Well, it will all be underway in less than a month. Response so far seems to have been pretty good, with several heats pretty much full. I don’t think there will be the full 84 potential spots filled, and I have no doubt the London heat is going to be cancelled.
A lot of people seem very surprised that in London, a city of 8 million people, we can’t find 12 willing baristas. There are several problems as I see them:
People simply don’t know about it. This is down to the UKBC committee, but also down to coffee suppliers, magazines, newspapers and the rest of them. I only knew because I got training from a guy who had won it a few times. All the other heats that are full are down to active coffee companies encouraging people to enter. In London there just doesn’t seem to be that kind of interest from local suppliers. Some claim the London coffee market is solely about price and that it is hard to sell quality coffee (and the ideals that go with it). I think that is a load of rubbish. If illy can sell tonnes of coffee there then it is clearly not about price.
Fear of exposure. I am sure this is why chains stay away. In competitions your coffee is laid bare, as well as the skills of your baristas. I think this is why most major chains have stayed away from competitions across the globe – with the exception of places like Muffin Break.
What is in it for the barista? This is a tricky one. Most baristas that find out about competition have no desire to compete. What would be nice is if we could get some owners of chains, or groups or whatever along to chat to the losing baristas after the competition. Sure, some won’t ever want to compete again but every single one will be reinvigorated about coffee, excited and looking forward to going back to their jobs and making better coffee. A little help from managers – the offer of getting someone in to do competition training – would get most baristas over their nerves. I think there is a huge potential for competitions that perhaps should be explored by barista jams and the like.
So London will be empty and I will have to find another heat… Same as last year I suppose. I am not sure if that is a good or bad omen.