A friend of mine won his country’s barista championships a few times and has competed in the WBC. It might not be shocking to hear that he is the best barista I have ever been around.
Our friendship started when I hired him to train me for a few weeks as if I were going to run my own shop and compete even though I only wanted to learn from him for the sake of making better coffee at home and for the intellectual interest since I had no intention of giving up my own job and shifting to coffee as a career.
(I have a job I love and while I might like coffee as a career, there is a risk in trying to make money at something you love that you might not make money and kill your passion for your former love).
I learned lots of interesting things about coffee from him, but some of the most interesting things I learned were about the competitions. Things that I had never realized were important made a difference in who won.
Perhaps some of them should have been obvious. One thing of value is producing great espresso, controlling all of the variables while looking like you are not even trying. If it is clear you are struggling you will not do as well. This is a bit like the joy of watching a great tennis player who looks effortless on the court. On the other hand no points are awarded for style in sports.
Neatness is important. Making sure the steam wand does not drip on the counter, for example, after you pull the pitcher of milk away is important even if you could easily have cleaned up the spill in seconds anyway. Like a good chef/waiter the presentation better be neat – no drips, for example, on the side of the cup.
There are obvious things that are important, too, like the taste of your coffee. This should be paramount and it is, of course, a major factor.
These are some of the things that jumped to mind, but I will try to think of other things that counted that I would not have expected and include them in the future if I do.
Obviously lots of what I know about pulling coffee well also comes from these conversations.