Last week, Bogota became the first coffee producing country to host the World Barista Championship. Since coffee is an important part of Colombian economy and culture, we couldn’t not post something about it here. We asked barista and coffee expert Bill McAllister to share his thoughts.
by Bill McAllister (@bill_mcallister)
The world of coffee geeks was a-buzz this past week as the World Barista Championship (WBC) took place. “They have competitions for this sort of thing?” you might be asking. They sure do. Baristas from over 50 countries demonstrated their abilities and knowledge in front of a panel of judges to determine a winner. Competitors are judged on how tasty their espresso and cappuccino are, and the virtues of a signature drink. Other aspects considered include customer service and technical proficiency with the coffee equipment used.
This event has always taken place in, and is dominated by residents of, a coffee consuming country, i.e. America, England, Japan. This year, however, the WBC was held in Bogota, bringing the competition to a coffee producing country for the first time ever. For coffee professionals, holding the WBC in a coffee country is a big deal. However, the immediate ramifications of this are not industry shattering; after all, the WBC does not see widespread news coverage such as what the World Cup or Olympics does, and so this precedent will largely go unnoticed. It does indicate the growth of a trend within the coffee industry to focus more on the origin of coffee as epitomized by news-making coffee roasters such as Stumptown and La Colombe.
This ongoing development is wonderfully illustrated in Alejandro Mendez, the competitor representing El Salvador, taking home first place. No past winner has ever hailed from a coffee producing country, and so this is a remarkable bridging of the gap between producer and consumer. What made Mendez’ performance particularly noteworthy was his signature drink. In barista competitions the signature drink must include espresso and whatever other non-alcohol ingredients the barista wishes. The drink should be tasty and, for lack of a better description, be compelling. Good signature drinks might help tell the coffee’s story, highlight the qualities of the coffee, or use its flavors in an interesting and unexpected way. Mendez made a drink using coffee flowers, dried coffee fruit, and the inner mucilage that exists between bean and fruit, as well as espresso. All of the former ingredients are normally discarded, but he was able to utilize them to make something delicious.
In awarding Mendez with first place, the judges of the WBC have rewarded inquiry and understanding of coffee at its source. As a greater trend, everybody looks to benefit. Consumers and coffee professionals are better understanding coffee as a plant and the role it has in the countries where it grows, such as Colombia and El Salvador; as this happens farmers will continue to be recognized and paid more for high quality coffee they grow; and then we, the consumers, have more tasty coffee to drink.