I recently went to Knoxville, TN, to compete in the U.S. Barista Championships Regional. This year marks my third in coffee and I never thought I would be here. I make a point every year to watch the U.S. Coffee Championships to see what the best in our industry are doing. Standing on the same stage was a joy.
Briefly, the U.S. Barista Championships is a competition among 120 baristas across two qualifying events. The top thirty-six competitors advance to the national competition in Seattle, WA. Competitors prepare a ten-minute service featuring espresso and a signature drink.
Rolling in to Knoxville on Friday afternoon I was star struck. Not by anyone in particular, but rather the whole event. Taking my glassware to the competitor staging room it was clear that I was a rookie. There are eighteen competitors that move on from each regional. In the Knoxville regional, fifteen baristas had qualified in the past.
I knew going into this competition that making it to nationals was a long shot. Turns out, it was a really long shot. I did not qualify. I ended up just above the middle of the pack. Reflecting now, I am really stoked about my results.
First, I got very respectable scores from my Technical Judges. I know how to make coffee. I am clean, efficient, and precise; three of my favorite qualities in a barista.
Second, I gave the best version of my presentation when it mattered. In the weeks leading up to this competition I ran through multiple iterations of it. My dogs now know more about the mountainous terrain of northern Nicaragua than most people. Every run through got better, and the one on game day was the best I had done. I left the stage knowing that I gave my absolute best.
Third, I learned so much. There were many aspects of competition that I was unfamiliar with. So much of what you are judged on is your descriptions of your products. I served exactly the drinks I wanted to. I fell short on the presentation and description of the drinks. Again, it was a great learning opportunity.
The night before my competition I was unsure if I would ever want to compete again. Maybe I would be one and done. The second I called “time” to end my presentation I wanted to sign up for next year. It would have been easy to let disappointment set in but that still hasn’t happened. There are just too many things to be proud of.