Emcees in Coffee Competitions: Juan Suárez

Venezuelan coffee professional Juan Suárez tells us all about his experiences as a coffee competition emcee.


Featured photo courtesy of The Barista League

If you’ve ever watched a coffee competition, you know that the emcee is an essential component of the event. From timekeeping to introducing competitors to providing commentary on their performances, these folks are crucial for keeping things running smoothly. Of course, they also add energy and excitement to the proceedings with their lively hosting style! 

But how does one become an emcee, and what skills do they need? In this three-part series, I will be interviewing experienced coffee competition emcees to get a better understanding of their role and what it takes to become one. My first interviewee is Juan Suárez

I met Juan last February when he hosted The Barista League’s La Rumba competition in Bogotá. Originally from Venezuela, he has been working as a green coffee buyer for Tropiq in the Latin America region since November of 2020. Prior to that, he was a barista in Colombia and Dubai. Juan has also completed an internship in Green Coffee with Nordic Approach in Oslo. 

Juan slurps coffee from a cupping spoon at Nordic Approach. He wears a black tee shirt and backwards black ballcap.
During his internship with Nordic Approach, Juan worked to improve his ability to cup coffee. Photo courtesy of Tropiq.

What inspired you to take part as an emcee in coffee competitions?

Part of my inspiration is just my personality. My friends describe me as a “Golden Retriever,” full of energy and extremely social. I like to be the center of the party and make everyone jump and dance. But I must say that my main inspiration, or moment when I said “I want to host this event,” was back in 2020 when I attended The Barista League’s event in Oslo during my internship. Sierra Yeo did an amazing job hosting the event and making everyone party. I wanted to bring this same vibe to Latin America and to the barista community in Colombia.

What can you tell us about your experience as an emcee in La Rumba? 

I’ve been talking with The Barista League team to bring the event to Latin America since 2020, but the pandemic happened and delayed things for quite some time. When I learned that they were planning to come to Colombia, I was just immeasurably happy. Being selected to host this event was an honor. To see all the friendly faces of the Colombian barista community, and turn “La Rumba” into a real party, was just superb. I wanted them to feel the same way I felt back when I attended The Barista League event in Oslo.

Jan poses with the three winning baristas from the la Rumba competition. Two wear bright yellow hawaiian shirts, and one wears orange wide leg pants.
Juan with La Rumba winners Lorena Villanueva, Carolina Pinilla, and Ivette Vera Loor. Photo courtesy of The Barista League.

Have you participated as an emcee in other competitions as well? 

I had the opportunity to host an event by Acaia and Seven Fortunes in Dubai back in 2019. The purpose of the competition was to use their Pearl scale to brew coffee perfectly. I’ve also hosted several latte art throwdowns in Colombia and Peru, the latest being with Milimetrica Coffee in Lima.

In your opinion, how does having an emcee enhance the overall experience of competition for competitors and audience members? 

The emcee is the bridge between the audience and the event. They should make the people aware of what is happening in the competition, along with knowing the details of the competition and being ready to answer any questions related to it. The emcee should be, as the name says, the “master of the ceremony.”

In your opinion, what are the unique skills required to be a successful emcee in coffee competitions?

First of all, energy. I think energy is one of the key aspects of a successful emcee. If you have that easiness to make people jump, dance, and get interested in the event, you’re very likely to succeed as an emcee. Then you have to know the rules; nobody in the venue should know the rules better than you, even if you’re not a coffee professional.

Juan pours a swan with outstretched wings into a latte.
A skilled latte artist, Juan has trained Nipendra Maharjan and Anton Soederman, the 2020 Latte Art Champions of UAE and Norway, respectively. Photo courtesy of Juan Suárez.

Finally, knowing what to say, but most importantly, knowing what to NOT say. There are a lot of different religious, political, and cultural backgrounds in all of the events around the world. It’s good to have your own perception on things, but as an emcee you should manage to keep yourself as neutral as possible.

Since you have hosted a few competitions, I am wondering what you think have been the most significant advancements in the coffee industry as a result of them?

Competitions bring out the best of what the national and worldwide industry can offer. In recent years, we have seen an increase in the knowledge of the community in different aspects of the coffee industry, such as post-harvesting processes like carbonic maceration, coffee genetics like the Eugenioides and Laurina coffees, new brewing methods, and many more.

But competitions are also a way to integrate the coffee community and create bonds between professionals. These connections can lead to collaborations, job opportunities, and even friendships. Furthermore, they provide a platform for baristas and coffee professionals to showcase their skills and creativity. 

A group of people  make silly poses for the camera at a Barista League event. Juan is in the middle, on his knees and making devil horns with his hands.
Juan turned La Rumba into a lively event for everyone who attended and took part in the competition. Photo courtesy of The Barista League.

Finally, competitions are a way to educate the general public about coffee. They provide an opportunity for people to learn about the intricacies of coffee and the hard work that goes into producing a great cup. This can lead to a greater appreciation and understanding of coffee and the industry as a whole.

Overall, I am grateful for the opportunities that competitions have given me and the growth they have brought to the coffee industry. I look forward to continuing to be a part of the coffee community and seeing the advancements and discoveries that will come from future competitions.


Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a senior online correspondent for Barista Magazine and a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work. You can follow her adventures at thewanderingbean.net.

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