Wānaka barista makes national champs using 'art and science'

by Lauren Pattemore - Mar 16, 2024

The Coffee Shack and Dojo owner Bonnie Lam is heading to the Aotearoa New Zealand Barista Championships in Wellington later this year.

Ms Lam took out the top spot against eight other South Island competitors in the New Zealand Speciality Coffee Association's (NZSCA's) regional competition last weekend and scored a place in the national competition.

Held last Sunday at the Christchurch cafe C4 Coffee co, the competitors were required to pour four espressos and four milk beverages to a group of four coffee judges. 

Ms Lam prepared a winning brew using washed panama geisha beans for the regional champs.

Overall, she's been working behind the machine for two decades, with her first job as a barista in an Auckland cafe.

Ms Lam says the coffee industry is "forever progressing" in technology and techniques, which is what fuels her to keep competing.

The Coffee Shack tucked away Brownstone Street is one of Bonnie Lam's two Wānaka coffee shops (Source: Facebook/ The Coffee Shack Wānaka)

"It's just never-ending. Once you get into it, there's such a science behind it, there's such an art, and there's just so many logistics too.

"I really enjoy the technology side of making coffee too... one other thing is that you're never going to be the best. I went to the World Championships before I had my child and it's just amazing to watch those guys."

She's participated in the national competition a few times before, and took out fourth place in 2021.

Competing at this level, she says it takes two full suitcases of coffee equipment every time.

For the past seven years, Ms Lam's been running the Coffee Shack in Wānaka, and opened up the Coffee Dojo in 2020, she says.

The idea of being a snowboard instructor is what originally lured her down here when she was on a coffee-making break.

The "great lifestyle" of Wānaka is what makes her stay; biking in the summer, and snowboarding in the winter.

Ms Lam notes it's much more challenging to manage a roster for a cafe based in a small, touristy town than in the big Auckland city she hails from. 

"In Auckland, you open the door and you're literally in a constant flow until you close at three... whereas here, there's lows and slow patches during the day."

Ms Lam says she also gives her thanks to her staff working at the Coffee Shack and Dojo. 

"We run a pretty good team, and without them, I wouldn't have as much time to do my competitions and be with my child."

The Aotearoa New Zealand Barista Championships will be held in the first weekend of October. 

Main image (Facebook/New Zealand Barista Championship): Bonnie Lam after winning at the regional competition on Sunday.

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