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The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
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Enkerli
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Posted Sat May 6, 2006, 7:33pm
Subject: Amateurly Speaking
 

Disclaimer: I'm not a barista and I don't work in anything coffee-related. Supposedly, people like me are the main target of the WBC and other coffee-related associations. No?
So, my honest opinion. Maybe a bit harsh. But as this seems to be a period of reflection for some people, that harshness might help.

The WBC seems a bit too inward-looking to gather much attention from non-pros. It seems to matter quite a bit for baristi and café owners. Why exactly should the general public care about the WBC? Is it a matter of local pride to have a champion barista work at a local café? Is it because the coffee is bound to be better if done by the champion barista?
It's nice to recognize the good work done by baristi. Some of them really do help people enjoy coffee in its many forms. But that recognition also comes in the form of a large number of people coming to enjoy coffee.
How about the democratization of coffee?
It's interesting that most analogies built around the comps relate to sports, not arts or crafts. A barista is like an athlete, trying to get better performance. Improving over herself or himself. Getting more points than another barista. Do artisans and artists really think like this?
Some people, artists and artisans, couldn't care less about competitive aspects. As we're talking about the Third Wave and such, does competition really help? Don't innovative artists manage to create with or without prizes?

While it's a completely different situation, the Beer Judge Certification Program has some similarities with the WBC. It's meant to train judges who taste beer at homebrewing competitions.
One thing the BJCP has is a set of clear guidelines on beer styles and, obviously, a certification program based on the drink itself. There's a theoretical exam and a tasting exam. You need to accumulate judging points to get to the next level of competition judging. And people nitpick about tiny little details related to the drinks, regardless of whether or not people like those drinks in a pub. Again, it's really different. But it's funny how obsessed some people come to be with the competition thing. It does help those involved learn about the drinks. But it's not meant for the general public.

Anyway, sorry if this all seems too unrelated to the world of pro-barista champions. And if it sounds too harsh.

Cheers!

 
Alex
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pstam
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Posted Sat May 6, 2006, 9:37pm
Subject: Re: Amateurly Speaking
 

Enkerli Said:

Disclaimer: I'm not a barista and I don't work in anything coffee-related. Supposedly, people like me are the main target of the WBC and other coffee-related associations. No?

......

Anyway, sorry if this all seems too unrelated to the world of pro-barista champions. And if it sounds too harsh.

Posted May 6, 2006 link


Yes, the problem is not how much the public care about it.  It is mainly and practically for the professionals, not the public.

On the other hand, there are really too much things different from other industries.

 
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Posted Sun May 7, 2006, 7:13pm
Subject: Re: Amateurly Speaking
 

Enkerli Said:

It's interesting that most analogies built around the comps relate to sports, not arts or crafts. A barista is like an athlete, trying to get better performance. Improving over herself or himself. Getting more points than another barista. Do artisans and artists really think like this?
Some people, artists and artisans, couldn't care less about competitive aspects. As we're talking about the Third Wave and such, does competition really help? Don't innovative artists manage to create with or without prizes?

Posted May 6, 2006 link

I believe this is partly why changing the scoring of the WBC is such a hot topic. It's true that with how a barista is juged it is easy for him/her to get caught up in just working for a higher score than to necessarily work at their "art." If, as Tim talks about, the rules are broadened and baristas gain the freedom to get crazy, not only will this allow competition to be focused more on creativity and art, but will also make it less systematic and more "dramatic" for those who somehow end up watching from the sidelines.

 
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Posted Sun May 7, 2006, 7:27pm
Subject: Re: Amateurly Speaking
 

This is also being discussed a bit in relation to the Australian Barista Championships:
"Barista comps. suck!"


pstam Said:

I have not read all of the article.  But, one thing is really right, that is the over-ruled.  We are all just started to know the details of espresso drinks, and I do not believe that any one can really judge.

Posted May 4, 2006 link

Peter: Sure, we are all continually learning more about espresso. However, I think that there's a fairly strong basis of understanding about the espresso process out there. And as you yourself point out, the emphasis should be on the final product in the cup...which everyone can judge: it's a subjective experience which everyone can have a valid opinion on. I guess we chose judges from people we believe are pretty attuned to what to expect with coffee and conform to the majority's subjective judgement of 'good coffee'.

