Barista Martin Shabaya is the overall winner of the Kenya National Barista Championship 2017


Photos by Jackson Mnyamwezi

Martin Shabaya, head barista of the Artcaffe group, has been in the industry for five years. However, 2017, might just be his best year yet. After competing in the 14th Kenya National Barista Championship (KNBC), he victoriously emerged at the top and got himself a ticket to Seoul, South Korea.

I caught up with Martin at Artcaffe, Westgate and we talked about coffee (obviously), the barista life and Korean cuisine.

my mornings start with a lot of coffee.

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Let’s begin with a trivial question, does being the head barista at the Artcaffe group afford you any perks, like free coffee?

(Smiles) Obviously, a lot! It comes with the job, which I appreciate.

What are your mornings like?

I have a schedule. I visit three outlets per day but it depends on where I am.  If I’m in Westlands, I’ll be at the Artcaffe kiosk, on the ground checking supplies or at the Dorman’s downstairs. The first thing I do every morning is to make sure that the coffee is good and I’ll also taste the espressos. Then, later on, I train the other baristas. I give the other baristas the opportunity to serve me a good espresso then I judge them on that. I train them on the basics. So, to answer your question, my mornings start with a lot of coffee.

After you’ve tasted all that coffee do you take coffee for breakfast?

Not really! I’m good with some herbal tea or maybe a cup of hot lemon and ginger.

You once said in an interview that you have interests outside of coffee, I believe you mentioned Art and Woodwork. Those are interesting hobbies; what type of Art and Woodwork are you interested in and do you dabble?

That’s the only talent that I have; I was born with it. I got my first certificate when I was in class five for creative writing. It was an Artwork competition for the Kiwi award. I was lucky enough to get the award.

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Do you dabble in woodwork as well?

No, but I’m trying to venture into woodworking.

Do you think you can make sculptures or let’s say a desk?

Not yet! But I’m sure with passion, a lot of practice and resources, I’ll do it.

I know everyone thinks they know how to make a good cup of coffee but there is an Art to it



Let’s talk about why we are really here. Why coffee and not anything else?

I came into this profession by chance. I was just looking for something to do at first, straight from high school, and then I landed here. I didn’t know what a barista was back then until Edward Njoroge, Dormans’ barista trainer, told me. Artcaffe gave me an opportunity and since it was something that I had never heard about, my interest was piqued. That interest slowly grew into the passion I have right now.

In a nutshell please explain what barista training is all about, do you learn about coffee granules? ( Laughs)

(Smiles) Barista training is very broad; it never stops.

Just like education.

Yeah, because there is a lot to learn in this profession. You get to learn about the equipment and how to make a good cup of coffee. I know everyone thinks that they know how to make a good cup of coffee but there is an Art to it. This is based on the recipe in general and also the parameters, like the temperature and water. You also learn about the attributes of a professional barista.

Enlighten us, what are the attributes of a professional barista?

The first thing you have to learn is customer service, then the rest are the same things you learn in the hospitality industry like hygiene, speed and craftsmanship.

I like the progress that I have made since 2014. This is big for me.


Moving on to championships, you are now Kenya’s National Barista champion, did winning that award validate your dreams and how did you feel?

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Championships is one of the ways that has really helped me grow. I competed for the first time in 2014 and I became the first runner’s up in Kenya. That is what drove me to work on my skills and professionalism so I could end up at the top. It has boosted my passion and given me enough exposure to afford me the opportunity to work with other baristas. I like the progress that I have made since 2014. This is big for me.

Are you set for Korea?

Yes I am

When are you travelling?

First of next month. (November)

Are you excited about it?

I am always excited. I want to know if my training has been fruitful. I’ve worked with some great people and tried my best to make sure I have polished my skills and presentation. I want to represent Kenya to the world the best I can.

What are you most excited about, other than, coffee and training?

Other than coffee, I know Korea has good cuisine but I especially like their barbeque. During these exhibitions and conferences, it gives coffee enthusiasts an opportunity to come together from all over the world and share our love for coffee with each other. I am excited for that too.

I love everything about coffee

Martin (Middle) and his colleagues from Artcaffe, Westgate

Do you ever get coffee fatigue?  

No, I have never. I love everything about coffee and I like the cupping sessions where we go to taste coffee from different regions to find out how different they taste in terms of flavour. It’s exciting, at least for me.

If I was to ask you to recommend a cup of coffee based on the Artcaffe menu which one would you recommend and why that one?

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For you? I’d recommend a mocha.


It’s balanced and most of the ladies, the ones I know, like something with a bit of sweetness and chocolate helps bring that out. Mocha coffee, done right with its different ingredients combined harmoniously, is something which is appealing to the palate.

Does the Artcaffe menu also have coffee based alcoholic beverages?

Yeah! On our list of coffee based alcoholic beverages, we have the famous Irish coffee and a bootleg version that’s made with Jägermeister.

Brewed coffee with a splash of grape juice. That’s  my own signature drink


Is there an art to mixing the coffee and the alcohol just right so that none of them overpowers the other?

Absolutely. That’s what the recipe is for. You have to measure the potions out properly or it will affect the strength of coffee. At Artcaffe, we mix the Jägermeister with water and then with the coffee which is stronger. This gives the coffee great balance because the whisky is also strong. We don’t use brewed coffee, that’s the classic way of doing, but at Artcaffe we use espresso which is stronger.

Is there a recipe you can recommend for our readers to try at home?

Brewed coffee with a splash of grape juice. That’s  my own signature drink. I’ll be presenting it in Korea next month.

Are there instructions on how to do this?

If you’re at home you just need a cup of brewed coffee, half a cup of grace juice and ice cream.  If you want a cold drink.


The Finalists of the 14th Kenya National Barista Championships

  1. Martin Shabaya – Artcaffe
  2. Dominic Kedemi – Artcaffe
  3. Thomas Mboya – Brew Bistro
  4. Joyce Jepchumba – dustitD2
  5. Tony Gitonga – Sankara
  6. Vincent Molacha – Brackenhurst

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