It's been over two years since Sarah Hannaway was crowned the Irish Barista Champion.
Since the moment she was announced the winner of 2020's competition, the work well and truly began to compete in the World Championships only to be- along with the rest of the World- put into lockdown.
Now, with restrictions lifted and the World seemingly back on track, competitions are resuming and the training, studying, practising and long hours begin once again as Sarah embarks on the road to Melbourne and the World stage...
In February 2020, I very nervously- with the help of some awesome Bailies team members- made my way to the Irish Barista Competition in Dublin. This regional barista competition is held annually as part of the Food & Bev Live Expo, but every two years takes part during this biennial hospitality event. Food & Bev Live brings industry people from all over the island of Ireland to take part in events ranging from bartending, barista & best chef competitions whilst also show casing new equipment and merchant opportunities.
Although this was my third time competing in the all Ireland championship, the nerves were just as strong as they had been during my first competition. This time, however, they were put at ease by the sea of friendly and familiar faces in the form of former competitors, organisers and industry professionals alike.
The competition itself is organised by the Irish chapter of the non-profit organisation called the SCA - (Specialty Coffee Association) through their event management organisation WCE - (World Coffee Events.)
If you’re unfamiliar with the specialty coffee industry- and the events that take place within it- then the acronyms for all these organisations, industry chapters and competitions might seem a bit like well, ‘overkill’ and probably strange to even think that they even exist! I promise after one more self-indulgent paragraph, that I’ll explain it all and that it will hopefully all make sense and tie into my journey to the World Barista Championships.
After my part in the competition was complete, I settled in at the back of the audience to cheer on my fellow colleague Matt for his first ever competition. Some strange, cosmic, coffee alignment must have happened that day as we lined up to announce the winner, because as it turned out, I was that years Irish Barista Champion. It still feels a little surreal, even now to say it! This prize won me the opportunity to represent Ireland in the World Championships to compete for the title of World Barista Champion.
The World Barista Competition is usually held in locations across the globe giving different chapters and industry contributors the opportunity to host the event along with the SCA's own coffee expo. These events bring farmers, producers, green coffee buyers/sellers, roasters, shop owners, and baristas together under one roof to celebrate our industry.
However, as we are all more than familiar with, the world shut down and all events and planned industry expos during 2020 and a large part of 2021 were put on hold to all ensure the safety and recovery of our coffee community.
Now that the world has started to cautiously recover over the last year, I was delighted to be contacted with an update that the competition will be going ahead at the end of September in Melbourne, Australia.
This begins my 'road to worlds journey', that I would like to share here with you all. This will be my first experience of the World Barista Competition as a competitor, and I wanted to keep a journal of the experience to give birds eye perspective for any future, hopeful competitors across the Island.
This blog will take you on a crash course of everything you didn’t realise you wanted to know about the competitive side of coffee, the format the competition takes, and why people compete to be the world’s best barista.
So, what is a World Barista Competition?
The World Barista Championship (WBC) is an annual barista competition operated by World Coffee Events for the title of World Barista Champion. The competition is made up of the winners of the national barista championships, which are operated by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) chapters, or an approved, independent, non-profit national body.
There are three rounds of judging over two or three days. The first round includes up to 55 national barista champions. The top 15 competitors advance to a second (semi-finals) round, plus the addition of a wildcard placing. The final round includes the top scoring six baristas from the semi-finals round and takes place on the last day of the competition.
Who are the judges?
The judges are highly skilled industry professionals who go through rigorous training to be certified to take part and score each presentation. Four judges award points for each performance on the taste of beverages served, creativity and overall presentation. Three sets of four beverages will be prepared and served to these judges. Espresso, milk beverage and signature beverage. They use a detailed score sheet throughout to mark notes and scores throughout your presentation.
The barista will choose a coffee that they have used before, been a fan of or feel has all the beautiful characteristics that they wish to get up and present with. Some farmers will help create specific flavours through unique processing techniques or farming practices to elevate the coffee which the barista thinks will help push up their scores. A lot of the time this can set trends with the specialty coffee industry as to what will be seen in coffee shops across the globe for the coming year.
Technical judges score on cleanliness and technical skill.
Your every movement is carefully observed and graded using another system of score sheets. This will range from how much coffee is used, wastage and how accurately you are preparing the coffee to the standard that you are describing during your presentation. This includes, how level you are tamping your coffee to checking if you have too much milk left after the milk service. Every part of your coffee preparation will be watched and accessed to create your final technical score.
What is a signature beverage?
The ever-popular signature beverage allows baristas to stretch the imagination and the judges’ palates to incorporate a wealth of coffee knowledge into an expression of the baristas own individual tastes and experiences with their chosen coffee. Tremendous synergy and creativity happen here, when baristas taking the existing flavours of the coffee and like magic, change and manipulate the flavour profile to create a new experience for the judges. This round is always full of surprises, flair and originality.
The judges’ points are totalled to produce a final score for each barista in each round. The baristas with the highest scores advance from the first and second rounds, and the barista with the greatest score in the final round wins the title.
We do all this within 15 minutes, with more than your fair share of people watching. As you try your best to create the coffee experience for the judges, prepared to the highest standard.
Sounds like fun, right?
So, why do people compete to be the world’s best barista?
Well, it is quite the honourable title!
The winner gets to show their skillset, love and experience for the industry. They can also achieve sponsorship opportunities along with getting their very own trip to origin to see coffee being grown, produced and cultivated. This is a dream for most baristas!
This title also makes you the ambassador for the industry for the next year which can and will take you all over the world. All the winners are very interesting industry people, who have great influence and command over the growth and progression of the coffee industry. The hard work and dedication that all competitors put themselves through to take part each year is an immensely creditable achievement, and it will be an honour to share the stage with them during my time there.
Check back in for my follow pieces as I prepare for the world stage.
Thanks for reading. 😊