I thought I had a lot to say surrounding the SCAA’s pulling the plug on the regional competition circuit and perhaps I do...but my mind is just a bit too jumbled right now to write something incredibly thoughtful and expressive. So I’m just going to focus on one aspect of the situation and let everyone else flesh out the rest. At least for now.
The SCAA seems to be making the claim that by pulling the plug on the regional barista competition circuit, they’re able to free up funds and reallocate them on other barista driven events. While this may be well and true, I assure you: Nobody really cares.
The SCAA is hardly relevant to the barista community if it doesn’t sanction regional and national barista competitions. Cutting out regionals is just another step towards their eventual irrelevance. Sure they host other events - but camps, meet and greets, and other networking events will never replace barista competitions.
I mean, what is the NBA to the basketball community if it discontinues having games or championships. “We’re still going to have shoot-arounds and events where people can come talk and learn about basketball.” Yeah, no thanks.
People love competition, there’s just something about it. Even the people who hated the barista competition format, rules, and scoring - still showed up to each and every one, watched people go at, and had a great time (myself included).
Competitions are also a better learning tool than any class, certification, or workshop.
Why? Because the burden is on the barista to improve. Knowing you are responsible for your own success and/or failure, and knowing that you have to stand up and give this presentation in front of all your peers, with a microphone on, while being projected onto a jumbotron...well, that makes you up your game just a bit.
Classes and workshops offer a much more passive user experience with a reward nowhere near the reward you get from busting your ass for months and then letting it all hang out. Where you place on the scoreboard hardly matters; it's about the process. As Billy Wilson (multiple time regional winner) said today: “The real value was in seeing your barista compete. Fall in love...The value was in learning the craft.”
Forget about the idea of the competitions finding “the best in our industry” or “the one perfect representative for specialty coffee.” In my mind it’s about exposing our industry to as many people as possible. The regional competition circuit is how I was exposed to this whole specialty coffee world I now live in. Now with the need to be BGA level 1 or 2 certified, or have been active in competition within the past 2 seasons, the USBC circuit is a completely insular industry event...absolutely zero new industry exposure will come via the competition circuit.
Regional events (when hosted in the right cities) provided an opportunity for people to cruise in off the street and see what specialty coffee was all about. Cafe regulars would tell friends of friends “you should cruise by and check this out, my local barista is competing today.” It’s a very real opportunity for people who wouldn't usually care, to take a peek at what we're all about. No one walks in off the street to check out a level 1 certification test, or randomly happens to stop by espresso 101..it just doesn’t happen. It functions in the same way that people who don't cook, and will never take a cooking class, will watch Iron Chef and get inspired by food because it's interesting and accessible. Whether or not you think the rules and set-up of Iron Chef are the be-all and end-all of food hardly matters. Iron Chef (and similar shows) bring an increased level of awareness to high end food, that most people just wouldn't be exposed to if these shows didn't exist.
But at the end of the day the SCAA has certain limitations on what they can provide and what is sustainable for them and that’s ok. No disrespect to them, the BGA, or anyone else involved. They made the call they felt they had to.
So now if we want a regional competition circuit, or want the national competition circuit to not be tied to the SCAA, then the burden is on us to make it happen. Yup. Us. Everyone who’s complained that things could be and should be better, or had ideas for the perfect system.
What are we going to do about it? It’s easy to point fingers and talk trash from the sidelines - but do you actually care enough to ante up, put in the work, and build what you want?
Do I? I honestly don’t know. I know that for all the shit I talked about the competitions shortcomings, that I’m still really sad to see the thing that brought me into specialty coffee, and introduced me to 99% of my industry friends and peers, just not exist anymore.
So I don’t know what's next. But if anyone wants to have a bit of conversation about it, or just needs a support group, feel free to drop a comment in and we can talk it out. I can’t promise anything except a shoulder to lean on, but sometimes that’s all you need.