Daria Soboleva //
Saint Petersburg
// 20.3.2018

4 Tips to Prepare for the Barista Championship: What Should You Focus on?

It was several months ago that the World Barista Championship 2017 was held in Seoul. However, many countries are already running national championships to determine who will win the right to represent them at the 2018 World Barista Championship, which is taking place in June in Amsterdam.

What should one focus on when preparing for the World Barista Championship?

The first thing you need to do is ask yourself "What am I doing it for?" because your goals will determine the rest. Some take part in the championship for the buzz, some to have fun and experience something new; others aim to enhance their professional skills, and others still just want to share some excellent coffee with people. It is important to remember that preparation for the championship is highly time-consuming and rather expensive.

But let us review the various aspects point by point.

1. Figure out the rules

The most important aspect of the championship is its rules, and I do not only mean that you will have to learn the regulations by heart. Barista championships have been held for a long time; changes occur every now and then, and there are numerous specifics that are not set down in the rules but should be observed to ensure the contestant's successful performance. This is why your first time at the championship will be extremely challenging. There are plenty of clauses in the rules that you will find difficult to figure out without assistance. So, in their first year, most contestants find themselves just trying to understand what is happening during their 15-minute performance. 

If you strive for results "here and now" though, the best option is to request the services of an experienced coach. 

2. Select a coffee that inspires you

The next important step is to select the coffee. I really think there is no point in bringing the coffee you work with every day to the championship. And this is where you need to ask yourself the second question, "What do I want to get in that cup of espresso?" The coffee must be appropriate for the championship. Unless you have an opportunity to purchase fancy coffee with exact espresso flavour descriptors, your next best option is to choose a coffee with good balance and tactile characteristics. Finally, the coffee should be something that you like and draw inspiration from. 

At this stage, your collaboration with the roaster is important because it is the roaster who will help you find "the right beans" and "the right roasting profile".

Another thing worth doing is watching the videos of the last few world championship finals. Pay attention to what the best baristas of the world are saying, what they reveal about their beans and roast, which descriptors they use to describe their espresso and how many descriptors there are per cup.

Check out the performance of Dale Harris in the World Barista Championship 2017 at Seoul.

3. Plan your presentation carefully

You have now answered the two most important questions, so do you now start practicing your performance? No, not so fast. 

Your recipes and drink descriptions are ready. You have had time to note down the descriptors of the coffee when you were choosing it (please remember that they must be exact). For the best result, use the flavour wheel when choosing the descriptors. Feel the difference between a "fruity flavour" and the distinct flavour of strawberry, cherry, papaya or some other fruit. The judges consider exactness of detail important. This is when you should start planning your presentation and writing your speech or, to be specific, developing the concept of your performance. 

Structure your presentation in a way that will make it pleasant to listen to you and hear you, so that the audience can easily perceive your descriptions of the coffee flavour and aroma and write them down, and then evaluate your drinks on the basis of everything you have said. The presentation needs to provide the most important information about the coffee, linking it to the flavour of your drinks, and explain the recipes of your milk drinks and original signature drinks. Does your presentation reveal the reasons for you choosing the ingredients and the brewing method? Do you believe your presentation is ready? Read it out loud or to some friends and ask them if your story is clear and logical. 

Are you happy with it? If yes, then it is time for the next step.

4. Practice, practice and practice

What I recommend before you start practicing is that you draw a plan of the performance station and place all of your equipment and accessories on it: this will help you find your way at the station in the beginning until you practice all your movements to automatic perfection. This is ultimately what practice is for. When you have rehearsed all your movements and the speech, invite your friends over to watch you practice regardless of whether they are coffee connoisseurs or not. It is important to show the presentation in its complete form with perhaps some small changes: your friends will not help to find the correct wording for the connection between the crack at 9 minutes and the flavour of the coffee. Do not delegate the bulk of your work to others but listen to advice as far as minor details are concerned.

Practice as many times a day as your work and spare time will allow. The more rehearsals you have, the better you motor memory will remember the sequence, and the less time you are going to waste on structuring your actions and phrases during your performance. Your presentation's precise algorithm will not allow for anxiety or any events beyond your control to confuse you during the performance. 

After the preparation stages have been completed, the most exciting part is left: your performance at the championship. There is no point telling you to keep calm; even the most experienced artists feel anxious before the performance. Try to relax and enjoy the event. Your aim is to share your spectacular coffee with the judges as the outcome of the incredible amount of work you have done in the preparation.

Looking for more tips? Read Paulina's blog posts How to Win National Barista Championship and How to Succeed in Your First Coffee Competition.