Winning a coffee championship has become a goal for many baristas around the world. While there’s no arguing that it takes skill, practice, and discipline to be successful, a big part of the barista championship journey is coaching. In the end, a world-class coach can ultimately give competitors the edge they need when they compete.
In 2021, Colombian barista Diego Campos won first place in the World Barista Championships in Milan. On his path to victory, he worked with Federico Bolaños – a renowned Salvadoran barista trainer who has now coached three WBC winners.
To learn more about the coach’s role, the skills a barista must develop to participate in championships, and how to choose the right coach, I spoke with Federico, along with former world Barista Champion Alejandro Méndez and Luis Vélez of Café Amor Perfecto. Read on to find out what they said.
You might also like our article on the access to coffee education during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Coaching for barista championships
As well as being a barista trainer, Federico is an SCA instructor, a Q grader, and the owner of Alquimia Coffee.
Federico says he first discovered specialty coffee in 2003, and that it has been his passion ever since. He began coaching baristas in 2008.
“I have prepared baristas from different countries around the world to win 18 national championships,” he tells me. “Over 10 years, I have trained three world champions, two finalists, and five semifinalists for the World Barista Championships.”
Remarkably, every single barista Federico has trained has reached the finals of their respective competitions.
Federico says: “Coaching and competing are very different things. It is important that the person you choose has proven experience as a coach, rather than as a competitor.”
To illustrate his point, he adds that although he participated alongside two of his trainees at the 2008 National Championship in El Salvador, he made it to the finals, while the other two won first and second place.
Luis Velez is the founder of Amor Perfecto, a coffee roastery and chain in Colombia where Diego Campos works. The pair worked closely throughout Campos’ journey to the WBC finals in 2021.
Luis says: “A good coach is someone who knows the competition very well, someone who really knows what the judges are looking for.
“A coach should assist the barista with every part of the presentation. They should be a professional with the creativity and knowledge to build a routine from scratch.”
What should baristas focus on when training for a competition?
Alejandro Méndez is a WBC winner who, much like Diego Campos, was trained by Federico. Alejandro became the first Latin American World Barista Champion in 2011, when the championships were held in Bogotá, Colombia.
Both Federico and Alejandro tell me that baristas should start looking for a coach at least a year ahead of a competition. Alejandro says that this helps you to develop “a strategic plan to find the coffee”.
Federico explains that he guides competitors through the process of sourcing their coffee, as well as finding the right roast profile for it. However, he also notes that alongside these technical areas, it’s important for a coach to help define the concept of the presentation, pay attention to details, practice, and develop a signature drink.
Alejandro adds that soft skills, including body language, are also vitally important.
“The way a barista moves around the station, the steps, the looks… everything has to be planned,” he explains. “It’s important to think about how the judges see the barista.”
In 2019, the World Barista Champion was Jooyeon Jeon, a World Barista Champion (the second of three trained by Federico). Comparing her routine with Campos’, we can see how they used movement and atmosphere to improve their routine.
In her routine, Jeon had the judges move around the station with her and sit on the tables to create a more intimate atmosphere. Two years on, Campos leveraged neurogastronomy by blending different senses with a video playing on a tablet, a textured ball, steam, and the taste and aroma of his coffee.
Their success shows that this kind of creativity can be a big part of WBC-winning routines. This is something that many competitors who trained under Federico attribute to his influence as a coach.
Which other skills do you need to hone?
In addition to good preparation, baristas also need to hone other skills to execute a successful routine.
“Firstly, it’s vital for the barista to develop their sensory skills,” Federico says. “The more a barista can appreciate the quality of the coffee, the better they will be able to make small adjustments to the brewing process, thus leading to a substantial improvement in the cup.”
You should also have the support of other professionals, like a skilled and experienced roaster.
“Modern barista competitions are like the coffee Olympics,” Luis explains. “You can’t think about being number one if you don’t have a team behind you supporting you.”
Federico also says that it’s important that competitors also work to the highest standards on a daily basis. He says that you can often distinguish between those who “act” for the 15 minutes of competition, as opposed to “true professionals”.
He adds: “The most important stage is not the judges’ table at the championship, but the bar where the barista serves coffee to their customers.”
The skills that the WBC looks for, according to the championship’s official rules and regulations, include mastery of technique, craft, communication, and service skills. Judges also want to see a competitor’s passion for the barista profession.
Other qualities that a barista should focus on are:
- Consistency in coffee preparation and training.
- Passion, which is shown through attending events, constantly learning, and continuing to practice.
- Confidence, which is often shown through self-belief and in the routine.
- Respect and recognition for the hard work done throughout the entire coffee supply chain.
“The most important thing is the barista’s ability to concentrate, and their emotional maturity,” Luis adds. “Emotion is a big part of the routine, and competitors need to transmit a calm, positive energy to the judges.”
At the end of the day, Alejandro encourages all baristas to participate if they are interested in discovering what competitions are all about.
“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose,” he says. “Usually, defeats are more important than victories. They help you grow. You learn from your mistakes.”
The coffee sector is full of innovation. We continue to see new developments all across the supply chain, all the way from production to consumption. One of the best arenas in which this innovation is celebrated and showcased is at barista championships.
However, innovation isn’t the only thing that wins you a championship. As this article shows, hard work and persistence are key, but there is no substitute for working with an experienced coaching professional.
A barista trainer with creativity, an eye for detail, and a knowledge of exactly what your judges will be looking for will help you set your routine apart. But before that, as Federico says, training starts behind the bar. Show your knowledge, enthusiasm, and passion for coffee with every shot you pull and every cup you brew.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on how 5 Barista Champions chose their competition coffee.
Perfect Daily Grind
Originally posted on PDG Español. Translated by Tati Calderón Cea. Translation edited by Micky Baker.
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