2016-07-17

WBC is a Farce

Well, that's the blunt notion. At least, the World Barista Championship is a woeful misnomer - as it is, it should be called the World Espresso Championship.

Here are two key observations:

Observation 1.
The competition as it is focuses mainly on one method of brewing. One would expect a barista championship to examine a breadth of brewing disciplinary competencies, not just depth in one.

Observation 2.
As it stands, there are too many free variables, mostly upstream sources that turn the competition into a money game - she whose pockets are deepest has greatest privilege by economic prejudice. The green bean's cultivation, its processing, and its subsequent roasting, are not really skillsets under the control of a barista. A barista is a bartender - the competition as named should focus on the skills of a brewer and server, not on business development skills.

Following the two observations, here is a recommendation. Have three separate competitons.

Competition 1.
The current WBC format should be renamed the "World Espresso Championship," and tweaked slightly to focus completely on the espresso-based in-cup results. This should be modelled after F1 motor racing, where there are stringent guidelines for what can be submitted, but unlimited freedom of business development in funding for upstream sourcing and R&D.

Competition 2.
Now if we loosen the format a little bit and admit the focus on specialty coffee should have great emphasis on cultivation, processing, and roasting, followed by an unlimited range of expression in brewing and mixologising, then we really want to have a "World Specialty Coffee Championship," that is modelled after the Academy Awards or Project Runway (whatever its professional equivalent is, I don't even know if such a competition exists in the fashion industry). Heck, if you model it after New York Fashion Week, or something like that... it just becomes a coffee expo that's focused on in-cup quality (or in-x, if you don't limit yourself to drinking from cups), with consideration for a celebration of the entire supply chain.

Competition 3.
The new "World Barista Championship" should really be modelled after Masterchef. The beans, milk, machines, and culinary challenges should be standardised to a greater degree. Emphasis should be removed from upstream sourcing decisions. Many brewing methods should be tested. By all means, keep and expand the performance component - service is after all, a performance art.

I comment here as a very casual observer who has done some business in the specialty coffee industry. I am not passionate about coffee, so I don't have a special love for it or the people who work with it. In advance of complaints, I would like to ceremonially apologise for any unintended butt-hurt which may arise from the reading of this article. The article is purely an opinion, and the opinion is wholly my own, and is not intended to represent the views of any other individuals or organisations which I have been affiliated with in the present or in the past.

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