Cheers,
Ben
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Posted Sun May 7, 2006, 10:02pm
Subject: Re: Amateurly Speaking
 

BenB Said:

This is also being discussed a bit in relation to the Australian Barista Championships:
"Barista comps. suck!"




Peter: Sure, we are all continually learning more about espresso. However, I think that there's a fairly strong basis of understanding about the espresso process out there. And as you yourself point out, the emphasis should be on the final product in the cup...which everyone can judge: it's a subjective experience which everyone can have a valid opinion on. I guess we chose judges from people we believe are pretty attuned to what to expect with coffee and conform to the majority's subjective judgement of 'good coffee'.

Cheers,
Ben

Posted May 7, 2006 link


Yes, there must be some one to judge.  But, from what Tim said, it seems that the situation is bad.  At least, not as good as we supposed to be.

 
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nickcho
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Posted Tue May 9, 2006, 8:48am
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

...in the 2005 World Barista Championship (WBC) finals in Seattle enjoyment was not what I found.

Really?  A lot of the rest of us had a different experience.  "Enjoyment" all around!

First of all the press is not showing up any more. Barista competitions are yesterday’s news in many countries. In Norway where the whole competition format started in 1998, we faced another problem in 2006, we barely managed to arrange the competition due to lack of sponsors and volunteers. Even the audience is getting smaller and by looking at their faces I can tell they are not having much fun.  

This is NOT the case in my experience.  How much press coverage an event gets depends greatly on how the PR and marketing is managed by the organizers.  Return-on-investment for sponsors MUST be a major consideration for event organizers, and there ARE ways to keep that relationship sustainable.

While I was in Moscow in march, watching the Russian barista competition, something came to my mind; I couldn’t see the barista. There were 7 judges, 1 camera man, a speaker, a time keeper and a runner on stage and they were all running around and hiding the poor barista who tried to perform at her best. I said to myself “No wonder this is not a very audience friendly barista competition, I can’t see the barista at all”.

Then those organizers simply did NOT follow the WBC competition area guidelines.

While most will agree that these baristi needs some basic training and that starting with introducing the WBC standards is a good idea, I am not certain that creating narrow standards is the best idea for the future of espresso culture and speciality coffee.  How can the baristi be creative when the rules and regulations are so comprehensive? In my opinion, the fact that there are so many different ways of serving and preparing espresso based drinks is what makes the espresso culture interesting.

This is a slippery-slope.  

The WBC standards are so excessive that there are rules and regulations not only about the shape and the colour of the cups used, but also what the barista should do at the start of his or her presentation.

Agreed.  Those elements need to be changed.  But let's not mentally throw out the baby with the bath water.

Take the technical score sheet for instance. Do we really need to judge the baristi technically? What does technical qualities matter if the espresso tastes excellent anyway. Do the customer care about the technique of the barista? And is it not so that bad technique will give you a less appreciated result in the cup?

Do technicals matter?  Does it matter whether a barista wastes 100 grams of coffee each dose?  Does it matter whether the workstation is clean?  Does it matter whether the barista is tamping in a way that could possibly lead to workplace injury?  Does it matter whether the barista has a whole liter of steamed milk left over after their cappuccinos?  I can't imagine that you would agree that these elements are not relevant to what a world-class barista does.

I realize that there is a certain need for specific guidelines for the barista to follow in order to get consistency in his / her technique and therefore more easily gain knowledge of the espresso craft.

??  Wouldn't this end up 'creating narrow standards?'

Still there are so many different techniques practiced that in the end, judging what is right or wrong seems like an impossible job.

Agreed, and that is up to the rules and regulations committee and the judges committee to do what it takes to have a properly trained pool of judges.


If a barista wanted to use 3 different coffees for the 3 different drinks prepared and practice different dosing on the different blends to create various flavour profiles, he will more likely be punished by the judges for his inconsistent dosing than rewarded for his insight in different dosing techniques and for his conscious dosing and in depth coffee knowledge. (Unfortunately, according to the rules, the barista is restricted to use only 2 grinders during the presentation, making it quite difficult for the competitor who wants to treat the judges with 3 different coffee flavours. Is restrictions like these a great way of promoting speciality coffees grown throughout the world?)

