Justin Groep is a barista from the Strand currently working for Rosetta Roastery. He won the best espresso at the Western Cape Barista Championships. He’s a guy with a great passion for coffee, who strives to make an impact in the coffee industry.
Who is Justin Groep?
Justin grew up close to Somerset West, in the Helderberg region. He went to school at Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch. He’s always been interested in team dynamics, and decided to play hockey which he excelled at. He started and coordinated the drum-line for Paul Roos, as he loved the sound of drums but couldn’t play it himself. It was his way of connecting people and creating opportunities.
Justin interests included business and people, which led him to studying BCom Management Sciences at the University of Stellenbosch. His focal subjects were Logistics and Information System. Through university he picked courses that would link to his interests; things like public development, project management, initiatives pushing innovation and leadership courses. Like this, he has crafted his degree to align his passion.
His first job out of University was as a team manager for SAWIP (South Africa-Washington International Program) – it’s a leadership development organisation. He spent a year volunteering for them. This was a great opportunity for Justin and great exposure.
He then went on to work for Allan Gray Orbis Foundation – a entrepreneurial development organisation. He eventually resigned, to go and work full-time at his church where he spent a year and a half at. It all lined up with his passions.
Photography is one of Justin’s hobbies which he uses as a creative outlet. He draws inspiration from it and it allows the creative juices to flow. It helps him in being creative in coffee, business and when speaking to customers.
How has Justin’s love for coffee developed?
Coffee has been a part of Justin’s life throughout University, but his understanding of coffee was not well informed.
He didn’t necessarily like coffee then, but he had to drink it to stay awake. It would always be filter coffee with a couple of sugars. The best coffee he had at that time, was at a place called Cafe Go. It was a little bit more expensive and more people would go there. He then soon realized that it wasn’t all that great.
He often went to Hazz Coffee as he loved the big couch and the communal table. He would order the same thing every day, an Americano with hot milk and 2 sugars. As he slowly weaned himself off the sugar, he realized something was missing but couldn’t connect the dots. The coffee just never tasted the same. Some days it tasted amazing and other days not. Justin couldn’t understand why this was, and thought the barista was messing with him.
Two defining moments in his life has left him with many question marks, and he went looking for the answers.
His first encounter with coffee left him intrigued. He came across 2 guys making “filter” coffee, but not certain what it was. They were in fact brewing pour overs and he had no idea what it was. He got himself a cup of it, he tasted it and it was nice, but he had no idea what he was drinking. There was no time to have a conversation about it. He later learnt these 2 guys were Jono and Rob, the founders of Rosetta Roastery.
Justin and his mates started drinking more and more coffee. They got a list together of the coffee shops they wanted to check out. On this one particular day, Origin was the final stop.
Justin ordered his usual Americano with hot milk. One of the baristas then said that Justin doesn’t want hot milk and that he wants cold milk. Justin assumed that hot milk would make it sweeter but it turned out that it was the other way around according to the barista.
They also started chatting to the staff at the cafe. Justin mentioned bumping into Lovejoy Chirambasukwa who was the 2012 SA Barista Champion. They ended up having a conversation about coffee and its complexity. Justin soon realized that the coffee he was accustomed to drinking was for the most part rather basic. There other difference in this coffee experience was the Lovejoy’s understanding of coffee and its dynamic nature. This was Justin’s first real exposure to a presentation of specialty coffee.
What inspired Justin to become a barista?
Winston Thomas (current SA Barista Champion) and Justin got into coffee at the same time. They have been friends since the early days of high school. It then so happened that they met up over coffee the one day while in varsity.
They were just having a chat about coffee, life and their future aspirations. In that moment he realized how important coffee had became for them as individuals. When the evening cleaner’s started mopping around them, they realized that they were the only ones left sitting in the food court of the Somerset West Mall.
Justin went to Washington DC at a time after varsity for work, when Winston messaged him saying that he has a surprise for Justin when he gets back. As Justin got back, Winston told him that he completed the barista course at Origin.
Justin was then drinking coffee and making pour overs at home. He found out that Winston’s knowledge was sky rocketing about coffee and he was staying at the same level. This is when he realized that he needs to do a barista course, because it can have a lot of questions he had about coffee, answered.
