Barista Comps 101: The Basics

Barista Comps 101: The Basics

Photo Credit: Canadian Coffee Guild

It's Competition Season again and we're really excited to be supporting our friend Jay Lee from Guildsman Cafe as she competes in the East Qualifier Barista Championship in Ottawa.  If you've been part of the coffee scene over the past 10 years or so, you probably know about barista competitions. For those of you who have no idea what a barista competition is, this post is for you.  

Top 3 questions answered about Barista Competitions:

1. What is a Barista Competition?

A Barista Competition is an annual event designed to showcase amazing coffee, talented people and industry progress.

Barista competitions have played an important role in the coffee community for several reasons.  Firstly, they serve as a place where like-minded specialty coffee enthusiasts can come together to share knowledge about specialty coffee, ask questions, meet new people, and make connections in the coffee industry.

Secondly, competitions encourage innovation and promote new developments in specialty coffee.  Coffees are sourced from the very best producers around the world and are chosen for the competition with quality in mind.  Participants are often sponsored by coffee roasters who meticulously develop roast profiles to highlight the unique characteristics of the coffees.  Baristas use cutting-edge brew methods and often develop new and exciting drinks while pushing their technical skills to new levels of perfection.

2. Who can enter? What do they have to do?

Technically anyone can enter a barista comp, but most participants are highly trained baristas or industry professionals who work in speciality coffee.

Participants create a routine based around a theme of their choice and train for several months leading up to the competition.  Sometimes help is offered from coffee industry professionals who have participated in previous competitions. The goal is to showcase the coffee they’ve chosen to work with through a concise and beautiful presentation which reflects their theme and demonstrates their knowledge of the coffee and their technical expertise.

Each participant is given 15 minutes to perform a 3 tier technically accurate & engaging routine in front of a panel of judges.  They are expected to create 1 espresso drink, 1 milk drink and 1 custom specialty drink for each one of the 4 judges. The performance is carefully scored by a panel of judges using standardized score sheets developed by the Speciality Coffee Association (SCA). Scores are given based on their technical & sensory accuracy.

It is often a nerve-wracking experience for participants as they have to focus on producing amazing-tasting, well-extracted, perfectly balanced espresso-based drinks that hit all of the sensory marks, under intense scrutiny, while delivering a confident and engaging presentation,  keeping their work space clean, and meeting industry standards of professionalism, all within a strict fifteen-minute time limit. No big deal, right?

Participants get their inspiration for their routines from many different places including trips to origin to learn more about the specialty coffee industry and it's progression.

Pictured above is 2014 US Barista champ Laila Ghambari via SPRUDGE using cherry wood smoke in her routine. 

3. How & What do you win?

After all entrants have performed, the judges compare all of the score sheets. Winners are carefully selected based on their technical & sensory scores given during the presentation by the panel of judges. The winner is given a trophy, a cash prize and a chance to participate in the next level of competition.  The goal is to make it to the World Barista Championship.

If you want to learn more, read the 2018 Official World Barista Championship Rules & Regulations.


Several members of the Detour Crew have competed in competitions over the years. Pictured above are a few trophies won by Geoff Woodley back in the day that now live at the Detour Roastery.  

Check out a competition!

Here's a routine from Canada's six-time national Barista Champion Ben Put of Monogram Coffee. This vid shows Ben at the World Barista Championship in Seoul in 2017, where he placed 4th overall. Ben is an excellent example of someone who has really honed his competition skills and pushed new boundaries in specialty coffee.


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