appreciation and understanding of premium coffee which we have always loved,” Penny said. “Johan spotted potential in Sisa from the start and seeing how he has grown in this process has been amazing.”

The soft-spoken 25-year-old did an intensive barista course at a roastery in Robertson at the beginning of the year to prepare him for everything from selecting his own unique blend to the roasting process.

He said he was thrilled to come second in the Eastern Cape regionals at the Homemakers Expo late last month. “I experimented for ages and Penny and I were always playing around with ideas for my signature drink, which was an important part of the competition,” Sisa says. “I am in a choir at my local church, the New Apostolic Church in Zwide, where I have been a congregation member since very young. Inspired by my love of music, I created my Winter Equatorial Medley.

“Some of the entrants made iced drinks but I wanted something warming, for winter. The drink contains a shot of espresso made from an African blend, a teaspoon of vanilla from Madagascar, a pinch of chilli from Mexico, about 2g of cocoa powder from Ivory Coast and finally a topping of milk froth. All of this makes you think of winter, and to tie in with my love of music I then decorate it with a treble clef using some chocolate syrup.”

To make Sisa’s signature drink, you simply mix the cocoa and chilli in an empty cup, add the vanilla, mix and then top with the shot of espresso and finally the milk froth and chocolate syrup.

“The short, sharp hit of the chilli is the soprano in my signature drink,” Sisa smiles.

And the Speciality Coffee Association of Southern Africa, SCASA for short, was blown away with it and Sisa’s other coffee preparations, with the judges giving Sisa a well-earned second place and some solid encouragement for the nationals. And, considering that the Eastern Cape winner came from Jeffreys Bay, Sisa can now indeed call himself the top barista in Nelson Mandela Bay!

Founded in 2006, SCASA is the trade association for the speciality coffee industry, one of the fastest-growing food industries in the world.

Speciality coffee – also called “gourmet” or “premium” coffee — is grown in the world’s most ideal coffee-producing climates. It’s a huge industry; in fact SCASA will tell you it is the largest commodity traded after oil, with Arabica traded in New York and Robusta in London.

While South Africa is still relatively new to the industry, interest in and excitement about coffee are definitely growing. SCASA hosts the annual Barista Championship and the fact there was also an Eastern Cape leg this year, following some pretty intensive lobbying by local suppliers, is encouraging indeed.

Events like the Barista Championship are an effort to bring excellence to the trade, considering this is one profession that “has to be done with passion and an understanding”, according to SCASA.

The competition had a set format, explained Johan. At the regionals a barista station was set up on a stage with a coffee machine and a grinder for the beans. Technical and  sensory judges look on as the barista come on stage and has 15 minutes to prepare the station with his or her own cups, coffee beans, milk, utensils and cleaning cloths. A table on the side is prepared by the barista for the sensory judges while the technical judge watches the set-up processes and keeps time with a stop watch.

Once he is done with the preparations  the sensory judges come on stage to meet the barista, who is now “wired” with a microphone as he may chat to the judges about his coffee.

Then starts the countdown in which Sisa and the other entrants had to make 4 x espressos, 4 x cappuccinos and 4 x signature drinks – all of this in 15 minutes and presenting each drink to the judges at their table. The judges taste the coffees and look at the texture of the espressos and milk and, while the barista is making the drinks, the technical judge watches every detail of every process.

In this 15 minute core section of the competition, the barista is judged on processes, cleanliness, passion, quality of products and of course, the taste of the coffees.

The signature drink can be anything with coffee, but with no alcohol. Having gone for a winter drink for the regionals, Sisa says he is probably going to try something a little cooler come the nationals.

Penny says Sisa has inspired them all with his enthusiasm and passion, so much so that Valley Harvest is now also in the process of developing its own unique blend of coffee which the cafe hopes to have ready for customers by the end of October this year.

Sisa's signature drink for the regional competition - musically inspired and complete with treble cleft! Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Sisa also makes a fine capuccino. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

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