A Parent’s Guide: Big Central Barista Competition

This guide was originally published for the Southwest Regional competition, but we felt like it was pertinent to parents, friends and colleagues competing this weekend in the Big Central. So it’s a copy-paste-job, big whoop.

This feature is for the moms and dads of this year’s BCRBC competitors. If you’ve never been to our website before, that’s totally fine – Sprudge.com concerns itself with coffee culture, coffee in the media, global coffee issues, and how best to photoshop coffee’s celebrity class. This weekend’s barista competition in Chicago is a really big deal to us – so far this year we’ve been to Santa Cruz, Atlanta, New York City, and Tacoma, covering events just like this one. To us, these barista competitions are like Major League Baseball; your son or daughter is the starting third baseman for Detroit, or batting clean-up for the Dodgers; and we’re ESPN, your go-to place for live coverage.

Let’s start with some basic info on these barista competitions. This is the 11th year of competitive barista events in the United States. It’s a 15 minute competition format, during which the barista makes 4 shots of espresso, 4 cappuccinos, and 4 “signature drinks”, a concoction unique to each individual barista. Signature drinks can be sweet, savory, acidic, pleasing, challenging, and strange – often all at the same time. During that 15 minutes, each barista is umpired up and down by a team of certified judges, who score routines on a byzantine set of rules that emphasize cleanliness, economy of movement, taste, and expertise.

These rules can and do change each year; remember how we said these competitions were kind of like Major League Baseball? Well, in reality they’re probably more like the NFL: there’s an immense amount of strategy involved, and the nuts-and-bolts of how scores are administered can appear bewildering to casual observers, but the game itself is a joy to watch. Barista competitions are a delightful spectator sport, once you know what to look for.

  • A race against the clock! 15 minutes is not a lot of time, and points are deducted once the competitor passes the 15 minute mark.
  • Grace under pressure! Poise and confidence are a constant among barista competition winners.
  • Dropping knowledge! The best barista competitors are coffee ambassadors. Viewers should come away from each routine with a new found knowledge and appreciation of the coffee, even if they’re already so-called experts.

Baristas who win a regional event automatically qualify (and are given airfare and accommodations) for the national barista competition event, which is being held this April in Portland, OR. Consider this national event – called the USBC – to be like the playoffs of barista competitions. This event is open to all regional barista competitors from this year’s cycle; regional event winners are given a first-round bye. Whomever wins the USBC is then qualified to compete – and given free airfare and accommodations – at the 2012 World Barista Championship, happening this summer in Vienna, Austria.

Many WBC and USBC winners have gone on to open their own cafes; competing and succeeding in these events can be enormously beneficial to your son or daughter’s future.

What your son or daughter is doing this weekend is important. He or she is the final link in a remarkable chain of global commerce, one that stretches (no joke) all the way to the soils of Peru, Papua New Guinea, or Kenya. When your child gets up on stage, those 15 minutes embody a truly daunting amalgam of information and skill; they are part of a very real artisan renaissance, and their ability to educate and inform from a pressurized competition platform is extraordinary. Competing in these barista competitions is like earning an MFA and graduating from trade school, all in the same brain space. One must be intensely knowledgeable and unfathomably dexterous at the very same time. Imagine giving a lecture on the Ford Motor Company, while simultaneously rebuilding a Mustang engine, all the while being carefully judged on grease smears and the tightness of your concentric ratchet circles.

What your kid does is hard, smart, and amazing. You may not have heard from them much in the last few weeks, but please, don’t take offense, for this is very common. Many barista competitors work 60 hour weeks leading up to competition, budgeting in time for training on top of their already full work and life schedules. Often, it is the “life” part that suffers the most; consider this a two-week buffer zone on all marriage, relationship, or personal life inquiries. Your son or daughter is very busy.

You should be proud of your kid for doing this. Here’s some great ways to follow along with your son or daughter’s exploits at the BCRBC:

Watch the event live on your computer! For free!

For each regional barista competition event, the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s event team has allocated funds and time to beaming the action live around the world. This means you can watch the week’s events live from home, right on your computer! The video feed (or “livestream”) is hosted on two different client sites – the official site is here, hosted by the SCAA, but there is a simultaneous feed also hosted by the livestream company itself, called JustinTv, and that’s available here.

Follow the event on Twitter.

Click here for an instant glimpse at anyone and everyone who’ve mentioned the “#BCRBC”. That pound sign is called a “hashtag” in Twitter-speak, and it’s an easy way to follow all of the conversation and coverage of the Chicago barista event.

If you aren’t already signed up for Twitter, they make it very easy – simply go to Twitter.com, enter your name, email, and a password, then select your user name in the next screen. Once your new account is set up, Twitter will ask you follow and add contacts. We recommend following us to start. Your son or daughter may very well have their own Twitter account!

Check back with Sprudge.com.

Sprudge.com will be covering the event live from Chicago, publishing daily recaps of the BCRBC. Simply bookmark our site in your browser, then surf back here throughout the weekend for photos, essays, videos, and more. Chances are you’ll see your son or daughter get a shout-out on Sprudge!

So that’s it – that’s the barista competition thing your kid is up to this weekend in Chicago. It’s sports, education, culture, and craftsmanship, all wrapped up in an amazing 15 minute block. Share this story with your friends back home! Have a viewing party at your house to cheer on your little champion! Think of this as a grown-up version of those soccer games you stood outside in the rain for, back in the 90’s, only this time your kid has already gone pro, and this weekend could be the jump-off point for some amazing career development…plus it’s a lot of fun.