Playing Leaderboard, the Arcade-Inspired Coffee Game

We sat down to try the newest version of the game—a fun opportunity to learn more about coffee while vying for cool coffee prizes. 


Photos by Tanya Nanetti

I’ve never been much into video games, except for the classic arcade games of my youth.  

Growing up in the ‘80s meant playing Tetris, Puzzle Bobble, and Street Fighter. I often spent long afternoons in dark arcades lit only by the vivid colors of arcade consoles. 

That’s why I was drawn to Leaderboard: The Coffee Game, an arcade-themed game that has my biggest obsession at its core: specialty coffee. It looked fun, promising the chance to try a huge variety of coffees, as well as the opportunity to win a bunch of cool coffee prizes. 

Finally, the box containing the ninth season of the game was delivered to my door. I gathered a bunch of coffee friends together to play the game. 

A view of the purple and black mystery coffee bags, unopened on the table, with the Leaderboard game guidebook and cupping vessels ready to be used.
Each Leaderboard game comes with 10 mystery coffees, a brewing journal, Third Wave Water packets, and access to coaches and online info to help find answers.

Inside the Box

The fun started even before playing, simply by taking a look at the cool contents of the Leaderboard box. It contained 10 retro-designed bags of mystery coffees, a tasting journal, an instruction card, and a quiz format, plus five sticks of Third Wave Water, helpful for brewing (or cupping) better coffee. 

Reading the quiz, we soon discovered we were in trouble.  

The questions weren’t “easy,” like indicating flavor notes. They were much more specific; in what area and country was a particular coffee grown? What was its dominant variety? Was it decaf or low-caf? Was it a washed, natural, or honey processed coffee?

Close up of coffee beans before being ground and brewed.
Questions involved processing style, elevation, variety, and more.

The Leaderboard game already looked complicated, and those were just the one-point questions! 

Imagine our difficulty with the three-point questions, which asked players to compare two specific coffees by deciding, for instance, which one was grown at a higher elevation, or which one (of all 10) won second place at a Cup of Excellence competition! 

Without further delay, it was time to start the game, tasting the 10 mysterious coffees while searching for the answers. 

Pinpointing Coffees

For a couple of hours, we cupped the 10 coffees—three rounds of cupping/analyzing every single coffee and trying to compare it with the previous ones. Ben, our Q Grader friend and the most experienced among us, was able to point out—almost without hesitation—which specific geographical area a particular coffee came from.  

Four players gather around the table, ready to start the game.
Everyone who played the game brought information that helped pinpoint the coffees on hand.

Dri, a roaster and barista, knew all about the different types of roasting. She was the first to recognize the coffees of her native Brazil in just a few sips. 

Emily, Spencer, Endri and I helped answer all the other questions. One of us knew all about the new Sidra varietal. Someone else—who loves drinking washed coffee—recognized their favorite process in seconds. 

Everyone had a different favorite; everyone had doubts and certainties. 

To confirm the latest uncertainties, we proceeded to brew some of the coffees we had doubts about. Four V60s later, we had clearer ideas. 

Players hold cupping spoons, tasting coffees as they go and making notes.
Multiple cuppings yielded more accurate results.

Submitting Game Answers

Back home, it was time to submit our answers through an old-school, arcade-esque (but functional) interface. I quickly uploaded all our selected answers, and that was it. 

There was nothing left to do but wait for the results of Season 9. We’re hoping (but not fully believing) we’ll see our name among the high scores of the new season. 

Five vessels with ground coffee await hot water. A large Acaia scale sits on the left. There are three cups of water for spoon rinsing.
Leaderboard is a fun way to test your coffee knowledge and learn from friends while you play.

Brewing Knowledge

All in all, playing Leaderboard—besides being extremely fun—was a good reminder of just how much there is to learn about coffee, and how little we still know.

That’s why the best way to play it is with a bunch of coffee friends, whether they’re Q Graders, roasters, baristas, or simply coffee lovers. Every single player will add value (and often some specific piece of knowledge that apparently is known only by them), fun, and growth opportunities to the team.

Registration for Season 10 will open soon on Leaderboard’s website.


Tanya Nanetti (she/her) is a specialty-coffee barista, a traveler, and a dreamer. When she’s not behind the coffee machine (or visiting some hidden corner of the world), she’s busy writing for Coffee Insurrection, a website about specialty coffee that she’s creating along with her boyfriend. 

About baristamagazine 2137 Articles
Barista Magazine is the leading trade magazine in the world for the professional coffee community.