Raising the bar

Four hundred billion cups of coffee are consumed every year. In an industry that employs more than 20 million people worldwide.

It’s no wonder that barista competitions are happening all around the world. Even in our own backyard.

Have you ever ordered a coffee with the latte art of a swan or a tulip on top? Well, there’s a good chance that your barista could be entering a coffee competition and be on the road to becoming the next world Latte Art champion.

When I tell people about coffee competitions they seem to be shocked that they exist. They may be thinking, “really, its only coffee”, but you and I both know that coffee standards and consumer expectations have risen over the years. Barista competitions are a major contributing factor in this.

AASCA (Australasian Specialty Coffee Association) have been running the Australian Barista Championships and sending our champions to the World Barista Championship since 2002. Representing Australia can be a fair bit of weight on someone’s shoulders but an honor at the same time.

The idea of barista championships is to not only enhance the barista’s skill and knowledge but also to inform, educate and raise awareness to the public. Then in turn, spill out into the coffee industry and people’s homes. Competing and/or winning the AASCA championships whether it’s barista, latte art, cupping and brewers cup can complement a career and an individual’s profile in their coffee journey. They can be asked to do magazine interviews, cameo spots in boutiques, be the face of a business or even end up on evening television. It’s an opportunity for baristas, barista trainers and café owners to represent a business or themselves with a chance to win the regionals, nationals and even the world finals.

Baristas will train for months leading up to the event. On the big day, things are tense behind the scenes with the competitors going over their routines, preparing their equipment and waiting nervously. However there is still the underlying camaraderie among rivals.

The competitors in the Barista Competition have 15 minutes to produce four espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature drinks. They are judged on beverage presentation, taste, technique and overall routine. As soon as they start, the pressure is on. With one head judge, two technical judges, four sensory judges, a photographer, a video camera operator and an audience over their shoulders through the entire set and they have to do this while maintaining a calm and professional demeanor. 

Next year, for the first time in history, Australia will be in the spotlight with the World Barista Championships (WBC) being held at the 2013 Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE) in May. The event is set to be a milestone, and is expected to attract a record number of visitors from all over the world. In 2012 MICE welcomed more than 7000 Australian and international visitors and 100 exhibitors took part in the three-day event, representing a rich cross-section of the Australasian coffee industry. The WBC will be streamed live online, so be sure to have a look and expect to see a world of coffee that could be the standard of your local cafe in years to come.&

Derek Crozier is the Managing Director of Freshly Ground Studio freshlygroundstudio.com.au