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Isaac Ntambi: New National Barista Champion Shares His Journey To Success, Reveals What Makes Uganda Coffee Special

Isaac Ntambi is the new National Barista Champion after three unsuccessful attempts

Isaac Ntambi was on 29th November 2023 declared as the winner of the the 13th Uganda National Barista Championship after beating competition from 42 other participants.

The competition, organised by the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), gives participating baristas an opportunity to test their skills in brewing different coffee beverages.

The Championship returned after three years, having been halted in 2020 during the semi-finals round due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ntambi will now represent Uganda at the Africa Barista Championship (ABC) and at the World Barista Championship (WBC) that are conducted during the Specialty Coffee Association Conferences at African Fine Coffee Association conference (AFCA) and World Coffee Events (WCE) in Europe.

Barista are important in the coffee value chain because they brew high quality beverages and act as a link between all the value chain actors and the consumer.

Business Focus had an exclusive interview with Isaac Ntambi about his journey to success and other matters to do with coffee. Below are the excerpts from the interview;

Q: Congratulations upon winning the 13th National Barista Championship. Briefly tell me about yourself.

A: Isaac Ntambi is a graduate of Accounts and Finance who’s passionate about coffee. I began my coffee journey at Café Pap under the mentorship of the late Jolly Ngabirano and the late Patrick Kabugo, who was the Head Barista at that time.  Currently, I am working at Elevation Coffee Company.

I have worked for various coffee shops such as Café Javas, Java House, and Kampala Serena Hotel.

I want to acknowledge and congratulate all the finalists for their achievements. I also want to express my gratitude to the sponsors and the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) for organizing this championship.

Q: What inspired you to become a barista?

A: I joined Café Pap as a waiter under the trainee programme but I always admired how baristas were brewing coffee. My father used to drink coffee brewed manually and locally. I was amazed to see a coffee machine and the different Latte art designs. One day, I asked the Head Barista to allow me be cleaning the coffee machine every after shift. I also asked him to offer me some training on coffee brewing and he accepted. My boss Jolly Ngabirano (RIP) recognized my passion and sent me for training at the UCDA coffee laboratory in Lugogo, where I was supervised by Claire  Rwakatogoro and the entire quality control team. I learnt a lot about quality control and participated in the unforgettable morning cupping and tasting coffee sessions.

The world of coffee is complex and there is always more to learn. You will forever be a student of coffee.

Q: In your opinion, what are the key factors that propelled you to win the 13th National Barista championship?

A: This is my fourth attempt at this competition, and I have previously come out second and third. Therefore, my experience can’t be taken for granted. Importantly, teamwork has been key for me. I would like to express my gratitude towards my team for their tireless efforts; Daniel roasted the coffee, and the two former champions, Micheal Wokorach and Godfrey Batte collaborated with me to develop our routine. We have been working on this project since 2019, and I am thrilled that our hard work has finally paid off.

Isaac Ntambi (2nd Right) beat competition from 42 other participants to emerge winner

Q:  As an experienced barista, how do you rate the quality of Uganda Coffee at the international level?

A: I’m still a student of coffee and there’s always more to learn, but I can confidently say that our coffee is of exceptional quality and our Robusta coffee, in particular, stands out for its complexity and richness.

Q: How prepared are you to compete at the continental and World championships/ competitions?

A: We are currently focused on crafting our routine for the continental championship in February next year, with the world championship to follow in May 2024. I’m hopeful I will perform well.


Q: What are your career aspirations? Where do you see yourself five years from now?

A: My team and I aim to build a coffee roastery that includes a training facility to educate people about Uganda coffee so that they can appreciate it the more.

Q: In your opinion, what needs to be done to improve the quality of Uganda Coffee?

A: Farmers need to implement Good Agronomic Practices and I would like to commend the Uganda Coffee Development Authority for training farmers on better coffee production practices. This has started yielding results.

Q: Your last word…

A: I appreciate the work you and Business Focus  are doing to create awareness about Uganda coffee to the nation and the world at large. People like you who contribute to this noble cause should be celebrated.

Taddewo William Senyonyi
William is a seasoned business and finance journalist. He is also an agripreneur and a coffee enthusiast.

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