Competitive Coffee Lets Loose: The Barista League

The Barista League Brings Baristas, Brewing Methods and Beers Together for a Fun Take on Coffee Competitions

BY MIKE AKINS
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

No doubt about it ”the title of World Barista Champion is the most impressive one can achieve in the global specialty-coffee industry. But can the WBC champ brew espresso handcuffed to a partner and blindfolded? That’s the kind of thing that goes on at a Barista League competition ”common barista tasks are reimagined in a lighthearted contest more about having fun and building community than trophies and titles.

Anne Lunell and her partner in Pineapple sniff to success, at Koppi Fine Coffee Roasters, Helsingborg, Sweden, Barista League II
Anne Lunell and her partner in Pineapple sniff to success, at Koppi Fine Coffee Roasters, Helsingborg, Sweden, Barista League II

The Barista League was born out of the necessity for coffee people to get together, exchange ideas, be inspired by one another, and have a good time making coffee. It was dreamed up by Steve Moloney, an Australian barista who now lives in Sweden and slings coffee at Love Coffee Roasters in Lund. œThe idea was to create an event where we could get all these people in the same room together without any stress or hyper competitiveness and just give people an opportunity to meet and inspire each other,  says Steve, who is the reigning Barista Champion of Sweden.

The idea is simple, but it’s the kind of simplicity that brings you back to your roots and reaffirms what you already know. The competition reminds you that coffee is not just a job, but a passion. Contestants compete in teams of two in challenges ranging from blindfolded cupping to speed rounds to see how many cappuccinos the pair can make in five minutes.

The rules are loose, the judging is laid ­back, and there is no cost to enter.

Gang's all here. Cafe Nation, Antwerp, Belgium, Barista League IV
Gang’s all here. Cafe Nation, Antwerp, Belgium, Barista League IV

Along with the ongoing competition, Barista League events are meant to encourage people to come together and share stories. What keeps the coffee scene moving forward everywhere is the exchange of ideas, as we all know. While people on the outside may think making coffee is simple, it’s obvious to us coffee slaves that there is nothing sacred; just when you think you know coffee, it changes.

This wave of inspiration is what Good Life Coffee owner Lauri Pipinen, himself a former Finnish Brewers Cup, Latte Art, and Barista Champion, likes most about competitions in general: œYou see someone do something special or weird, and then you test it yourself and see what it is all about,  he says.

Lauri along with hundreds in the Finnish coffee community are excited to attend the fifth Barista League taking place on Saturday at Kaffa Roastery in Helsinki. More information HERE.

Here's a hammer, make me smile. daMateo Roastery, Goteburg, Sweden, Barista League III
Here’s a hammer, make me smile. daMateo Roastery, Goteburg, Sweden, Barista League III

New ideas are exactly what Viivi Ahtiainen, SCAE Finland National Coordinator, looks forward to at Barista League. When asked what the Finnish coffee scene needed more of, she simply said, œCourage. Many cafés are afraid to do something new and out of the box. 

Along with encouraging experimentation and new brewing styles, the Barista League is unique in that it brings baristas from around the Nordic countries and Europe together. Tomorrow’s event will include teams from Sweden and Germany traveling to Finland to compete in three rounds of barista madness.

This madness is another aspect that Steve really enjoys. œTo be honest, I kind of love the chaos,  he says. œIn our last event, we had all the teams come up with a cocktail using either cold brew or batch brew coffee and a small table of mystery liquors and ingredients. Being in a small bar with 30 baristas running about concocting alcoholic coffee beverages was amazing. 

The Chaos: Coffee cocktails at Cafe Nation, Antwerp, Belgium, Barista League IV
The Chaos: Coffee cocktails at Cafe Nation, Antwerp, Belgium, Barista League IV

There have been four competitions so far, held in Malmö, Stockholm, Amsterdam, and Brussels. Stay tuned to Barista Magazine’s blog for a full recap of the sure-to-be-wild Helsinki night of coffee.

Visit www.thebaristaleague.com for more information, and photos and coverage of past Barista League events.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Akins
was born in the United States, but resides in Helsinki, Finland, where he is the head of coffee R&D for Kaffa Roastery.  He loves riding bikes and Ethiopian coffees that taste like peaches.

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