October 30, 2017

Barista Competitions: What Do You Need to Be a Coffee Champion?


Barista competitions are the epitome of barista excellence. Whether it’s a regional, national, or world championship, they will stretch you to your limit. By participating, you’ll hone your skills and discover how great your love for coffee really is.

I’ve had the privilege to compete, judge, and coach in barista competitions over the last eight years. Getting up on that stage is no easy task, but I believe any barista who sets their mind to it can achieve it. Because competing is about more than technical skills. It’s also about attitude.

So let me take you through what attitudes you need to achieve your best – whether in a barista competition or simply in your daily coffee shop routine.

Lee este artículo en español Competencias de Barismo: ¿Qué Necesitas Para Ganar Con el Café?


Neil Gouws competes in the Western Cape 2017 Regional Barista Championships in Cape Town. Credit: Lee Henriques & Neil Gouws


Training for competitions isn’t easy. Waking up early or turning down plans with friends and family so you can perfect your espresso recipe soon gets boring – but if you want to succeed, you must have the discipline to do this.

You need to practise every part of your routine until you can do it without thinking. And don’t just practise your routine; practise your timing. Practise your presentation. Practise every single aspect that you are being judged on. Practise it as often as you can, no matter how tired you are or how long your day was at work.

Doing so will refine your skills, build your confidence, and enable you to perform with consistency and precision. Your discipline to the craft is what will help you to grow as a barista and compete against the best.

SEE ALSO: Should The World Barista Championship Use a Compulsory Coffee?


Donovan, Byron, and Ishan (left to right), three South African coffee champions. Credit: Ishan Natalie


Consistency is key in coffee – and consistency is key in training, too!

Consistency is linked to discipline, because it takes discipline to practise something until you can do it the same way every single time. However, it also takes meticulousness and precision. Don’t settle for “good enough”. Whether it’s your espresso TDS or your latte art symmetry, turn a critical eye on every element of your competition presentation and make sure that it’s the same each and every time.

Of course, you don’t want your presentation to seem robotic, either. You have to allow your passion to shine through and really demonstrate your flair. But these shouldn’t come at the expense of consistency.

By making sure you can consistently produce the best coffee you’re capable of, you’ll ensure you perform at your very best. This will allow all your effort to really pay off when you get up on that stage.


Donovan Mclagan, three-time South African Cup Tasters Champion. Credit: Angeline Mclagan


Combine good coffee with passion and you have a recipe for perfection. Your passion for coffee is what will drive you to live out your coffee dreams. It will keep you focused when you’re pulling practice shots at 5 am or pouring peacock after peacock to get perfectly consistent designs.

But passion doesn’t just happen. You need to nurture it. Go to regular cuppings, latte art jams, and coffee events. Spend time with the people who inspire you to be a better barista. Follow people you admire on Instagram and join Facebook groups so you can keep your finger on the coffee pulse. Learn as much as you can about the different elements of the industry. Work out why you love coffee and keep that at the forefront.

Do all this and your passion will flourish.


Harry Mole in the 2017 South African Cup Tasters Championship. Credit: Shannon Venter


Believe in yourself and what you are doing. Competing is hard, but when you feel that you’ll never perfect that latte art design or that signature beverage, you need to have confidence in yourself and keep going.

This journey can be incredibly rewarding if you don’t give up. And the more coffee you make, the more your confidence will grow. So if you find your confidence dropping, remind yourself of how far you’ve come. Take a step back from the issue and pay attention to all the other ways you’re improving, from your sensory analysis to your grinder calibration.

Also, you should surround yourself with people who know more about coffee than you do and will give you honest but encouraging feedback. Their support and critiques will help you become even better.


Neil Gouws competes in the Western Cape 2017 Regional Barista Championships in Cape Town. Credit: Lee Henriques & Neil Gouws


Coffee isn’t just an incredible beverage full of complex flavours. It’s also the product of hard work across the entire supply chain. The blood, sweat and tears that are sown into coffee-growing lands is far more than we in consuming-only countries could ever understand. Roasters have spent years mastering their craft.

There are so many facets to this industry that we don’t see, but researching them and respecting them gives us more respect for this drink – and the drive to do our best. It motivates us to pour our passion and energy into brewing the best-possible versions of those beans.


Winston Thomas, 2017 South Africa Barista Champion. Credit: Lee Henriques & Winston Thomas

There are many more character traits, skills, and behaviours that competitive baristas possess, but these are the foundations of any champion performance. So before you start refining your stage presence, travelling to origin to find different coffees, or experimenting with recipes, start working on adopting these five attitudes. They’ll help you on the journey to becoming a champion barista.

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