With the WBC coming up this weekend my mind is racing with all kinds of thoughts on barista competitions both past and present.
I first became exposed to barista competitions sometime around 2005 and at that time (with the exception of a few standouts) the routines were pretty bad, the coffees being used were suspect by todays standards, and the signature drinks were so harsh I'm surprised the judges were able to take them down straight faced.
Barista competitions have come a long way over the past decade; the routines are more polished than ever with a higher percentage of entrants executing at a high level, competitors are bringing serious heat into the ring when it comes to coffee quality, and signature drinks are (for the most part) actually palatable.
Why then, do I find myself slightly nostalgic for the good old days?
At that time I started training (if you could call it that) for my first competition, it was damn near impossible to find videos or any other documentation of barista competitions on the web at all...you had your rules and regulations print out and that was about it. If you were lucky you knew someone who had actually done one of these things before (I didn't) and could steer you in the right direction. But for the most part you just kind of had to wing it. So everyone was screwed right? Well, not really.
What I loved the most about barista competitions of this era is the sense of true stylistic authenticity that each competitor brought to the table. You really got the sense that what you saw in their performance was a genuine reflection of how they worked bar on the day to day, and what it was like to visit their cafe. Everyone had their own swag and a totally unique perspective on what specialty coffee was and what it could be, and I loved it! For the most part the higher caliber competitors really were the better baristas and worked for the places you could get higher quality, more well prepared coffee. Sure there have always been the show pony competitors, but as a whole the competitions gave you a nice snapshot of what real life looked like for the baristas of this era.
So are we better off now? Yes. In just about every way. But I still miss that sense of suspense, excitement, and sometimes sheer horror that came with the relative newness of barista competitions.
So if anyone is thinking about stepping up to the plate, throwing caution to the wind, maybe breaking a few rules, and just getting buck wild in front of everyone: I salute you, you're my new favorite barista.