I agree.  I think that there must be a way to rewrite that rule and (perhaps more importantly) make sure that the judges are trained to be able to judge this sort of scenario properly.

the judges are judging the crema and want it to last as long as a 100% robusta blend and have the colour of a 100% arabica blend. This means that consistency, persistence and colour of crema is almost as important as the taste of the espresso. But isn’t taste the most important criteria?

Is taste the MOST important?  Perhaps.  Is it the ONLY criteria?  No.
Unless your customers are all deaf and blind, there is more to the experience that the barista creates than just ... and even then...

I could of course have served the espresso immediately after brewing but this means I had to serve only 2 espressos at the time and not 4 as the rules require. How did this rule ever come up? Isn’t the meaning of the word espresso, to serve and prepare the coffee “exprès pour vous” ? It is even written in the competitor rules and regulations that “Espressos should be prepared specifically for the judges, and immediately served.” So why do the barista have to serve the drinks 4 by 4 and let two of them wait as he / she prepares the other two?

Personally, I can go either way on this rule.  On the one hand, I think that the fact that one set of the espressos have to wait (for EVERY barista) creates a built-in handicap for all, and the differences between a 5-point espresso and a 4-point espresso become more evident after about a minute.  On the other hand, it would be nice to have each pair served 'fresh.'  However, does that mean you're going to turn your back on your second pair of shots as they pour, so you can serve your judges the first pair?  (I suppose this begs the question about whether the competition setup could be improved...)


The best example of how these rules are created is to look at the rule that came up in Seattle 2005. It suddenly said “There should be no “pucks” or “cakes” left in the portafilter at the start of the competitors competition time.” There were many baristi and judges that did not like this rule, and I am one of them...

...Do we really need to imagine every possible “everyday scenario” in order to create more rules for the competitors so that they will have a harder time gaining points in the competitions?   Is creating more rules the right focus in order to fulfill the WBC statement; “to promote the growth, excellence & recognition in the Barista profession.” ?

Agree 100%.  However, this again paradoxically requires even stricter training and supervision of judges.


If you watch a barista competition you might start to wonder if it really is a barista competition. It sometimes appears more like a judge competition. I do not disagree. (There are 7 of them on stage and only 1 barista.)

Huh?  Are you saying that if there were 7 baristas and one judge, it would be better?
I don't know about you, but I think that it's an honor to have seven people there giving their focus and attention on me as a competing barista.

After judging for some time in various competitions it sometimes looks like the judges are competing in giving the lowest score or to be recognized as the strictest judge on the planet. Even in the WBC finals you rarely see the judges putting down the score 6 and 5.


If you want a 5 or a 6, then produce a 5 or a 6 in the cup.  
I do think that you have a point, and here's the way I see this issue: perhaps rather than judging on an absolute scale (judging the barista against a mythical standard of perfection), we should be judged on a more relative one.  Just as the Cup of Excellence jury does not score the coffees against all of the coffees they've ever cupped in their entire lives (just against the ones from that country, and in that particular cupping), perhaps the 'calibration' of the judging scale should be appropriate to that particular competition.
Just a thought.

I have even seen judges put the score 1 on a signature drink in the finals, because they did not listen to what the barista had to say about the flavour profile of the drink. How can a world-class barista get 1 on the taste criteria of the signature drink in the WBC finals?

If that happened, then the head judge simply did not do their job.

What is even more provoking is that during the debriefing that took place after the 2005 WBC finals, where the competitors got a chance to have a look at their score sheets for 5 minutes with a judge present, most of the judges did not show up.

That's not at all the way I remembered the scoresheet-reviews in Seattle happening.  I thought that a good number of the judges did indeed spend time going over scoresheets with competitors, and the whole thing lasted well over an hour.

After competing in the WBC 3 times, I have yet to see my score sheets, even if I have asked for them several times.

Why all the secrecy?  

That was in the past.  All of the 2005 competitors received their scoresheets.

