Competition season is in full effect. Qualifying Events a few weeks ago, Qualifying Events this week, it’s one of the more frenzied times on the US Coffee Championships calendar. But the SCA isn’t the only large-scale coffee institution pitting baristas mano y mano for your sick viewing pleasure. Starbucks has announced their own North American Barista Championship, and the participation may be something like 100 times that of the US Barista Championship.
Announced last week, this will be the inaugural North American Barista Championship the company will be putting on, though not their first globally. The events started in Ireland and the UK back in 2013 and have expanded to “most regions around the world… annually.” The North American one, though—the corporation’s home turf—may just be the biggest.
More than 15,000 Starbucks employees are expected to participate this year. Each participating store in the United States and Canada will select one hourly barista take part, who will compete at a district level, working their way through area and then regionals before ultimately competing in the national stage in Seattle.
District competitions begin in March, where the focus will be on leading a coffee tasting “using an in-store brewing method.” Scoring is based on competitors’ “knowledge of Starbucks coffee, culture and heritage, along with their ability to make personal connections and recommend food pairings.” The area competition will turn to drink construction, making “classic Starbucks beverages like a Caffè Latte and a Caramel Macchiato” as well as a signature beverage using ingredients available in-store.
Then in May, the regional will focus on “craft and storytelling,” with the 23 winners competing at the finals in June in Seattle, “where they will showcase their coffee craft skills, demonstrate their knowledge of Starbucks commitment to sustainability [editor’s note: lol], and present their signature beverage to the Starbucks beverage innovation teams.” The winner earns themselves a trip to Starbucks’ development farm in Costa Rica, Hacienda Alsacia. Per the press release, competitors will be paid for time spent traveling and participating in the various stages of the competition.
It is unclear if union stores will be included in the competition. The language of the press release about “participating stores” certainly leaves a carve out to exclude locations that have voted to unionize, and the press release ends with a statement that initiatives “may not be unilaterally implemented for partners in stores with organizing under way.” Such language is not included in any of Starbucks other recent press releasees.
Nonetheless, the timing of the announcement is interesting. The US Coffee Championships appear a touch shaky right now. Each USCC competition only had one Qualifying Event this year instead of the two that has historically been the norm. And the where and when of the national events is currently a matter of speculation and rumor. Normally held as part of the SCA Expo, which takes place just two short months from now in Chicago in April, this year’s events don’t appear to be part of the festivities and may be held as one-offs. Within this context, a 15,000+ competitor event seems bold. (Though it does feel like part of the competition is who can best pay fealty to the corporate borg.) Next stop: the Starbucks World Barista Championship. The winner gets to do a Freaky Friday body switch with Howard Schultz.