Why we’re gravely disappointed in the SCAA’s decision to eliminate regional barista competitions ”and the method by which they made the announcement
BY SARAH ALLEN, EDITOR
The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) announced today that regional barista competitions will cease to exist beginning with the 2016 competition year. Barista Magazine is extremely disappointed at this news. In a geographically enormous country of 300,000,000+ people, only 35 baristas total representing at most 35 coffee companies will be able to compete in the United States Barista Championship (USBC) every year, per the SCAA’s new USBC format. Does that seem like an adequate representation for the breadth and depth of specialty coffee in the U.S.? This move hampers not only the growth of the barista profession, but also the number of new people brought into the exciting world of competition. Where does one go for her or his first competition? How do new people judge barista competitions for the first time?
Based on conversations I’ve had with members of the SCAA board and the Barista Guild of America Executive Council (BGAEC), it appears the decision to eliminate regionals was made by the SCAA staff ”not by the board, not by the BGAEC, and certainly not by SCAA members.
I served on the SCAA’s original United States Barista Championship committee when it was founded in 2003. On that committee with me were Tracy Allen (current SCAA president, and owner of Brewed Behavior), Jeff Babcock (owner of Zoka Coffee), Jeff Taylor (owner of PT’s Coffee), and other prominent members of the U.S. coffee community. Our objective was to grow the number of regionals ”then only the Western Regional existed ”to 10, and we got close to that goal at 7 just a few years later. The point of developing 10 regionals was to offer baristas in all areas of the country entry points into the specialty-coffee community.
It soon became clear that producing 10 competitions was more than the SCAA as well as sponsors could support. I agreed with the decision to shrink it down, and was pleased when we reached what I felt was a pretty ideal situation: the three œBig regional events that were in place until now: the Big Western, the Big Eastern, and the Big Central, each of which hosted two regional barista championships, and qualified the six finalists in each competition for the USBC. I thought, œWhat a professional format. Competitors told me how proud they were to have qualified at a regional, and how whether or not they won or even made it to the finals of the USBC, they felt incredible accomplishment at qualifying for the national championship for a country that has distinguished itself on the world level year after year.
Per today’s announcement, regional competitions will cease to exist. To compete at the USBC, competitors must either hold a BGA level 1 or 2 certification, or have been a competitor in regional or USBC competitions in 2014 or 2015. The press release states, œFor many competitors, this new system will also reduce the costs of competing by eliminating the expense associated with the requirement to compete at a regional event; by removing the regional requirement, most competitors can expect to see a less expensive path to the USBC. But how is that possible, since now baristas who have no prior competition experience are required to spend hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars traveling to Barista Camp, and registering for and completing BGA certification classes?
Sprudge and the SCAA developed this pretty spare list of œtalking points (posted at the end of this editorial) to be used in response with the official release the SCAA planned on having Sprudge exclusively present, and present as a positive thing for the industry. Editor’s note: Sprudge editors contacted us with the following statement: “We did not develop a list of talking points with the SCAA. Barista Magazine’s publication of those talking points in an internal memo to senior board members was the first time editors at Sprudge saw them. Both we and our contacts at the SCAA can attest to this. This statement is false. We never agreed to “present as a positive thing for the industry”, in writing or verbally, nor does the feature we published in any way make that claim. This statement is false.”
But we have a lot more questions:
- How will people now qualify to become judges and how will the number of qualified judges grow for the future? We’re guessing there will not be a lot of first-time judges at the USBC, because the national championship usually uses the most experienced judges. So how are new judges supposed to get familiar with the competition and build experience?
- Are we to assume there will be no more regional brewers cup events? Doesn’t this deserve to be addressed, especially as our U.S. Brewers Cup champion just took a very respectable fourth place on the World Brewers Cup stage in Sweden?
- When was the SCAA planning to tell Barista, Roast, Fresh Cup, Coffee Talk, and other news organizations about this development? Will we have an opportunity to caucus with the SCAA about the decision, as Sprudge did?
To reiterate, we at Barista Magazine are gravely disappointed to hear of the SCAA’s decision to eliminate regional barista competitions. These sanctioned events of coffee professionals, friends, family, and the general public to a spectacle of coffee craftsmanship that was eons more approachable than a convention center setting, were where much of the heart and soul of our supportive, friendly, inclusive, and warm barista community lay. Further, regional titles have been visible testimonials of a barista’s accomplishments. We cannot express how saddened for the current and future coffee community we are that these forums will cease to exist.
