What is a Barista Competition?

Wish you could compete with the other professionals within your vertical? Do you wish that once a year you could have a platform to speak about the work you do and why other people should care?

Then, maybe you should join the coffee industry.

Each and every year since 2000, coffee professionals, baristas, roasters and shop owners, have the opportunity to show what they know and what they can do at the barista competitions.

The competitions begin at a regional level, qualifiers move to the national level and the winner of the United States Barista Championship represents his/her country and shop at the World Barista Championship.

My wife calls it the “coffee Olympics” and she is not altogether incorrect.

Baristas spend months training, weeks competing and years perfecting their craft -- not too different than the athletes preparing for Rio.

Join me as I break down the rules, format and criteria for each competition.

Basics of the Competition

Each barista is required to; make 4 espressos, 4 milk-based beverages (cappuccino, cortado, macchiato) and 4 signature beverages. All this must be completed in 15 minutes while the barista speaks to the judges about the coffee, specific brewing methods and his/her passion about the industry.

Each competitor is judged based on; quality of drinks, accuracy of descriptors, technical proficiency and overall professionalism.

At the end of the event, baristas are ranked according to their overall scores. Winners advance to higher-level competitions.

Specific Rules

Of course, I could get very specific here and go over brewing ratios, tasting instruction and cleaning practices the judges expect from every barista, but I fear that you would click off the page.

Instead, I will discuss why the rules matter. The rules matter because they set a standard for every barista.

Believe it or not, espresso can be scored. It is judged based on taste and tactile experience. Meaning, baristas must accurately describe how it will taste and feel for the judges. This is the most heavily-weighted portion of the competition.

Technical scores are judged on the barista’s consistency in every element of the competition. Everything must have a specific place and there must be no wasted movements. If there is a drip anywhere points are docked. Literally wasted or loose grams of coffee will cause you to lose points in this section. The technical judges expect perfection and consistency, in the same way a customer should expect perfection and consistency.

Another portion of your score is based on professionalism. This is a hard thing to judge because it is not finite. Music “doesn't” affect your score, but if the barista is happy and relaxed, then so are the judges. And if the barista is engaging and making eye contact and smiling then the judges are relaxed. I'm going to just go on record and say, "Happy judges make for better scores." Just like a happy customer will enjoy his/her coffee more.

Reasons to Compete

Preparing for a barista competition is a lot work. It’s much easier to not compete, no one is making you, no one demands it.

However, hundreds of coffee professionals every year signup to spend their time and money training for this competition -- why?

For a cool trophy or national recognition?


I compete to push myself to constantly improve. I like to be measured against other professionals and see where I fit in. I want to stay relevant in my craft and represent my shop on a national level. And as a barista, I refuse to sit on my laurels and do things they way they have always been done. Competition keeps me striving to be my best.

Of course, I do not speak for the entire coffee industry, but I bet those are some reasons other baristas compete as well.

For more information about barista competitions, read about them here. You can even watch the regional competitions right now.

And as always, if you have questions about what I have said here come on in to Chattahoochee Westside or tweet @nateners.


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