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Coffee Competitions: What Does it Take to Be a Winning Barista?

Coffee competition

If you have serious coffee skills, why not enter a coffee competition? These fast-paced events can be a lot of fun, though you’ll need to put in some work beforehand. So what does it take to become a winning barista? We’ve got the answers, plus a list of major coffee competitions around the world. Get ready to wow your judges!

Practice, Practice, Practice

This won’t surprise any barista, but pulling the perfect shot is a tricky skill to master. Before you enter a coffee competition, you’ll want to get as much practice as possible. Try brewing all kinds of drinks over and over until they come out perfectly every time. Developing muscle memory will help with competition jitters, too. If you know what you’re doing, nerves can’t stop you!

Keep in mind that preparing the perfect latte or espresso shot isn’t just about what it looks like. Your judges will be tasting your drinks, so you should taste them while you’re practicing to make sure they’re as delicious as possible. You’ll sometimes encounter separate technical and taste judges, and you’ll want to impress them equally.

Perfectionism

If you want to be a real competitor, you’ll probably need to develop some perfectionist tendencies. Be as exact as you can in every step of the preparation, from grinding the beans to serving the drink. That way, you can be sure that your drinks will turn out the way you want them, every time. Your judges will be impressed!

Barista coffee competition
Image: Johnathan Ball, Shutterstock

Time Management

Most coffee competitions have strict time limits, often giving you just 15 minutes to prepare a range of drinks. You’ll need to manage your time well to get everything done on time. Think through your brewing methods, considering which drinks involve downtime (like steeping) that you can spend working on other things. That will help you plan your coffee brewing steps.

Creativity

Looking to set yourself apart from your competition? Try a little creative flair. Your creativity doesn’t have to be overly technical — it could be combining unusual flavors or developing a unique latte art design.

Many barista competitions involve preparing a signature drink. That’s where your creativity comes into play. At 2020’s US Coffee Championships, a competitor named Leah Ritsema used an edible bubble to capture Earl Grey smoke on an espresso shot.

Latte art creativity
Image: I love coffee, Shutterstock

Confidence

There’s nothing more impressive than a confident competitor. You’ve practiced and planned your routine to perfection, so when you show up at the competition, have faith in yourself! From the moment you walk onto the stage to the moment you accept your coffee brewing trophy, try to project confidence. If you know you can do it, everyone else will know it, too.

What are the major coffee competitions?

Now that you know what it takes, it’s time to enter a competition. Here are some of the world’s biggest coffee competitions:

World Barista Championship

The World Barista Championship is a major international coffee competition. It involves over 50 competitors preparing 4 espresso shots, 4 milk-based drinks, and 4 signature drinks. The timeline? Just 15 minutes. Last year’s champion, South Korea’s Jooyeon Jeon, won with a very scientific signature drink involving extracting monosaccharides from blackberries.

US Coffee Championships

The US Coffee Championships include competitions for baristas, cup tasters, roasters, and brewers. For the barista championship, competitors prepare espressos, cappuccinos, and signature drinks in 15 minutes. The judging includes sensory and technical judges.

World Latte Art Championship

Do you have serious latte art skills? You may want to enter the World Latte Art Championship, which involves matching sets of designer and free pour lattes. What are the judges looking for? Creativity, identical patterns, and overall appeal.

Cezve/Ibrik Championship

A more specialized competition is the Cezve/Ibrik Championship, in which competitors make Middle Eastern coffee using specialty ibrik pots. If you haven’t made Arabic coffee before, take a look at our step-by-step guide.

Still searching? Take a look at the Specialty Coffee Association’s calendar of global coffee events.

Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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