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.



Your facts are very good. 2nd place is the highest spot any American has ever placed in the WBC, and also the highest spot ever for a woman in the WBC. (someone correct me if I'm wrong)

And yes, there has never been video coverage of the WBC like what Zachary and Katie did. There is a video of the WBC that in in production and will be out soon from Belissimo, but I think we've seen most of it already. : )

I LOVE the trailer for your film, and more importantly, the message. I've heard you are a regular visitor to RCR, one of the world's best coffee bars. (Those peeps are all good friends. I love them so.)

I'm so glad I found the link to your movie.
Hey I love that you're doing this, I'm australian and i work in Canada where the standards towards coffee aren't much different to the states, and I've worked in Fine dining restaurants here and in Australia, I guess over here theres a perception that its to hard to train waiters or bartenders to make a perfect cappucino. In Australia its quite the opposite, its demanded that a perfect espresso based coffee is served to "cap off the meal".

For your documentary i do suggest you look at other nations like australia and new zealand where the standard is extremely high. You cannot find filtered coffee there, its all espresso. The perfect cappucino that you long for is something that is just simply a part of a our culture. If a cafe or restaurant doesn't sell a perfect cup it doesnt survive. For example Starbucks, your case study, recently closed two thirds of their Australian stores. The coffee industry continues to thrive so it comes down to not being able to compete and not understanding the market.

Good luck with the doco.
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