The 2011 United States Barista Championship Competition Season

By Marcus Boni

Sometimes I wonder how many times I’ve had to describe exactly what a barista competition is to someone who isn’t closely familiar with the Specialty Coffee Industry. My canned response usually starts with “Are you familiar with a bartenders competition?” and then I go on to talk about the basic service and coffee requirements of each competitor and a brief description of the judges.

However, over time, I’ve come to realize what a horribly inaccurate comparison that is. Yes, they both take place on a stage and involve making drinks, but beyond that, their paths diverge, and I’m left wondering how to accurately describe the tremendous amount of devotion that each barista competitor squeezes into their 15 minutes of performance time without mentioning common-day coffee slang like caffeine crazed or espresso addict? How does one translate every knock, push, grab, dose, pour, tamp and sigh that happens between pressing the red star and calling time in order to turn this unique sensory event into something that those outside the industry can fully understand? How do you capture the tremendously unique and non-routine moments in a cup and with your barista so rarely experienced in today’s coffee marketplace?

The fact is that truly understanding these competitions means approaching them with an open mind and a desire to want to experience something well outside the average every day café experience. This is why the call of the USBC is so magnetizing for those that choose to follow it. As a volunteer, host, sponsor, judge or competitor, once you’ve connected with the program, it’s hard to ever look at your coffee beverage the same way.  The dramatic evolution of the USBC and WBC program is directly connected with those experiences from participants in the program. They’ve taken that interaction back into their cafés, businesses, or homes and pushed themselves to demand something new and dynamic.  I applaud all of those that have come through this program through the years understanding that it takes time to change perception. You’ve truly done it one drink at a time.

With the completion of a very successful 2010 USBC year and the crowning of Michael Phillips as the first World Barista Champion from the United States, the SCAA staff and Board of Directors realized that ensuring a sustainable USBC program would be essential in continuing to advance the importance of the role of the barista in the specialty coffee movement. While USBC regional competitor interest continues to rise (up almost 30 percent), costs to produce a well-executed event have also increased. SCAA, along with our regional hosts and sponsors, produced nine regional competitions, averaging 27 competitors per region. Each regional competition cost $16,000 on average to produce, breaking down to roughly $500 per competitor. With a maximum current competitor registration fee of $50.00 ($25.00 for BGA members), this means that 90 percent of event costs were dependent on sponsorship.

To address this imbalance, SCAA has identified fiscal aspects in need of change for the 2011 program year. These changes will ensure sustainability of the USBC regional program while continuing to deliver a high value, high caliber competition to competitors, attendees and supporters of the Barista Competition program.

Redrawing the Regional Map

Historically the USBC regional map split the country into 10 different regions, each holding an independent competition (in special circumstances, regions were combined). At the inception of the USBC program, 10 regions were identified in hopes of growing local support in each region. The higher quantity of regions has an obvious impact on event production and costs with national sponsorship dollars being spread among 10 regions. With fewer events, SCAA staff can focus on executing excellent competitions while maximizing distribution of national sponsorship dollars. The table below details the new regional map.

Region States

NORTH WEST WA, OR, AK, ID, MT, WY

NORTH CENTRAL ND, SD, NE, MN, IA, WI, IL, IN, MI

NORTH EAST OH, WV, DE, PA, NJ, NY, CT, RI, MA, VT, NH, ME, MD

SOUTH WEST HI, CA, NV, AZ, UT, NM, CO

SOUTH CENTRAL KS, MO, OK, TX, AR, LA, MS

SOUTH EAST KY, VA, TN, NC, SC, AL, GA, FL, DC

Increase in Competitor Registration Fees

By evaluating the costs to produce a high-quality regional barista competition (as stated above, roughly $500 per barista competitor per event), we have identified the necessity to increase the competitor registration fees.

New BGA Member* Registration Fee: $150.00

New Non-BGA Member Registration Fee: $300.00

*BGA Membership is $45.00 annually

Recognizing that the new fees represent a significant increase compared to previous years, SCAA staff will also be creating new opportunities to highlight companies and individuals choosing to support barista competitors through financial sponsorships. These initiatives include Equipment and Roaster Recognition programs, Competitor Profiles on the USBC website, and the opportunity for relationship development among baristas and event supporters.

Deciding to compete as a Barista competitor is an enormous commitment with incredible opportunities in professional growth and development. The new fee structure helps demonstrate that commitment, as well as to articulate transparency in overall event expenses.

Despite the increased fees, most of the event expenses will continue to be funded by event sponsorships. We will continue to develop the overall USBC program in hopes of building better relationships with our supporters and further connect them with dynamic community of USBC participants.

The true essence of barista competitions may be difficult, if not impossible, to describe to non-coffee bystanders, but as the event continues to thrive and grow, more and more people will discover it for themselves. And then they, too, will be the ones attempting to explain all of the pride, showmanship, quality and work that goes into every event.

Marcus Boni has had the sincere pleasure of being a member of the Specialty Coffee community for the past nine years with varying roles in retail operations and development with Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee. While also with Intelligentsia, Marcus was an active volunteer for the SCAA helping to support the regional and national United States Barista Championship program and World Barista Championship. He is currently the director of community for the SCAA.

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