A Salute to 15 Years of the World Barista Championship

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetBy Tracy Allen

Years ago, a passionate handful of coffee folks committed to a vision. This vision was simple: bring awareness to our craft, create a common language, and seek excellence through competition. Thus the World Barista Championship was born. When I think back to the early days, I remember people like Alf Kramer, who spent countless hours formatting the competition’s matrix and flow, and the small group of enthusiasts who came together as organizers and competitors to promote coffee excellence at each link in the chain.

I also remember my first judging experience. Whereas now we have both sensory and technical judges, the roles began as one. The competitor would greet the judges, then return to the machine to start drink preparation, after which the judges would leave the stand and descend to judge technical prowess. Judges bumped into judges—and occasionally into the competitor! It was a little like a Keystone Cops slapstick comedy. Still, through trial and error, the event evolved to its current form.

When I was the first Chair of the WBC Rules and Regulations committee, we started by writing stringent and laborious volumes of both, with hopes of making the WBC an Olympic-level event. In retrospect, I see that though we meant well, it was probably overkill and didn’t allow for the truest form of craftsmanship and artistic license. Once a traveling show operated by both the SCAE and the SCAA, the WBC and other coffee-related events have now found their home under the leadership of World Coffee Events, and face a bright future.

Now I can sit in the stands without the pressure of an official role or having trained a competitor, and I enjoy the event for all it has become. I think about its evolution, and can only wonder what’s next. For many of us, attending the World Barista Championship in Seattle is nostalgic, the perfect place to salute the first fifteen years and anticipate the next. Whatever happens, I know they will be full of the excellence we all admire. Be sure to stop by the WBC Arena to witness this incredible event.

Tracy Allen of Brewed Behavior is the incoming President of the Specialty Coffee Association of America.