Barista Completitions: reasons to compete / and reasons not to

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(leer el post en español)

I am in danger of making this post sound a bit prejudiced  – and that’s why I will be extra careful writing it. But I do want to write it because this is the topic I am really excited to touch and to reflect on. I feel it “live”, controversial, and just this makes it worth trying.

Before I start writing,  I need to confess that I don’t have an experience as a competitor. I don’t have this one. Partly because of my personality, partly, and mostly, because I am always moving. But I have the experience from the other side of the scene – as a trainer of the competitor, and as a sensory judge, which makes me familiar with the protocol.

So, I would love to dive today into the world of barista competitions, and think out loud, here with you, about what brings people to compete, what motivates them, what it gives to the industry, and also touch some facts that seem curious to me.

People who compete have one big thing in common. And it does not have to do with them being objectivily the best in the industry. They all have the desire to win, to prove, to measure who is the best – to compete, in other words. The thing that I want to say is that not ALL qualified professionals compete. The sample is not representative, if you understand what I am talking about. Basically we find out who is the best among those ones who consider themselves in some way the best, and are ready to say it out loud. Those guys who are not quite sure, those guys who don’t have enough “competitor vibe”, who don’t want to put themselves on the map and shout out loud about themselves – they could be better baristas, more creative, more professional than some competitors, but they are not competing, so…

And here comes the most curious thing for me in the barista department.  I don’t know about you, but the majority of the baristas that I knew, worked with, trained, talked – they were women. The mayority of the baristas that you’ll see in the shops are women. And now let’s look at one thing, the list of the competitors of the World Barista Championship 2017. At the present moment there are 50 competitors registered, and only 7 of them are women. 7 out of 50. 2016: 61 competitors, 12 of them are women. Women simply don’t compete. Why? Is there something in the core of the competition that makes it more attractive for men, and not for women?

There is a study that women are more focused on other values, like connection, communication, and competing simply doesn’t go with that, because it disconnects. I do met much more male baristas who are dreaming about competing, putting themselves on the scene, when sometimes objectively they are not even so experienced as those female baristas. But they simply don’t doubt, or the idea of competing excites them much more.. I don’t know.  But I wish we could have more women entering the competition.

Competing, and especially winning the competition, is the best way of getting known at the coffee scene – and eventually attract sponsors, and offers. Fame and money goals are the first motivators of entering the competition. Which is pretty fair, after all, all of us need to pay the bills. What is disturbing for me is that when it becomes the one and only motivator – aspirations are high, humbleness is zero, and leads to the cases like opening a barista school, talking about espresso, training, charging money, and never ever in your life measuring the TDS. That case is more than real, which is frightening, but it is another story.

I was thinking about it, and I guess that that fame motivator is more active now in the countries when barista scene is just developing. It is like the first step, the desire to be the best one among the other ones, which is close to the desire to be the big fish in the small pond. The level is not so high yet, and it is easier to enter and take some high places with quite a simple presentation.

When the barista scene is starting to be more formed, we see more and more people entering the competition with the goal of self-improvement, and those can be roasters, baristas, coffee shop owners and managers. They use this opportunity to show themselves, yes, but at the same time their place in the end is not as important as the feedback of the judges, and more than that – everything that they learned during the preparaton process, which is a whole journey by itself to begin with. Competition opens the door to the improvement.

At the next level competing is becoming a way of transmitting the message, the idea behind it, bringing something new to the industry, showcasing the results of the experiments at the every stage of the coffee production, that could be coffee processing, variety (Sudan Rume and Sasa Sestic), roasting experiments, new equipment (for example, canadian Ben Put using the vacuum sealer), the cafe operations (like using pre-ground coffee, as Charles Babinski from the USA) or some crazy techniques (freezing the beans like Kyle Ramage representing USA this year).

This is the most exciting level, because it brings so much new to the industry, and allows these ideas to reach more people, provoke more thoughts, give birth to new ideas, etc…  For me this is the most fruitful, most interesting level and reason to compete – to add something new, bring new ideas to the discussion. The countries that posess that level of the baristas are not so many, those are the pioneers of the industry, like USA, Australia, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, where the elevated number of the competitors and the regional championships.

Competition is a challenge for the barista, challenge for his abilities, his creativity, his speed, his personality after all, it is a challenge to put something bigger into your presentation than just the naked desire to win. Get inspired, driven, and get out of it, no matter which place you took, with more ideas and knowledge then before entering.

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