barista competitions

originally posted on march 11th 2010

a couple of weeks ago john gordon was crowned the best barista in the uk. coolaboola wishes him the very best of luck when he represents the uk in the world barista championships in june of this year.

for those who aren’t familiar with barista competitions, each competitor has 15 minutes to prepare four espresso shots, four cappuccinos and four signature drinks (a non-alcoholic, coffee based recipe of their own creation). all of this is done under the watchful eye of a team of technical and sensory judges where each drink must look great, have a perfectly balanced taste and have been prepared to the very highest standards.

although we have had representatives in this competition for the last two years (ace & seamus will be posting on their experiences soon), i still feel slightly uncomfortable about the format and even the value of the competition to the independent coffee industry.

firstly, none of the big players in the uk coffee market (costa, nero, starbucks) allow their staff to take part, so the media profile of the competition remains incredibly low and is essentially an in-industry event. it sometimes seems to amount to little more than bragging rights between the closely knit world of professional baristas (or should that be baristi?). this has led to a situation where the competition is dominated by two small artisan roasteries and each of the last few uk winners have come from the same stable.

secondly, the competition environment and structure does not reflect the real life workings of a busy coffee bar. thing is, other than by shortening the allotted time and including at least one variable I’m not sure what can be done.

maybe steal an idea from the masterchef tv series and have all competitors create a signature drink in sixty minutes from a standard coffee blend (that they will be unfamiliar with) and a selection of 7 or 8 ingredients? this would certainly test their ability to think on their feet, and prove their talent to pick out the flavour profile of a new coffee and instinctively understand how to maximise its potential.

there is, however, one idea I think should be looked at by the organising committee – during their presentation, have random members of the audience come up and ask the baristas for change of a £10 note for the ticket machine, or directions to a taxi rank/hospital/hotel while they are concentrating on their cappuccino milk! it would make the competition a bit more realistic and certainly a bit more fun to watch for the uninitiated…


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