Code Black Coffee’s Sam Low wins NZ Barista Championship

Melbourne-based barista Sam Low of Code Black Coffee is the newly-crowned Huhtamaki New Zealand Barista Champion.

This year’s New Zealand Coffee Championship events took place at Mac’s Function Centre on Wellington’s waterfront from 27 – 28 February.

New Zealand Specialty Coffee Association Executive Director Aymon McQuade describes the weekend’s event as one of the “most tightly contested barista championships in New Zealand’s history”.

Sam won first place on 550 points, closely followed by runner up Hanna Teramoto of Mojo Coffee in Auckland on 548.5 points, and Dove Chen of Grey Street Kitchen in Hamilton in third place on 548 points.

“It means alot to me not just from a career aspect but its almost a confirmation on all the hard work and hours I’ve spent in the training room, collaborating with other people in the industry, such as roasters, baristas, and consumers,” Sam said. “It means I get to be an ambassador for specialty coffee and to have a voice for the industry.”

Last year Sam won the 2015 New Zealand Latte Art Champion and was runner up in the 2015 New Zealand Barista Championship. This year, Sam focused purely on the barista competition, and it paid off.

“After taking two National Latte Art titles I didnt feel like I had anything to prove in that field anymore,” Sam said. “I felt I had taken as much out of that competition as possible and it was time to focus on something else. I’ve always liked the barista championships a little bit more, and after doing it for the third time and finally taking it out, I got to reflect on my journey to becoming a national barista champion. Now my duty is to represent New Zealand on the world stage.”

For his routine, Sam used a coffee from the Naranjo region of Costa Rica, produced by the micro-mill La Perla Del Cafe.

“What’s awesome and special about this coffee is its varietal, SL28 is a Kenyan variety that has all the Kenyan characteristics mixed with the balance of Costa Rican attributes,” he said.

Sam describes his signature beverage as “simple” yet clearly effective.

It consisted of a stonefruit puree made by blending and filtering plums, nectarines and peaches. To that Sam added a shot of his Costa Rican coffee. This was then topped up with a aromatic tea foam, made with Kenyan black tea and orange oil. The foam was stablised by the use of Xanthan gum and soy lecithin granules blended into the foam mix.

Over in the latte art event, Calvin Ko of Little Rogue in Melbourne also proved that experience is key to success.

Calvin was runner up in the 2014 New Zealand Latte Art Championship and this year went one better, winning the 2016 Meadow Fresh New Zealand Latte Art Championship.

Leo Li of Aroma Books & Coffee in Auckland was the runner up, and Isaac Yu of The Return Rad in Auckland won third place.

“This year’s 2016 Meadow Fresh New Zealand Latte Art Championship was hotly contested. We say the same thing every year, but every year it’s true – the level has gone up again. Calvin raised the bar yet again,” Aymon said.

It seems working at some of Melbourne’s most prominent cafes has had a positive effect on Sam and Calvin, giving them the upper edge on their fellow New Zealand competitors this year.

“Like many professionals in our industry, Sam and Calvin travelled abroad to gain more experience and broaden their knowledge,” Aymon said. “We’re grateful and proud they they bring this knowledge back here to compete, and are subsequently taking their skills to the world stage to represent New Zealand.

There’s still two more New Zealand Coffee Championship events to come. The Cup Tasters and Brewers Cup Championship will take place in Auckland on 12 March.

Sam will now make his way to Dublin, Ireland to compete in the World Barista Championships from 22 – 25 June.

Calvin will travel to Shanghai, China from 29 March – 1 April to compete in the World Latte Art Championship.

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Image of NZ Barista Champion Sam Low (top) and Hanna Teramoto (below). Credit: Nick Kean

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