After my 5 Reasons to Compete series I’ve likely painted a rosy picture of what its like. There are of course some downsides to competition.
- First and foremost its can be expensive
You’re going to need to have your own cups, aprons,milk jugs, glasses, table settings etc. If you ask nicely you can maybe borrow some of these from the place you work or the roastery supplying you with coffee but odds are you’ll have to buy most of it. This means the first time you compete will be quite pricey.
The first time I competed I spent over £150 on equipment alone, this year I’ve splashed again on getting more table setting stuff. I don’t mind this since it will all be used in my business eventually but for most people this will just be excess they don’t need.
There’s also the cost of training, i.e. practising milk and developing a sig drink can get costly quickly. Luckily if you work closely with a roastery then it’s common they will sponsor you for the coffee.
Finally there’s travel, you’ll have to travel to the heats which are only in a few locations in each country. This will often be pricey especially with all the equipment you need. Then you’ll be going to the semis and finals too which require an overnight stay too.
Suddenly competing may add up to be the cost of a small holiday.
I’d advise you not to use a coffee unless a roastery is giving it free or heavily discounted, otherwise you’ll spend a fortune. Its common practice to give a limited amount free nowadays for competition.
- It’s time consuming
Largely this will be time well spent since you’ll be developing your skills and thinking of better ways to do things. It’s still a lot of time to devote to one thing, people who get to finals generally spend upwards of 50+ hours training, people who win and go to Worlds are usually in the 100s of hours trained.
- Some competitors will have a big advantage
Due to the number of hours some people spend training, many competitors just won’t be able to devote the time to make it a fair competition. Someone who works for a roastery or training school will likely have far more time and resources available to them than the average barista in a small independent. Looking at who does well in competition it’s generally – people who own their own shop or folks working for a big roastery/supplier who can give them time off to focus on competition. Like in most competitions whoever can devote the most time and effort generally wins.
The use of sponsored equipment doesn’t help this either since the availability is so limited. Particularly in the UK with the competition machine being quite different to the average coffee shop machine. You really have to get on it to see how your coffee will taste in competition. I’ll admit I had a leg up this year as the roastery that sponsored me had one of these machines, I likely got 10-15 hours more on it than many of the people I was competing against in my heat. It really helped. There are also others who had far more time than me on the machine, whilst some people didn’t get a chance to use it until the day of competition. That’s hardly fair. There isn’t much of a solution for this though as the competition has to have sponsors to run, you just have to be aware of these factor going in.
As you may have noticed though I didn’t put winning in my 5 reasons to compete, so don’t let the disadvantages dishearten you from getting the benefit of competing.
- Many of the rules are outdated and restrictive
“Your espresso must be (30mL +/- 5mL)”
Seriously, who still uses volume with espresso? Why can’t I offer a really long shot or old-school ristretto if that’s how the coffee tastes best.
“You’re not allowed to use alcohol, alcohol extracts or by-products in a Sig Drink”
This is surprisingly limiting especially if you want to do something quite creative, its incredible just how many fun ingredients are alcohol by-products.
“You must use cow’s dairy milk”
Why? What about the vegan and lactose intolerant baristas who can’t drink a milk beverage to determine it’s tasting notes. Also alternative milks are only going to become more and more popular why not showcase the best ones and ways to work with them in competition? I’d love to use my home-made Almond Milk, especially if it reflected flavours present in the coffee.
- Dialling in and Prep time
This is kind of the big one for me. You get one hour to diall-in before going on stage, that’s totally fine. Unfortunately you then have to wait to go on stage which can be anywhere from 20 mins to over an hour depending how late the competition is running – and it’s always running late. This gives time for ambient variables to change and for nerves set in.
So once you’re on stage you have 15 mins to set-up everything, if you’re a fanny like I was you might spend close to 10 minutes setting up your tablecloth and elaborate table setting, leaving you very little time to check your coffee is still pouring correctly and adjust if necessary. I just think this is bonkers. After spending however much time and effort training you now have to throw everything together in 15 mins, if even the slightest thing goes wrong then you’ll probably be screwed and all your hard work is wasted.
If I could change any one thing about the barista competitions it would be to give competitors 30 mins Prep-time, even just 20 mins would be helpful. That way everyone can set-up as fancily as they want and still have time to properly check their coffee and adjust. Generally after you prep there is 10-20 mins lull where nothing happens and you just stand there, so giving you an extra 15 mins to do stuff wouldn’t slow down the whole competition by much. Doing this would substantially increase the quality of drinks served to judge and also help competitors feel more confident in what they serve.
Despite all my moaning I still think everyone should compete, at-least once. If you missed them, there is a link to the first of my 5 reasons to compete below.