The reason why I am bringing this up is that I believe we are facing the same problem with the certification of the WBC judges. Up until this day, there are no other quality assurance of the judges except a written test and a sensory skills test. But what does this have anything to do with judging the quality of an espresso and a barista?

The judging needs to be improved.  I agree 100%.  I do, however, think that the current tests ARE relevant.  The written test is designed to evaluate a prospective judges' knowledge of the rules.  The test should be rewritten perhaps, but it IS relevant.  The sensory skills test?  I missed the cut by 2 points... twice.  I hate it, but maybe I'm biased.
Judges were also supposed to be evaluated during the 'hands-on' portion (mock judging, etc.).  However, the methodology and process of doing so definitely needs a lot of work.

Why was bitter, one of the most important tastes for evaluation of the quality of espresso coffee, left out?


I believe that Joseph Rivera, who administered the Sensory Skills Test in Seattle, explained why, during his presentation.  The problem with 'bitter' in that setting is that the compounds that produce bitter are most usually bad for your health, or involve other chemicals or compounds that people really wouldn't feel comfortable working with in that setting.  

How can a person that has judged in only 1 competition in their entire life get certified while other persons who have judged hundreds of competitors, and even competed them selves, not get certified? Is it only me that believe there is something wrong with this picture?

That's a tough question.  When I saw the 'newly certified' list in Seattle, without my name on it, I was perturbed as well.  However, it was more embarrassment than anything.  Shame on the judges certification?  Or perhaps it's more... shame on me?  

I believe we need more experienced baristi to judge in the WBC, just like there are only experienced chefs judging in the Bocuse d’Or.

Nobody would disagree with this.  The solution?  More baristas should participate as judges!  Simple!

Many people might be comfortable with the WBC the way it is today. In my opinion the format needs to be changed dramatically in order for the WBC fulfill the goal “to become globally recognised as the premier World Barista Event in the coffee calendar.” If the trend in Norway and Russia is an indication of what is to come for the WBC, then I am afraid that we need to do something, and fast.

Those were TWO competitions that you attended: Norway and Russia.  I, and many folks who I talk to on a regular basis, see an opposite 'trend.'  In North America, in South America, and Asia, each year the competitions have become more and more exciting to watch, the competitors raise the bar higher and higher, and sponsorship grows and grows.  Each country's sanctioned governing body has the mandate and responsibility to create and manage a world-class event.  This includes providing return-on-investment for sponsors, involving appropriate PR and marketing efforts to garner attention from the media and the public, and putting on the best possible event for the baristas.

Finance is important for the competition to grow and survive. How can we possibly make the competition even more interesting for sponsors to support the WBC? One option might be to let grinder manufacturers sponsor the competition with grinders and funding.

Umm, too late.  They already do that.

Another idea might be to open for use of alcohol in the signature drink. That is if we want to continue serving the signature drink.


So you want better judges, but then you're going to turn around and intoxicate them? ;-)

Personally I am not a great fan of signature drinks, mainly because I rarely taste something that is fantastic and secondly because I do not think it is relevant to the craft we are practicing behind the espresso machine in our coffee shops every day. How often do you see a professional barista make a signature drink to a customer in a coffee shop?

Sorry, but I thought that we were trying to make them MORE interesting to watch?  Baristas might complain about the sig-drink portion, but it is, frankly, the most interesting portion for the general public.  I've never heard a 'general public' spectator say, "Ooh... how can I taste that espresso and cappuccino?" whereas I heard dozens of folks ask about the sig drinks last year.

I know that being a barista is much more than just serving espresso drinks. So, maybe we should create a whole different segment in the competition. What if we asked the competing the baristi to create “the ultimate coffee experience” where all senses should be stimulated.

Ummm... maybe we can leave certain things unstimulated, eh? ;-)

Another possible task could be to make the barista source the best possible coffee from a specific producing country.

With all due respect Tim, first you say that people are losing interest in the competitions, and that a barista should be allowed to express themselves in whatever way they can.  Then you say everyone should use the same grinder, and then you say that everyone should make the same drinks (no sig drink), and now they should all use the same coffee.  I don't understand what you're trying to say.

