If you’ve ever visited a coffee shop anywhere in the world, you’ve probably heard the term “barista.” You know it’s generically someone who makes coffee. And you know there are a lot of talented ones out there. But did you know that there are national competitions and world championships?

If you’re like most of us and had no idea, here’s a brief piece about these unique championships held annually across the globe.

What is a Barista?

First off, before you can really understand what the heck people were thinking in creating world championships for making coffee, you might want to really get a handle on what precisely a barista is.

The word barista originated in Italy, and means bartender. That bartender is someone who works behind a service counter, making and serving hot drinks like espresso, cold alcoholic, or non-alcoholic drinks, as well as small snacks.

With that in mind, the term barista has primarily come to be generically associated with someone who makes and serves coffee and hot drinks of any kind at a coffee shop, restaurant, or fine hotel. And generally, in the American culture, a barista is someone, usually a coffee shop employee, who specifically creates espresso-based coffee drinks.

What are the World Barista Championships?

Because of the love of coffee, and popularity of this culture, the skills required to make an excellent cup of espresso, and the competitive nature of humanity, barista competitions have come into being.

The first Barista competition took place in Norway, in 1998. Alf Kramer decided that baristas should be able to compete the way that chefs do in the culinary world. From there, barista competition ideas improved and grew, and only two years later, the first World Barista Championship, or WBC, was held in Monte Carlo, Monaco. 14 countries sent representatives to compete.

Since the inception of the World Barista Championships, the WBC has been held annually in various locations across the globe.

  • Monte Carlo, Monaco
  • Miami, United States
  • Oslo, Norway
  • Boston, United States
  • Trieste, Italy
  • Seattle, United States — on two occasions
  • Bern, Switzerland
  • Tokyo, Japan
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Atlanta, United States
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Bogota, Colombia
  • Guatemala City, Guatemala
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • Rimini, Italy
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Seoul, South Korea

The WBC for 2018 is slated for Amsterdam, Netherlands. Over 60 countries compete in the championship annually these days, and more are expected as the industry continues to grow and flourish.

What do the World Barista Championships Look Like?

During the competition, each barista has to make four cups of espresso, four cups of cappuccino or milk beverage, and four signature drinks for the judges in a limited amount of time — just fifteen minutes.

How Does Scoring Work?

WBC scores include points from judges for flavor, texture, and over-all mouth-feel. Judges also look at the technical ability of each competitor to explain what the competitor is doing, why he or she is doing it, and the ability to communicate all of that really well.

Since the competitors are some of the top representatives of the coffee industry of the world, the judges want champions who can inspire and cultivate the coffee culture for others.

Who are some of the World Barista Champions?

These competitors aren’t your ordinary Caribou coffee baristas. These men and women spend years preparing competitions, and even travel to the origin farms of the coffee they choose for the championship. They sacrifice time away from family and friends, and spend crazy amounts of time tweaking their skills to the level of absolute experts, both in the making of coffee, and their knowledge about coffee.

Each year, the competitors are ranked, like in any competition. You can find listings online of the placement for all competitors, but the WBC champions from each year since the first competition in 2000 include:

2000 — Robert Thoresen, Norway

2001 — Martin Hildebrandt, Denmark

2002 —Fritz Storm, Denmark

2003 —Paul Bassett, Australia

2004 — Tim Wendelboe, Norway

2005 — Trouls Overdahl Poulsen, Denmark

2006 — Klaus Thomsen, Denmark

2007 — James Hoffmann, United Kingdom

2008 — Stephen Morrissey, Ireland

2009 —Gwilym Davies, United Kingdom

2010 —Michael Phillips, United States

2011 — Alejandro Mendez, El Salvador

2012 — Raúl Rodas, Guatemala

2013 — Pete Licata, United States

2014 — Hidenori Izaki, Japan

2015 — Sasa Sestic, Australia

2016 — Berg Wu, Taiwan

2017 — Dale Harris, United Kingdom

How Can You Watch the World Barista Championships?

There are a few streaming services that make the WBCs available each year. You can try Maestro or Livestream, for example. Some sports channels may also offer viewing times.

Coffee for the Dedicated

Of course, if you’re really dedicated to the art and culture of coffee, you can travel to the championships and cheer on your nation’s representatives as they compete. Or, better yet, get out to some of the local and national level competitions and watch the up-and-coming coffee artists before anyone else knows their names.

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