The cost of competition

March 7th, 2009

Barista competition season is getting close to its peak – UKBC just gone, and a great result, and the USBC happening as I type this.  I’ve been pretty immersed in competition now for 5 years – either as a competitor or training or supporting.

I love barista competitions – I think they can be inspiring, educational and create community and spread coffee knowledge.  I also have a fair few gripes with them, but I am saving those for another post.

What I want to discuss today is the cost of competition.

Looking back over my years competing I was lucky that I was often supported by my former employer La Spaziale – they took care of my travel and accomodation costs, got me trained up and gave me time and support when competing for which I am, and was, very grateful.

Despite that the costs of competition have been substantial – and I am talking in terms of money spent.  I would estimate that I’ve spent nearly £3,000 of my own money in the course of 3 national comps and two WBCs.  I’ve actually performed only 10 times on stage – so quite a high average spend.  After 2007 I/Square Mile spent a lot again supporting Stephen – which of course turned out to be worthwhile, but on paper it was hard to rationalise the spend.

Where does all the money go?  Often you feel compelled to spend on stuff that really has no reward dictated to by the rules.  We buy nice glassware, tablecloths (why are these pieces of cloth so damned expensive?), endless napkins 1, spoons, pots, pans, knives, tongs – often all for a little 6 point box labelled ‘Attention to detail’.

I worry that we are pricing many baristas out of competition.  In fact I know we are pricing baristas out of competition.  Baristas who progress in competitions – lets say to the semis or finals – recieve no help from the competition towards their travel or accomodation.  I think that could, and should, change.

I hope judges start to realise that punishing baristas with comments about clean, suitable equipment or tableware not being beautiful enough are damaging the competition.  I remember a comment from a tech judge in my WBC final in Bern in 2006 that justified a lower score at startup with the phrase “Not Special Enough!”.

I am not advocating an enforced set of provided cups and tableware – but I think judges need to be sensitive to the investment already required to step up and compete.  If the competition continues to get more expensive then baristas are quickly going to rationalise the best investment of £500 or £1000 of their own money – several training courses, loads of amazing coffees from round the world and a bunch of barista jams could well be cheaper than a single performance at a regional barista competition.  Again – I am very pro competition, in fact this post is really about wanting to make them more accessable.

If there are competitors reading this then I would be grateful if they could post up in the comments the amount they estimate they have spent on competition (if they are comfortable to do so).  Other comments welcome!

  1. Why is that judges make it through their day to day cappuccino drinking without a napkin, yet when judging in competition seem to greatly need one and therefor stain the pristine white ones the performer is using meaning they can’t be used should they progress in the competition.  As for judges who leave dirty cutlery on white tablecloths…. competitors – send them a bill!  ↩︎

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