It’s been over 18 months since Andrea Allen won the 2020 United States Barista Championship in Orange County, California. It was the crowing point of a storied competition career for Allen, one that saw the co-founder of Onyx Coffee Lab—whose success across all competitions is unlike any other coffee brands in the history of the US Coffee Championships—making multiple USBC Finals, two of them landing her in in the second spot, tantalizing close to her ultimate goal. After four years of near misses, 2020 was Andrea Allen’s year to break through, earning her the right to represent the United States at the World Barista Championship in Melbourne, Australia.
Then the pandemic happened. Postponements turned to cancellations, then further postponements and global venue changes. Limits on social gatherings and safety concerns over sharing beverages making practice sessions difficult, WBC rule changes, supply chain disruptions, and general uncertainty surrounding competitions—all while working tireless to keep her coffee company afloat—have made this prolonged season unlike any other for Allen, all competitors really.
Ahead of this weekend’s World Barista Championship in Milan, Italy, we spoke with Allen about competition in the time of COVID.
This interview has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.
How has the pandemic affected your preparations leading up to the World Barista Championship?
The pandemic has affected everything. It took longer to get samples and coffees in because logistics are wonky. My practice time has also been affected just by the nature of my job having changed immensely throughout the pandemic. I just haven’t had as much work time for competition, so I have been practicing at night most days of the week, which is uncommon for me to practice in the evening. I mean, espresso at 9pm is not a great idea lol.
What are some ways you foresee the day of the competition being different than in past years?
I think it will be different but not immensely so. By this time we’ve all adjusted our habits and practices to avoid contracting covid. I think groups will be smaller, we won’t be sharing drinks, etc, but I think the spirit of competition will be as great or better than it has ever been. I have chatted with quite a few competitors and coaches that are tremendously excited to be able to return to competition and to collaborate and participate in what is the great stage for coffee and innovation that we all aspire to and dream of.
How do you see interactions—with your team, judges, spectators, any group setting really—changing this year due to COVID?
I see these being more limited, but again we have all traveled across the world to be here and I think that we will all find ways to connect albeit it may look and feel a little different.
With all the postponements and delays, it has been an uphill battle to get back to the stage. Is there any silver lining for you as a competitor in this year-plus hiatus?
I do believe so although what it may be I’m not yet sure. I firmly believe that all things happen for a reason, so these delays and setbacks in terms of competition have allowed all of us competitors incredible preparation time. I think we will see a great array of innovations and presentation styles this year and I am just grateful to have the chance to be a part of it.
Are you ready to get back to competition?
I’m ready to get back. I have the same concerns I do as when i go to work everyday or do anything outside of my own home. In that way I am just extremely careful. The committee has done a great job of setting everyone up to be as safe as is possible and I think everything will be just fine.
Thank you, Andrea!