Barista Competition Judging

February 3rd, 2008

I know barista competitions come in for a lot of criticism online, and I don’t really want this to be one of those posts. However having seen a bit of both sides there are some things I’d love to see changed.

I don’t really have an issue with the rules of the competition as they are now, and I am not out to suggest a better competition or anything. I am really looking at this from the angle of former competitor.

A few suggestions:

Get rid of the words explaining the numbers

At the bottom of the score sheet there is a key to the numbers:
0 – Unacceptable
1 – Acceptable
2 – Average
3 – Good
4 – Very Good
5 – Excellent
6 – Extraordinary

I think this creates a big misunderstanding around the lower scores. To get a 2, as a barista, is pretty disappointing. It feels like criticism, but a judge could be meaning it was ok. Not bad, not great but average. Equally I think it makes scoring higher difficult as a judge going by the words – What exactly is the difference between Very Good and Excellent.

In the UK we’ve tried to use the mantra of “what more do I want?” as judges because this pretty much mirrors the question you ask as a barista when you pull a great shot of great coffee and get a 4. We’ve tried to ignore the words and just use the numbers. This leads me to my next point:

Explanations are mandatory for scores below 3

If we are to use barista competitions to promote the craft and help baristas improve then your scoresheet at the end of this needs to be very useful. On the day only one person gets the trophy. To some extent all the rest get back beyond the experience are the sheets themselves. Getting a blank sheet full of low scores back is not only disheartening but frustrating. I think judges need to be held accountable for their scores and there is plenty of room on the sheet for notes.

An online barista competition wiki

I think as barista competitions mature around the world there still needs to be some resource available for a variety of things. For visual things it would be great to see if we all rate drinks similarly – be it crema colour, latte art or exactly how a great traditional looks. Useful for both judges and baristas.

Then it would be good if there were somewhere to ask questions about things not really covered in the rules. There are several things that the rules state as being illegal with no indication of the correct way to punish them. There will always be new and surprising things happening and it would be great if the JCC were available for questions on rules (like using a side table to pour capps at the judges table) as well as other judges weighing in with their opinion. I think it is easy to feel that unless you have some level of inside knowledge then you can never achieve the highest points. A little transparency would go a long way.

I am not ought to criticise or rewrite the rules – I think if you chose to compete you agree to play by the rules and if you don’t like them no one is forcing you to play.
However I’d love to see the competition keep evolving in a way that has a positive impact on the baristas entering and on the coffee they serve.

I’d love to hear opinions of both competitors and judges on this as long as we don’t drift into what people think is wrong with the competition format as that is a separate discussion altogether.

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