--

Thanks for the article Tim.  I'm encouraged by the enthusiasm and passion that the folks on the WBC board have for our barista community, and I am eager to see what comes out of the meeting in Bern.  The barista craft has a long way to go, and I'm beyond excited to see where it is headed.  The competitions as well will continue to develop, but it will take passionate, knowledgeable, and wise leadership to stay on course.

See you in Bern! :-)

 
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Posted Tue May 9, 2006, 12:24pm
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

nickcho Said:

This is NOT the case in my experience.  How much press coverage an event gets depends greatly on how the PR and marketing is managed by the organizers.  Return-on-investment for sponsors MUST be a major consideration for event organizers, and there ARE ways to keep that relationship sustainable.

Posted May 9, 2006 link

Uh, Nick, how many national championships outside the US have you attended?

I think I'd go with Tim's experience in this matter over yours :D

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nickcho
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Posted Tue May 9, 2006, 3:04pm
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

MarkPrince Said:

Uh, Nick, how many national championships outside the US have you attended?

I think I'd go with Tim's experience in this matter over yours :D

Mark

Posted May 9, 2006 link

Whoops.  Sorry.  I thought this was an open forum.  Didn't realize that ideas that CoffeeKid likes, are not to be questioned.

 
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Posted Tue May 9, 2006, 4:34pm
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

So instead of addressing the comment, you gotta act like a, whatever?

Sheesh dude.

I said I'd rather defer to Tim's experience. But if you want to get into it a bit more.

Tim's a former WBC champion.
Tim travels the world helping out with national barista competitions in a variety of countries. The most recent was Kenya. But he's been all over Europe working these things too, as well as the US.
Tim has a global perspective on these things.

Sorry to be a dick myself, but you don't fit any of the above three criteria that Tim has as his credentials. Maybe after Berne, you'll have a different perspective.

And I'll be even more frank. Lately, I've been having some concerns myself (just my own concerns - please understand that ;)) that your vision of where these comps should be going isn't necessarily the right one. I see two main problems - you like the status quo a bit too much (in some things, not everything), and I'll say it - far too US-centric about it all.

Tim talks about comps in Norway and Russia, and you discount them because, well, one's in Russia. The true hotspots for the comps right now are the champion-producing countries, and if you follow the threads on the Australian championship, or Tim's comments on the Norwegian ones, or even some commentary here on CG and other websites about the other Scandinavian and european competitions, you'll see there's a lot of issues and problems that maybe you don't see in the USBC. If these country national comps are having issues, they cannot and should not be brushed aside.

One of my biggest concerns about the WBC and barista comps as a whole is that the "SCAA way" is going to rule the day with the WBC the next few years. I think a lot of people will agree that the SCAA way isn't very good. The WBC could very well be, and we're even hearing this from a WBC champ, on a road to irrelevance. We need some drastic changes in the way its run, as well as some more common sense changes. A lot of Doug's proposed common sense changes seem fine on the surface, but the industry as a whole, the SCAA and SCAE specifically, and the WBC especially (and that includes current and hopeful board members down the road) need to be paying attention to what all the competitors and the past finalists and champions have to say about the competition, and perhaps less of what some pundits (myself included, but that also includes you) are saying.

Last thought. IMO, the previous years' champion should always get an automatic spot on the WBC board. Why has this not happened yet? (general question - not addressed to Nick specifically).

Mark

 
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Posted Tue May 9, 2006, 6:07pm
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

MarkPrince Said:

So instead of addressing the comment, you gotta act like a, whatever?

Sheesh dude.

I said I'd rather defer to Tim's experience. But if you want to get into it a bit more.

Posted May 9, 2006 link

Umm... not to get all schoolyard here, but did you address my comment?  All you said was that you think that I'm not qualified to speak on this subject.

You have yet to dispute any of the points that I made.  Instead of addressing the comments, you gotta act like a... you know what.

And Mark, you seem to think that you have a lot of things figured out, including me.  You'd be wrong and wrong.  

And creating this SCAA vs. The World thing is a bunch of crap.  You're trying to create this air of conflict and controversy where there is none.  Not to say that there aren't folks who agree with you, but you have a tendency to like to make things dramatic and black-and-white.

And I'll see YOU in Bern too. :-)

 
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