Four years ago, I knew nothing about coffee. Three years and eleven months ago, I took part in my first Barista Championship.
It all began with a barista in Four Barrel on Valencia Street, San Francisco. It was a sunny, chilly Winter morning and, once again that week, I was queuing up to order a coffee. When I reached the counter, the barista mistook me for a fellow barista and asked, “Are you going to compete?”
Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about – but when he realised that, the barista was keen to tell me all about it, including the fact that amateurs could compete.
Soon afterwards, I got in touch with Matts W. Johnson, owner and founder of da Matteo in Gothenburg and, coincidentally, someone I had already been working with. All of a sudden, I found myself borrowing da Matteo’s lab early in the mornings before going to the office and late in the evenings after work. A Linnea classic, a Mazzer Robur, the Vallgatan espresso blend, and myself spent a lot of sweaty hours together. I went through all the mistakes you usually go through, like not knowing how the grinder worked, pressing the wrong buttons on the espresso machine, and sending milk all over the place. And then I competed.
Patrik sharing his knowledge with the coffee community. Credit: Pavel Šinagl Photography
Was I foolish? No. Naive? Maybe. Was it the right decision? Absolutely. And you should do it too.
5 Reasons to Compete
- An Opportunity to Learn: Your coffee-making skills are going to be evaluated by several experts, who will give you structured feedback – how could you not learn?
- Branding, Branding, Branding: Even if you don’t have a brand yet, this will be the perfect opportunity to begin developing one.
- Networking: It’s a chance to gain an invaluable network of ambitious professionals.
- The Challenge: You will push yourself past the basics and challenge yourself to improve.
- Innovation: The constant striving to improve will see you create new concepts, new recipes, and maybe even new methods.
Taking part in barista competitions will make you grow both professionally and personally.
Credit: Pavel Šinagl Photography
Does Winning Matter?
You’ll notice that not one of our five points mentioned winning, and that was for a reason. It may be a competition, but winning shouldn’t be the only goal – or even the most important one.
As with most people, I fail a lot more than I win, but that’s okay. For me, it’s been a way to benchmark myself with the industry leaders, network, and show the more experienced people in the industry that I have ambition and ideas. Competitions are about surrounding yourself with people whose grand ambitions and depth of knowledge will help you develop (just as much as all that practising does).
Winning isn’t the most important aspect… It’s forging new connections with like-minded people. Credit: Pavel Šinagl Photography
Of course, that’s not to say winning isn’t good – especially for businesses. There is, of course, something to be said for those organisations with competing individuals on their teams. St Ali & Sensory lab, Drop Coffee and Intelligentsia are all great examples of companies that have benefited a lot, not only from competing, but from having consistently placed really well over the years. This leads them to not only attract customers, but also the best baristas.
Then there are the winners of World Barista Championships who have, over the years, gone on to found some of the leading and most important companies in the industry. Take Tim Wendelboe and Coffee Collective. Competitions can be a start of something truly relevant and rewarding; they can also be a great way to build and strengthen a brand.
Yet even for the amateurs, without a brand or expertise, competitions are one of those things where you have very little to lose but everything to win. And who knows where it may take you…
Watch my 2016 London Coffee Masters video below
Written by Patrik Rolf Karlsson, Head of Roastery at Five Elephant, Berlin and edited by T. Newton.
Perfect Daily Grind.