Saturday, August 11, 2007


World Barista Championships 2007

Over the past couple years, whenever I’ve mentioned barista competitions, it’s usually met with a long pause and then a “what the heck is a barista competition??” I usually explain that it’s kind of like the barista olympics. Baristas have 15 minutes to prepare four espressos, four cappuccinos and four of a signature drink of their own creation. They do a formal presentation – complete with a musical soundtrack – in front of an audience and a variety of judges, who evaluate their technical expertise as well as the sensory qualities of their drinks. To an outsider, these competitions are bizarre, even a little comical (comparisons with the mock-documentary BEST IN SHOW would not be too far off the mark). But they are also a GREAT way to learn about the contribution a barista makes, because the more competitors you watch, the more you perceive the variations in coffee preparation that one person can bring. And they inevitably spur (in me, at least) a curiosity to taste all that coffee that’s being prepared and talked about. Still, it’s incredibly hard to do these competitions justice through mere verbal description.

So… I’m very pleased to be able to report that the finals of this year’s world barista championships – which took place in Tokyo a little over a week ago – are available and viewable online, at a site called

You can go straight to the finalist videos here.

To my knowledge, this is the first time full presentations have been accessible in this way. In the past, I believe some highlight reels have been produced months after the events, but there has never been anything like this. So hooray for the folks who made this happen! The coverage is terrific. (And I have always said that somebody should make a feature-length doc about these competitions – something very character-driven, since there seem to be some fascinating characters in this little world. So… maybe the zacharyzachary folks are the ones to do it…?)

In any case, this year’s winner is a guy from Great Britain, James Hoffmann. And second place went to the U.S. representative, Heather Perry (whom I have blogged about and who will make an ever-so-brief appearance in my documentary). I believe this is the best ranking any U.S. barista has ever achieved. Congratulations, Heather!

So I’ve been spending my Saturday morning watching a few of these presentations, and the overwhelming thought that occupies my mind as I watch is this: WHY ON EARTH is there so little crossover between the world of fine coffee and the world of fine dining?? I mean, listening to the baristas talk about which coffees they’ve chosen to serve and why, it’s hard to believe that there wouldn’t be interest in this kind of thing as the cap to an excellent meal. There’s no excuse for restaurant coffee to suck so bad – when are restaurateurs going to catch on?? And then there are the signature drinks. They’re not frappuccinos. They are much closer to the kind of thing you can find in Italy – often very small – just a few sips– and quite beautiful to look at. They’re these precious little works of art, involving unique flavor combinations and unique textures. Champion James Hoffmann’s signature drink, for instance, involved some half-and-half infused with tobacco. The barista competitions display such a high level of attention to the basics of good coffee and such a spirit of culinary experimentation with coffee; it’s strange to me that restaurants have not found a way to incorporate that attention and spirit into what they offer. One of life’s mysteries, I guess.


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