Kenya’s best barista Martin Shabaya speaks about the World Barista Championships and what it’s like to compete internationally.
Martin Shabaya sits patiently across from me at Artcaffe Oval, warming his hands on a chai latte. I have never had the opportunity to meet Martin before, but his accomplishments in the 2015 and 2016 World Barista Championships mean he has a reputation that precedes him. In the five years since he graduated from high school and was hired as a barista at Artcaffe, Martin has worked his way up the establishment’s ladder and made quite a name for himself along the way.
In the 2015 World Barista Championships, Martin arrived 43rd out of 62 participants, while this year he finished the competition 24th. “In 2015 I travelled with my own blend of roasted coffee but feel the pressure and climate affected my beans” he explains. “This year, I brought my own green beans to Dublin and managed to locate someone owns a small kiosk selling takeaway coffees and has his own coffee roastery.”
The competition is held in two stages: a nation-wide competition and an international event held in a different country across the world each year. Here in Kenya, which has been part of the Championships for the last 15 years, the competition is sponsored by the Kenya National Barista Championship. The competition starts regionally where any hotel, cafe, or restaurant is able to put forward a barista to compete; twelve winners from each region are invited to compete for a spot in the world championships; six people are chosen from the regional competition and finally one person goes on to compete internationally and represent Kenya. For two years in a row, this person has been Martin Shabaya.
One of the biggest learning points for Martin after the 2015 competition was the need to understand the coffee making process from bean selection to the cup. Upon his return in 2015, he worked with Artcaffe to learn about the coffee making process. Martin took factory and farm tours, selected coffee from farmers and tasted different coffees under the guidance of professional cuppers (individuals trained in differentiating coffee from its origins and roast profiles through a specific tasting method). Martin feels this training gave him an additional edge in the 2016 competition and a further appreciation for being a barista. As Head Barista of Artcaffe he now organizes for other baristas to do the same.
Every year, the competition gets harder, Kenyan talent is rapidly growing and Martin believes fighting for the championship will be harder this year. “I think I’ll [compete] once more, then I’ll be done” says Martin of the 2017 World Barista Championships.