Being a Barista Is No Joke. Just Watch These Pros at Work.

Slate's Culture Blog
June 14 2012 2:17 PM

How to Win the World Barista Championships

108290814

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Barista: job of sociology majors, struggling actors—and skilled professionals. Skeptical about that last one? Watch some video from the World Barista Championships, happening this week in Vienna, Austria (a city well known, of course, for its coffee houses). Since Tuesday, more than fifty baristas from around the globe have been competing in the 13th edition of the event. At the highest levels, creating coffee has become a culinary art. The best barista will be crowned tomorrow.

So how does one pull the planet’s greatest espresso shot and win the coffee crown?

Advertisement

First, you’ve got to qualify for the championship. According to Peter Giuliano, co-owner of Durham, N.C.’s Counter Culture Coffee and frequent barista competition attendee, the U.S. is divided into 6 regions; the top baristas from each region compete at the national championship, held last April in Portland, Oregon. This year’s winner, New York’s own Katie Carguilo, is representing the U.S. and Counter Culture at World’s. Carguilo, Giuliano said, has been a barista for nearly a decade.

Once at the contest, competitors have 15 minutes to impress four certified “sensory” judges by serving them each three drinks—an espresso, a cappuccino, and a signature beverage. The signature must be espresso-based but can otherwise include any non-alcoholic ingredient. Most competitive baristas create a new signature drink each year they compete. At the World’s this year, Carguilo’s signature included a mashed plum, green tea, a few drops of vinegar, and carbonated water, all mixed with espresso immediately before serving. (The plum was a last-minute substitution: Carguilo used a nectarine at the national championships, but couldn't find the fruit in Vienna.)

As the drinks are prepared, the barista repeats a rehearsed script that explains everything about the coffee, from its color and how it should taste to the origins of the beans—baristas select and bring their own, of course; Carguilo’s come from an El Salvadorian grower profiled last fall in The New Yorker. Meanwhile, a second team of “technical” judges monitors the barista for things like espresso craftsmanship (consistency is preferred), workstation cleanliness (cleaner is better), and ingredient consumption (less is more). “Very little milk waste,” said Giuliano, “that’s important—the judges look inside the pitcher.”

Drinks from the same category are served to each sensory judge at the same time. The judges then score them on things like appearance, taste, and presentation. Baristas are not allowed to top their cappuccinos with spices or powders, and an espresso served with pale crema is a loser. A detailed explanation of how to consume the signature drink is mandatory. The whole performance is set to a cheering crowd and music of the barista’s choosing. (Katie Carguilo likes to start her set with “Genesis” by Canadian artist Grimes.)

After two rounds and a final, a winner is chosen.

And the winner’s reward? Glory, obviously—and a host of prizes. Last year’s champion received an $8,000 espresso machine, a trip to the Mahlkönig factory in Hamburg, Germany (where they make coffee grinders), and a cover feature in Barista magazine. “Winners often do a kind of world tour to represent specialty coffee,” said Peter Giuliano. “People don't compete for prizes. They compete for the honor of being that representative.”  

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company

Science

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 18 2014 10:42 AM Scalia’s Liberal Streak The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 11:25 AM Gays on TV: From National Freakout to Modern Family Fun
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 12:03 PM The NFL Opines on “the Role of the Female”
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 11:48 AM Watch the Hilarious First Sketch From Season 4 of Key & Peele
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 10:07 AM “The Day It All Ended” A short story from Hieroglyph, a new science fiction anthology.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.