First-time judging the United States Barista Competition

Photo courtesy of Dave White

It has been a whirlwind of activity since I was involved in judging United States Barista Competition that happened in Portland, OR March 6th-8th, but before the intensity of the competition drifts away, I wanted to take a few minutes and note my impressions as a first time judge at the event. I have been a volunteer for many years at the USBC, but this was my first year as a judge, so there were a number of new things I had to learn.  For starters, all potential judges had to go through some rigorous testing in written and calibration form. Then each judge had to understand that USBC judges were not there to state opinions about their experience in front of the barista, their only role is to capture and record the drink that each barista presented. Baristas that are competing at the regional and USBC level have spent endless hours of time, money and dedication to make it as far as they have, a judges role is to honor this commitment. (And to be blown away by the amazing drinks!) 

Each competitor had an incredible dedication to their coffee and the craft and I was truly impressed by the presentation, the signature drinks that I experienced – like the  blueberry caviar paired with the African coffee in a blend, the split extraction single origin shot or the pairing of juices to a single origin espresso's roast profile  - and of course the espresso that I tasted .  The culinary investigation of what would best compliment the espresso in each signature drink was creative and inspiring and left me thinking about signature drinks that I wanted to create. Looking back, I hope I gave each competitor useful feedback and that somehow the intense focus of each barista during their 15 minute presentation is contagious and makes its way back into our daily lives in the coffeehouses and espresso bars that we all work in.  I hope that everyone who has been involved in the competitions at some level “catches the bug” and is more passionate about the coffee that they work with and are challenging themselves to be even better behind the bar.

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