Ishan Natalie’s passion for coffee started back in 2000 when he innocently asked to be trained as a barista at the newly launched Woolworths Café at Gateway Mall, KwaZulu-Natal. This experience fuelled his dream of becoming a professional barista and cemented his passion for brewing that perfect cuppa java coffee. That same drive and determination recently won him first place at the South African Barista Championships (held in January) and a chance to represent South Africa at the World Barista Championships in Atlanta, USA in April. The SA Barista Championships put budding coffee connoisseurs to the test. Each contestant had to prepare four espressos, four cappuccinos and four non-alcoholic signature drinks all in just 15 minutes! One of Ishan’s signature coffee drinks is a Turkish Delight-inspired, heavenly creation made from a subtle combination of dark chocolate sauce, cream, fresh milk and 6 shots of rich espresso topped off with his secret ingredient: natural rose extract. The judges evaluated every aspect of the participants during the competition; from their personality to their professionalism, their overall coffee knowledge and their coffees’ taste and aroma. Two technical judges also noted each contestant’s technique and their understanding of the equipment they were using. Following the excitement of winning the competition and amidst preparations for his trip to Atlanta, Ishan says: “It’s all starting to sink in! I’ve worked so hard to get here and it means the world to me. No doubt my success will rub off on the baristas I train for Woolworths Café’s nationwide. If I can do it so can they.” A firm believer that the position of barista will soon be a sought after career choice, as opposed to a mere job, he adds: “For me being a barista is a way of life…it’s who I am; plain and simple!” According to Ishan coffee is complex and fascinating not unlike the delicacies and intricacies that are usually attributed to wine and the appreciation thereof. He believes that learning how to grind coffee correctly and then how to extract a perfect shot of espresso from the ground beans without destroying their distinct natural and sweet flavour is the cornerstone of the coffee-making process. Ishan attributes his success to training he received from Dale Mazon, Co-Director of TriBeCa Coffee Roasting Company, in Pretoria. Dale taught him the multi-faceted skill of being a barista and years of practice, hands-on experience and in-depth research perfected his skills. This level of commitment is what sets apart those who are good at what they do and those that are brilliant at what they love doing. One of the biggest challenges Ishan expects to confront at the World Barista Championship in Atlanta are the fact that he has no idea if the milk he’ll be using is as good as the Woolworths Ayrshire milk he has access to back home, how his coffee will be affected in transit and if his equipment will arrive in one piece. He admits, however, that controlling his nerves is probably his biggest challenge to date. “I just need to remember to be positive, have fun and enjoy every moment of the championship! I really love what I do and that influences my overall performance,” explains Ishan. Having said that he adds: “As long as I have my tamper (a tool which is used to tightly pack ground coffee beans in the handle of an espresso machine) I’ll be fine. Holding it in my hands prepares me and calms me down.” Tips from the coffee guru include: always use filtered water when making tea or coffee and always let boiling water settle for a minute or two before pouring it over coffee or tea. Learn how to use your coffee grinder and/or machine, and if you’re passionate about coffee follow your heart; learn more and develop your passion into a skill. The first round of the World Barista Championship (WBC) will take place from the 16th to the 18th of April 2009 in Atlanta, USA. The final will take place on the 19th of April 2009.