Coffee Competitions

Consider coffee competitions a one-of-a-kind opportunity: A way to distinguish your company and showcase your investment in quality of product and staff. Throwing your hat into the ring has positive, real world benefits both for the internal team culture and the public’s perception.

The internal company dynamic will change
A pending coffee championship is an opportunity to take the training program to new heights by giving it larger purpose. Revamp the company training program by putting special emphasis on latte art and creating signature beverages. These two skills are quick ways to build a sense of accomplishment and team pride early on. For Dawn Shanks, veteran competitor and competition judge at Washington D.C.’s Peregrine Espresso, “barista competitions have fueled two things integral to my personality and values: competitiveness and a sense of community.” Having new Espresso based drinks, specifically designed by baristas, gives a sense of personal ownership to the team while creating unique menu offerings. Encouraging staff to attend TNTs (Thursday night throwdowns) is a sure-fire way to develop skills. TNTs provide a sense of community and a comfort with producing under pressure.

I believe it’s important for the barista community to work together,” says Andrew Cash, owner of Jubala Coffee, in Durham, NC “it establishes a culture where we care greatly about the customer service experience. We are constantly helping one another with routines and tasting one another’s drinks. I think we share common goals, make great coffee and offer a great customer service.“

If there aren’t TNTs in you area, refer to the Barista Guild of America to start one up. Not everyone is competitive; judging also builds critical analysis skills, essential for managers and shift leads. Beyond coffee competitions, this type of internal training lays a positive foundation that encourages staff engagement, exploration beyond daily shift requirements, and contributing original ideas. Dawn states that she is “moved when I see peers do great work. I think the competitions are a way we all gently nudge each other towards becoming better and better.”

It takes a team to put forth a competitor. Not everyone is competitive but as Andrew points out “I do want all my employees to find value in their work and understand that their job can lead to enriching careers. This increased engagement builds kinship and refreshes the company spirit.

Competing takes a certain personality, it takes a certain obsession and these members often become your team superstars. Support their efforts and they may become long-term employees, because their passion is appreciated. Furthermore, this passion, once supported, will overflow to others. This year, Dawn says of her first time competitor teammates, “Watching them become inspired was inspiring in and of itself.”

Knowing there are coffee competitions instills a larger perspective in baristas. It is a step to understanding that a side job or a fascination can evolve into a career or a passion.

Public perception will improve
The very fact that there are competitions for coffee is bizarre for most people unfamiliar with our industry. To generate discussion with clients, think beyond the brick and mortar, engage through the social media outlets; publicize all the team’s preparation efforts. Show the passion for coffee at your company by posting vine videos of brew practice or create YouTube tutorials. Tweet new ideas daily and post filtered instagram images of beautiful espresso shots.

At Jubala Coffee they go an extra step, “We always live-stream the competitions in the shop so customers can watch.” says Andrew.

Consider inviting regulars to watch mock run-throughs. This is a great way to work out the kinks in the competitors’ presentation while providing a unique experience for cafe clientele.

Internally, having baristas compete year-to-year helps motivate the rest of the team to make better coffee and establish goals for themselves. I’ve seen my staff grow in ways of not only making better coffee, but also thinking of ways to make the customer experience better. To have a team-member competing means that your company is attracting the kinds of talents who are dedicated to their craft.

Consider the perception of your company beyond the local area. Demonstrate to the industry your high level of commitment to quality and professionalism by competing. It’s one thing to profess your quality standards and barista talent; it’s quite another to compete. Investing in a competitor says to the industry that you, as a business owner, have an unshakable dedication to quality, professionalism.

A coffee competitor becomes a spokesperson for your company. This becomes truer as your competitors move forward and earn higher rankings, and become more publicized and more valuable.

Competitions are a multi-year investment, which starts within the cafe and grows to the industry at large. Andrew supports the Jubala crew “When an employee shows desire and passion within their job, it’s important to support them and lead them in the direction that will make them a better employee. We all want to be recognized and trusted for our hard work and supporting competitors is a great way to show them that you appreciate the value they bring to your business.”

Clark Le Compte is Head Roaster for Toby’s Estate Coffee and the South East Regional Brewers Cup Champion. He is competing for the national title this month. Reach out with any question or wish him luck at

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