He did the barista course in December 2014 at Origin Coffee.
The first coffee shop Justin worked at:
Justin attended the Western Cape Barista Championships in 2015. He took some photos during the event, posted it so that people could tag themselves in it. This way he could meet more people.
Winston came 2nd during the competition. Justin would help him wherever he could, and went with Winston to Nationals which was in December 2015. Here he met a lot of people from the coffee industry. This was where he met Khan Chang, owner of Uncle Bear.
Khan told Justin that he’s opening a coffee shop in January 2016. At that time, Justin was looking for a coffee shop to work at. This was the perfect opportunity for Justin to gain experience and help a friend. He worked at Uncle Bear from ground zero, when there was nothing till end of 2016.
He would work Mondays – Fridays at Uncle Bear. Over weekends he either worked at Origin’s Waterfront stand or the Biscuit Mill. He was trying to fast track the learning process and spend time behind the machine.
Justin’s experience working at Rosetta Roastery:
Justin has always been inspired by what Rosetta does and he looked up to them. The way they presented specialty coffee and how they pursued specialty coffee.
On Justin’s off days he would go to Rosetta occasionally and just sit there and do work on his laptop. At the end of last year, he knew they were looking for a barista.
He attended an event held at Rosetta Roastery. This once again blew his mind and came to realization about how little he knows, although he spent the last 3 years learning about coffee. This inspired him, and he needed to broaden his understanding of coffee if he wants to play a role in pushing this industry forward.
To do that, he needed to grow more. Uncle Bear was at a stage where it had momentum. He took his chance and emailed Rosetta with the subject line: “Response to the calling.”
Best Espresso at Western Cape Barista Championships:
Justin entered the 2017 Western Cape Barista Championships – this was his first competition he entered. This is where won the title for the best espresso.
He’s been to 3 competitions before in support of a friend. He decided 2 weeks before the competition to enter. He felt it wasn’t a smart move as you need more time for preparations.
He felt the need to enter because he could put his skills to the test and to learn from the experience. Justin was forced to step up his game and refine some of his skills. He spent a lot of nights prepping.
He described it as a high-pressure environment, intense, crazy but a good opportunity for networking. Your skills are also being put to the test.
Justin tried to do a complex routine, and keep to the basics of how they do things at Rosetta. He felt this wasn’t a smart move for a first-time competitor but he couldn’t do it any other way. Under the pressure, he couldn’t deliver the routine as fast as he wanted and ran over time. This caused him to get disqualified and couldn’t continue to the finals.
He was happy with the concept he brought to the table. He now knows how he can improve it.
Advice for Barista’s wanting to compete:
- Watch videos to get an idea of what the competitions are like.
- Volunteer at competitions.
- Read a lot of articles covering the competitions. Do a lot of research.
- You need to be coached by somebody who has competed and has done fairly well – to be able to give good concrete advice.
- Have sessions where you get friends in to score you like it was a competition and understand how the judging works.
- Spend time with people that’s been in that competing environment.
- Select a tasty, complex and high quality specialty single origin coffee to present to the judges.
Justin’s goals for the next 3 years:
Justin will be entering Barista Competitions in the future. He would like to enter cup tasters, but doesn’t have time for it right now.
He has a considerable amount of learning to do and refining of his craft. His specific focus now is to figure out, which area in this industry he would be the most impactful with his skill-set.
Advice for those who are new to coffee:
- Drink as much coffee as you can.
- Drink coffee side by side – go out with a friend and order the same drink but from a different bean.
- Need to reserve judgement – understand how different regions affect coffee.
- Find out as much as you can about coffee, ask a lot of questions and ask questions on top of those questions.
- Drink coffee differently. Don’t stick to the same choice every time. Mix it up.
- Brew coffee at home as well – you’ll start understanding coffee better when you are controlling something.
- Experimentation is key.
- Use all your senses when tasting coffee and talk about it.
It was such a privilege to sit down with Justin and chat to him about his passion for coffee. I think, I took away more knowledge about coffee than I expected. I hope you enjoyed it too.
Till the next cup of coffee.