First, congratulations to Mike Phillips for winning the United States Barista Championship. I worked through the weekend so unfortunately missed seeing the events unfold live, but plan to revisit the videos of the finalists to see if I can’t pick up a few new tricks.
I was pointed to an insightful post by James Hoffmann about the cost of competing, and within it he raises a great deal of valid points. The cost of competing can get expensive quickly, there’s no debating that. I’ve been fortunate enough in the past to have various expenditures taken care of for me, most notably my espresso and cappuccino cups provided by Terra Keramik, but by and large I’ve financed my own competitions on a students’ budget. The point of raising this is to at least offer that hope to those working for cafes and companies unable to invest the money and time into training and preparing for a barista competition. I’ve never had formal competition training before, and actually prepared wholly for the 2007 Canadian Nationals by watching videos of James Hoffmann and Colter Jones. I had a great deal of good fortune in that competition that allowed me to place as high as I did, but still feel I proved to any aspiring competitor that you don’t need a giant behind you to succeed in competition. In Canada especially, our national champions have all come from Cafe Artigiano, leading many to assume the economical advantages of working for a big company stack the odds in favour of their baristas. What many also fail to realize, however, is the extraordinary work ethic of Sammy Piccolo, Colter Jones, and Mike Yung. Regardless of whom these baristas worked for or with, they would have won their respective competitions.
Since I started, the climate of competing (at least in Canada) has shifted considerably. The calibre and talent level has increased to a stunning degree, which is exactly what we want to see. The aforementioned work ethic is contagious; more baristas are interested and I expect this year that all four regional competitions will be filled to capacity. Going back to some of what James was commenting on, I think a lot of the costs associated with these events have been inflated by baristas looking for an edge. The feeling of being forced to “keep up,” so to speak, is compelling and nobody wants to be done in by appearances. At the last regional, I was outraged that one of the judges commented that my signature drink glassware was boring. I was shooting for a classic look, and it irked me that in my mind, I had been misjudged. I, like James, lamented that competitions would soon price themselves out of range for the average skilled entrant, thus disqualifying many qualified potential champions from even throwing their hat into the ring. And that’s even before travel and accommodation costs factor into any budget.
I was given a fresh perspective at this year’s nationals. George from Crema competed with about what the average person could fit into a carry-on bag. His pared down routine fell just short of the finals, but in no way did he appear less polished than any other competitor based on his aesthetic setup. I very much encourage any prospective competitor with budgetary concerns to watch his video to see how far you can get on just a little. Of course, you have to consider George’s “awesome” factor, which charts approximately 67% higher than the average barista. I think it’s his bone structure.
In summary, don’t be afraid to compete based on cost. There are affordable options for all the essential equipment, and a minimalist approach when done effectively can be extremely refreshing.
Regional date announcements for the Canadian Championship should be announced soon. Let’s see if I can actually win one this year.