If there was ever a person to exemplify what it means to struggle for perfection, it has to be Phuti Mmotla, recently awarded Starbucks National Barista Champion from Cape Town.
We talked with him about who he is, how he came to this high point in his Starbucks career, and his hopes and plans for the future — most notably his ambitions to be chosen as one of the ten Starbucks Baristas across Europe, the Middle East and Africa to compete in the Starbucks International Barista Championships in Milan at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery this October.
If chosen, he will be competing against other international finalists as he’s tested on his coffee knowledge and put into a gruelling head-to-head latte art showdown. Here’s what he had to say.
Falling in love with coffee:
“I joined the Starbucks family on February 15, 2017. It was the day after Valentine’s Day, and I fell in love with coffee.”
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What sparked his love:
“Latte art inspired me. When I first saw my trainer pour a latte art, a perfect heart, I was wowed. I believed a perfect cup of coffee should be presented with latte art. The first time I got that latte heart right, it changed my life.”
How his love developed:
“But then, as a Starbucks Barista, I dived deep into coffee and realised there is so much more to coffee than I thought. It’s about human connection, conversation, community, and a love of life. Then I saw how that first sip of coffee can put a smile on a customer’s face. I was hooked.”
“The standard set by the baristas was very high. I had to challenge myself to keep up. Also, I was an introvert. Training to become a better barista helped me come out of my shell. To be able to connect with other people easily. To become a better me.”
The inspiration to aspire:
“I first heard of the International Starbucks Barista Championship in 2017, and Nkosi, the SA champ at the time, inspired me to be a part of it. I started working on being the best candidate for next year’s competition. I didn’t win, but I kept improving my skills, gaining more knowledge, getting better as a barista.”
“Becoming a Starbucks Coffee Master is a great reward for all my hard work, and being a District Coach is a bonus. I only became certified as a Starbucks Coffee Master months after I began my journey. I had to learn journals about the fundamentals of coffee and I learnt so much about our regional coffees and how to brew them for the ultimate coffee experience for guests. Helping fellow baristas increase their knowledge, improve their skills, grow their passion, and help those who want to take the journey of being a coffee master. Seeing how doing what I love inspires others and seeing fellow baristas look up to me is a prize in itself. I am living a dream.”
Future plans for the region:
“What I would like to achieve as a District Coach by next year is to have at least one Coffee Master in every store — and involve our customers more in our journey and our story.”
Aims and ambitions:
“This is the first time I have won as a District Champion. Even after so many tries, I have never given up. Winning the SA National Championship will add value to my role as an inspiration to others. Then, to compete in the World Championships in Milan? That would be the ultimate reward.”
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Words of wisdom:
“Never give up on your goals no matter how many times you fail in life. Failure is not the end but an opportunity to try and do better next time. The best things do not come easy in life. If it comes easy, it’s not an achievement. Stay disciplined and focused, respect what you do, and fall in love with your work. Love will take you places.”
Having spent some quality time with Phuti, we can see how his love of coffee craft and connection could take him to the winner’s podium at the Starbucks International Barista championships. We can’t wait to see what he does next… but if one thing’s for sure, it will likely involve copious amount of coffee.
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