October 19, 2015

What Does It Take to Judge or Compete at a Barista Championship?


You think you know Brazilian coffee? Think again.

I thought I did as well, until I was invited to be a judge at the Brazilian 15th Barista Championship. The event took place during the The Brazil International Coffee Week this year, and was run by World Coffee Events. Internationally renowned head judge Danilo Lodi led everyone through, not just the 15th Barista Championship, but also the 8th Cup Tasters Championship and the 5th Brewers Cup.

SEE ALSO: 6 Days, 26 Hours, & a Lot of Coffee: Preparing for Your 1st Barista Competition

If you’re a coffee professional considering a trip to South America, the Brazil International Coffee Week is the event for meeting interesting, competent people and exchanging knowledge and ideas. A seemingly endless schedule of cupping tables gives baristas and judges alike a chance to grow in knowledge, learning more about the great diversity of Brazilian coffee.

Brazil Brewers Cup 2015

 Brazil Brewers Cup 2015, Daniel Munari open service. Credit: @argentacafe 

Competing in a Barista Championship

The goals of these championships are to support and mould the barista profession and to promote excellent specialty coffee. Judges look for an informative and inspiring barista who takes all the elements of coffee preparation and customer service to a new level, have a good understanding of the rules, and can produce excellence in the cup.

Baristas: What Will You Learn?

I cannot imagine that after participating, win or lose, you do not emerge as a better barista, cupper, or roaster.

Over the years, the championships have evolved into a tool for learning.

All the work put into training, be it on selecting your raw materials, creating new and novel ways to serve and present coffee, or working and re-working your presentation, contributes to making you a better barista. You watch the best of the best do their thing and, if you’re paying attention, you learn by osmosis.

Pro Tips For Competition Newbies 

If you’re a barista competing in a championship, preparation is the key to obtaining a good score. Studying and understanding the rules and regulations may seem easy at first glance, but you’ll find it deceptive: you’re going to need a deep understanding of the rules. Don’t worry; it might be hard, but after a few rounds of practice things will start to make more sense.

My advice for planning a presentation is to keep it concise, keep it engaging, and test it on someone to see if they can remember your keywords afterwards. If they can’t, you still have some work to do. Think about how you can leave an impression on your audience. 


Judges workshop for national judge certification. Danilo Lodi at the helm.  Credit: @e_roast

Why Judge?

For those who aren’t barista newbies, there are still plenty of reasons to compete – or even judge.

To be a certified judge for national competitions, you need a strong background in coffee, a good understanding of the rules and regulations, and you need to go through the required briefing and morning calibrations. Yet despite your strong qualifications and experience, you’ll find you learn an incredible amount from the event – and the baristas.

Coffee judging is mutually beneficial. Having had the pleasure of judging two national barista championships, two brewers cups, and a coffee roasting championship, I can only recommend that you too think about doing the coffee community this service. It will help you grow as you get a deeper understanding of the various aspects of our world of coffee.

I would also like to encourage you to travel and judge in a foreign country. National competitions often suffer from judges having to exclude themselves due to possible conflicts of interest. Even in Brazil, large as it is, the coffee community is small enough that it was a great help to have judges coming in from abroad for the sake of balance. If you’re thinking of judging or have already judged at home, think of where you would like to go and reach out. And if you’re organizing a national event, think of how much this could help your championship. Reach out to your coordinator for help finding candidate judges.

Championships in Coffee-Producing Countries: Push Your Limits

Being a judge in a coffee-producing country is a different experience. It’s taking the game to its limits; you’re surrounded by people that know the local industry as if it’s their backyard… because it is. Their knowledge of harvesting, varietals, roasting and preparing the coffees can be astounding.

In a producing country, it’s almost become normal for the barista to have been involved in the harvesting, drying and roasting of the coffee. It puts a great amount of information at their fingertips. This is where I see the fourth wave in coffee – with the knowledgeable barista guiding roast works and coffee producers with feedback from the one place where it truly matters, the cup sitting in front of the customer.

Specialty coffee has to continually push for excellence. This is one of many reasons why the championships are so important: competition continually pushes the envelope. 

 Brazil Cup Tasters Championship 2015.

 Brazil Cup Tasters Championship 2015. Elias B. Generoso and Simone Assis. Credit: e_roast 

Lastly, I must say it was truly an enjoyable experience to be on the receiving end of a well-planned presentation and well-organized event. A big thank you to all who have made my time here enjoyable by serving excellent beverages with dedication, inspiration, and passion.

Edited by T. Schrock.

Feature Photo Credit: e_roast

Perfect Daily Grind.