Breaking today here on Sprudge, the Specialty Coffee Association of America has officially revised its terms of prequalification for the United States Barista Championship, and will no longer be holding regional barista competitions to determine tournament entry. This news comes after the completion of the 2015 international coffee championships circuit at World of Coffee Gothenburg, the annual Speciality Coffee Association of Europe event held last week in Sweden.

A complete press release from the SCAA announcing these changes can be read in its entirety on Sprudge Wire, our global hub for media communiques and news briefs.

The first United States regional barista competition was held in 2002. In its heyday, the program was held in seven markets around the United States, before contracting to three regional events in 2013. The system has produced multiple World Barista Championship finalists and two WBC champions: Pete Licata in 2013 and Michael Phillips in 2010. Both had been repeat regional champions before succeeding on the national and world stage. Sprudge has attended and reported on (in exhausting detail) each event in the United States regional barista competition circuit since 2011.

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The Uppercut Boxing Gym in Minneapolis served as the venue for the 2014 and 2015 Big Central Barista Competition.
The Uppercut Boxing Gym in Minneapolis served as the venue for the 2014 and 2015 Big Central Barista Competition.

Here’s what the new US Barista Championship qualifications look like, as per an advance press release provided to Sprudge Media Network (emphasis ours):

  • Baristas who either hold a level 1 or 2 SCAA certificate or those who have previously competed in the USBC or a regional barista competition during the 2014 or 2015 cycles will be eligible to register on January 4th, 2016. There will be 35 spots available, on a first come, first serve basis. Companies may enter up to 3 competitors.
  • Registration will open up to anyone interested in competing on January 18th, 2016.  There will be 12 spots available on a first come, first serve basis. Companies may enter up to 3 competitors.
  • The final 3 spots will be reserved for scholarship recipients; the SCAA will be releasing more information about the USBC scholarship program in late 2015.

Elsewhere in the release (published in its entirety here on Sprudge Wire), Barista Guild of America Chair Lorenzo Perkins, formerly of Cuvee Coffee, weighs in: “While it is not easy to see the competitions change, the Barista Guild Executive Council acknowledges the need to ensure we are fulfilling the Barista Guild Mission and Vision with each event. By transitioning away from the current regional barista competition structure, competitions will become more sustainable for the long term, and valuable resources will be freed up to create new and exciting opportunities to engage our BGA membership.”

In their stead, expect a variety of regional events, from the long-established “barista camps” to a series of new “prep-fest” regional events, designed to help inform and provide resources for new and returning competitors. Details are still emerging about the proposed scholarship program, but SCAA sources have indicated that it will be modeled off the organization’s successful SCAA Symposium Fellows scholarship program, profiled previously on Sprudge. The regional competition tournament system is used sparingly around the rest of the world; in the United Kingdom, the system of “heats” and “superheats” is hotly debated, and various regional schemes do currently exist, with varying implementation, in countries like Japan, Canada, and Australia.

The average cost for a regional barista competition was in the $50,000 range and the events rarely broke even, according to SCAA sources. The regional barista competition circuit frequently required allocation of additional SCAA funds from other project budgets, as per the same source.

A triumphant moment at the 2015 Big Western Barista Competition in Rancho Mirage, California.
A triumphant moment at the 2015 Big Western Barista Competition in Rancho Mirage, California.

The SCAA, a non-profit organization based in Santa Ana, California, will shift their focus from regional competitions to their other programs: barista camps, certification classes, and grassroots Member Driven Events. There was a clear sense of grieving among the SCAA leaders we spoke with. These regional barista competition events were loved by many dedicated American coffee professionals—they weren’t perfect, or self-sustaining, but many times over we were hosted and shown memorable hospitality by friendly locals in cities across the United States: Kansas City and Minneapolis, Santa Cruz and Durham, Atlanta and Los Angeles, Queens and Palm Springs and Tacoma, to name just a few. These events will be missed.

To the regional competitors throughout the years: we’ll remember your sig drinks and playlists and Twitter handles until the day we die. We really did think your coffee sounded great. Thanks for the memories.

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