By Margaretta wa Gacheru 
[Published April 22, 2014 in Business Daily, but radically different from this, my original version of the story which was completely revised]
The 11thKenyan National Barista Championship, held over two days last week (April 16thand 17th) in conjunction with the Africa Fine Coffee Association at the Junction Mall, confirmed that the art of coffee making has not only become a competitive sport.
The event also confirmed that the barista has become a recognized professional in Kenya where a coffee drinking culture has increasingly taken hold among consumers.
In the West, coffee drinking is a common practice with the coffees of East Africa considered the finest in the world.
“Uganda is the leading coffee exporter in the region while Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer, but Ethiopians drink most of their coffee,” said Godfrey Batte, acting Executive Director of the Africa Coffee Academy.
As many as forty baristas or coffee makers from Kenya’s leading hotels and coffee houses participated in the first day of the competition that shortlisted the 40 down to 17; and then by the end of the day the finalists were honed down to six.
They were baristas Martin Shabaya of the Art Caffe, Faith Lila from the Nairobi Hilton, Florence Anyango from Crown Plaza, Eric Kimathi from Java Coffee House, Rodha Wambui from Serena Nairobi and Martin Opiyo also from Java Coffee House.
In the end, barista Eric Kimathi was judged to be the most impressive of the six. That means he will represent Kenya at the World Barista Championship to be held this June in Rimini, Italy.
“The three winners [in Italy] will go home with trophies as well as cash prizes,” said Rozy Rana, Dormans’ managing director.
Kenyan baristas have been represented at the international level ever since the National Championship was first established eleven years back by Dormans’ Coffee.
“Since 2003 our finalists have traveled everywhere from Italy, Australia and Japan to Columbia and Denmark to attend the World Barista Championship,” said Sam Njiru, Thursday’s master of ceremonies as well as the unit manager of Dormans Karen Crossroads Coffee House.
Explaining that this year, the Kenya Barista Championship was sponsored by Dormans together with Java Coffee House, Junction Mall and La Marzocco coffee machines, Dormans Sales Manager Ken Teyie added that the Kenya Barista Championship had this year taken on a higher public profile than in years past.
It’s as if Kenya’s coffee-drinking culture had come of age, given the competition was judged by both international and regional judges as well as by Kenyans. Out of the seven, the Head Judge is Italian, Enrico Wurm from La Marzocco  and he was assisted by WBC-certified judge Clare Rwajatogoro of the Uganda Coffee Development Authority. The other judges included Mark Okuta and Jackie Nanjego both from Uganda and Kenyans Gabriel Kariuki from Theta Country Farm, Ken Wangusiof Ole Sereni Hotel and Keziah Mwacha of Hotel Intercontinental.
The other factor that lifted the Kenya Barista Championship to a higher level is the fact that training of baristas has been stepped up not only with Dormans running its own certified Barista Training Centre in conjunction with the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe, but the Uganda-based Africa Coffee Academy opening a branch for training baristas on Mombasa Road early this year.
During the Kenyan competition, baristas were judged for their presentation of three different coffee products, namely espresso, cappuccino and each barista’s own ‘signature drink’.
This year’s signature drinks featured espresso mixed with either red grape, blueberry. red cherry or orange juice with cinnamon spice.
“What’s important to the judges is that the espresso favor remains distinct no matter what is mixed in the signature drink,” said Rozy Rana.
That was one aspect of the sensory criteria used by the judges to appraise the barista finalists. What was also important was the technical skill of each candidate meaning their ability to operate the various coffee brewing machines as well as to create all three drinks in a specific period of time.
To become a winner in the Championship, baristas have had to go through a rigorous training before they can combine both technical skill and creativity sufficient to compete in national finals.
Among  the major hotels and coffee houses that took part in the Barista Championship were Hilton Hotel, Sarova Group, Art Caffé, Nairobi Java, Flamingo Resort Mombasa, Serena Hotels,  Crown Plaza, Boma Inn and Fairview Hotel as well as others that didn’t go past the preliminary round which was held earlier in April.
Among the previous barista champions who went to the World Championships were Rhoda Wambui and Peter Owiti.

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