Michelle Berkers became a coffee expert in less time than it takes to have a baby.

The 19-year-old Whangarei resident won the Northland Barista championships last month, after only seriously learning how to make coffee when she started at Nectar cafe in February.

Her award-winning signature beverage was a single espresso shot with blueberry juice, coconut palm treacle and lemon juice around the edge of the cup.

It was voted the best in Northland by six judges, four who tasted the beverage and two technical judges who looked on as Michelle worked her magic.


"It's pretty exciting," says Michelle, who was up against some pretty stiff competition.

"Two of them I went up in the finals against were past winners. I actually didn't think I was going to win." Michelle attributes much of her success to being under the wing of her boss at Nectar cafe, Nigel Stowe, who himself carries a Northland title.

"I wouldn't be where I am without him," she said.

It helps that she's into her coffee "massively", with her beverage of choice being a latte with almond milk.

And now she has her sights set on one day owning her own cafe.

"Ever since the competition I've started to look at how I can include coffee in my future.

"This industry grinds my gears. It's such an art, and being a creative person I can express it through coffee."

Northland Hospitality's Robert Tadman said Michelle did well to win the top prize.

"The standard this year was through the roof. For Michelle to win just shows her level of standard - it was really high calibre.

"In fact, the standard has increased exponentially over the past 10 years, which shows the absolute passion Northlanders have about coffee."

The title opens many doors for Michelle in terms of a career in coffee or hospitality, Mr Tadman said.

"There wouldn't be a cafe in New Zealand that wouldn't want to have Michelle. A couple of big cafes in Whangarei already want her."

Her coffee skills would also be a wonderful asset to her if she were to own her own cafe one day, he said. "I think it would be a shame if she didn't."

Michelle's tips for signs of a good or bad coffee
Signs of a good coffee
1. The milk texture: The silkiness of it. The more silky the better.
2. The colour of the espresso shot: It should be a dark hazelnut colour with a reddish tinge.
3. The taste: It should be the perfect synergy of milk and espresso. Not too bitter, but creamy and smooth.

Signs of a bad coffee
1. Bubbly milk. What you want is microfoam - not big wet bubbles on the top.
2. It's too hot. When you overheat milk you burn it, which gives it the bubbles and bitter taste.
3. Over-extraction. When it tastes burnt.