Watching the World Barista Championship

Watching the World Barista Championship

Now in its 19th year, the World Barista Championship (WBC) recognizes the highest levels of barista professionals, with particular focus on their mastery and innovation in coffee service. Over the course of the competition, nearly 60 competitors will take to the stage to perform their fifteen minute routine for both judges and spectators. With so much happening on stage at once, the spectator experience can sometimes be overwhelming – but there’s lots to learn if you know where to look!


Each competitor will prepare three drink courses for judges using coffee(s) of their choosing: the espresso course, showcasing flavour and accuracy in shots of espresso; the milk drink course, where the competitor balances espresso with milk, in the style and volume of their choosing; and the signature drink course, where competitors can do nearly anything they want, provided that it includes espresso that that they prepare it on stage for the judges. These courses must be presented within 15 minutes, but they may be presented in any order and with whatever approach they feel best represents the greatest possibilities of specialty coffee.

Presentations in Round One are scored on both sensory and technical aspects. Sensory skills alone are tested in the following rounds, with 16 competitors advancing into the semi-final round, and 6 into the final, with the winner being crowned the World Barista Champion for the year.


In 2015, World Coffee Events (WCE) announced a number of changes to the competition format, developed with the assistance of the WBC Evolutionary Working Group and released over a number of years, in order to bring the competition back to its innovative roots. This year’s competition is the first since 2015 to release a rules update only tweaking the new format, rather than releasing further major updates – it’s expected this will have a profound impact on the variety of presentations we see from competitors.


Even though competitors had a choice of nine table layouts last year, most chose the layout closest to the original WBC table format. Only a few competitors – including a number of finalists and 2017’s Champion, Dale Harris – utilized one of the new possible layouts. Now that competitors have seen the creative use of these table setups rewarded by judges on the scoresheet, we anticipate there will be far more use of these options this year. Competitors are also (as of this year) allowed to move tables into a variation of one of the nine station options during their table-set time, but will anyone be brave enough to push the boundaries even further?


Whether they were roasting their coffee on stage or unveiling new milk texturing kit, 2017 saw a definite trend towards presentations developed with science in mind. Given that last year’s champion gave a presentation based entirely on sensory science and gas-chromatograph mass-spectrometry results, we’re certain this trend will continue in Amsterdam.


In round one, competitors are still evaluated by a technical judge for overall technique and workflow. Here, the judge looks for
a series of movements, often repeated perfectly every time a shot is pulled or milk is steamed, that are indicative of hygiene behind the bar. Watch how a competitor fills their portafilter with coffee very carefully: do they use the exact same series of move- ments every time? When serving drinks, do any cups have drips down the edge?

The smallest details like these can lose a competitor valuable points in round one, but with the removal of technical judging at the higher levels, competitors have the ability to completely change their extraction technique in semi-finals or finals to showcase something new and innovative. No one has – as of yet – taken advantage of this little loophole, but will someone finally break the barrier this year?