We are also troubled by the method in which the SCAA chose to exclusively announce this information: through the mouthpiece of a website ”Sprudge ”that they vetted in advance to agree with them. Editor’s note: Sprudge editors contacted us with the following statement: “No such vetting or confirmation took place ”we did have preliminary discussions with the SCAA, but no formal commitment to “agree” with the decision was made, in writing or verbally, and our published feature in no way “agrees” with the decision. This statement is false.”
In the 10 years we’ve been publishing Barista Magazine, we have sometimes agreed and sometimes disagreed with decisions made by the SCAA. We have, however, largely applauded the support it offered to those in our readership: professional baristas and café owners. With today’s announcement, and the way in which it was made, that has all changed.
The SCAA put out a press release today with this announcement, and yet they worked in tandem with Sprudge to let the website make the announcement first. In a memo yesterday to the SCAA board, SCAA staff member Tara Smith writes:
Sprudge will be making the announcement tomorrow on their home page, and Peter [Giuliano] and I had a very positive call with Jordan [Michaelman, of Sprudge] today; Sprudge will be our ally and supports the direction 100% and is prepared to develop a positive perspective on this change. The SCAA Communications team is ready to manage the conversations that occur on our social media pages, as well as emails and phone calls, but we also wanted to share some talking points with you that may help you respond to any inquiries you receive. The press release is also attached; this was developed specifically for Sprudge and will not be immediately released.
If you have any questions or concerns please let me know. We expect the article to hit the home page early to mid afternoon tomorrow PST; I’d like to ask you to please keep this under wraps until then to retain the value of the exclusive for Sprudge and to ensure we can manage the conversations effectively on our end.
Last we checked, Barista Magazine was an official œmedia partner to the SCAA ”same as Sprudge, same as Roast Magazine, same as Fresh Cup Magazine, etc. Why was Sprudge given an exclusive on releasing this news? Isn’t the SCAA a nonprofit organization that exists to serve members first? Barista, Fresh Cup, and Roast are certainly members. So are many of the baristas who compete in the USBC. So, then, the only reason Sprudge was given this “exclusive,” as far as we can see, was because Sprudge promised to agree with the decision and promote it as positive.
Was Sprudge paid to align itself with the SCAA? We don’t know. But if Sprudge worked with the SCAA to develop œtalking points to defend the decision to eliminate regionals, we’re not sure what to believe. Editor’s note: Sprudge editors say they were not paid to support the SCAA’s position. We can assume, however, that Barista Magazine and the other established coffee publications were kept in the dark because the SCAA supposed we would not agree with the decision to eliminate regional barista competitions. That was unethical, to say the least.
OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE DEVELOPED FOR SPRUDGE (obtained by Barista Magazine)
SCAA Announces Changes to United States Barista Championship Program
Santa Ana, Calif. (June XX, 2015) — The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), the organization who produces the United States Coffee Championships, has announced changes to the prequalification system for the United States Barista Championship (USBC). Competitors will be able to register to compete at the USBC, beginning in the 2016 cycle, as follows:
- Baristas who either hold a level 1 or 2 SCAA certificate or those who have previously competed in the USBC or a regional barista competition during the 2014 or 2015 cycles will be eligible to register on January 4th There will be 35 spots available, on a first come, first serve basis. Companies may enter up to 3 competitors.
- Registration will open up to anyone interested in competing on January 18th, 2016. There will be 12 spots available on a first come, first serve basis.
- The final 3 spots will be reserved for scholarship recipients; the SCAA will be releasing more information about the USBC scholarship program in late 2015.
In the last 5 years, barista-focused regional activity has increased dramatically. Barista Camp, an education focused event, was introduced in 2010 and has expanded by 400%. BGA Member Driven Events, community networking events, were launched in 2013 and just in the last year, we had over 150 MDE’s around the country. Currently, the SCAA is working closely with the Barista Guild of America Executive Council to identify new community event models that would further grow opportunities for members to learn, network and engage. œWhile it is not easy to see the competitions change, the Barista Guild Executive Council acknowledges the need to ensure we are fulfilling the Barista Guild Mission and Vision with each event. Stated BGA Chair Lorenzo Perkins. œIn light of these changes, we have been working closely with the SCAA to be responsive to the needs of Barista Guild members to ensure that we enhance the value of all events for members. By transitioning away from the current regional barista competition structure, competitions will become more sustainable for the long-term, and valuable resources will be freed up to create new and exciting opportunities to engage our BGA membership. The Barista Guild looks forward to a strong field of competitors at the US Coffee Championships next year in Atlanta and supporting our membership through expanded Barista Camp opportunities, Member-Driven Events, and new opportunities to bring together and strengthen the barista community. The cessation of regional competitions in no way represents an end to regionally focused barista events “ rather a refocus on how best to allocate association funds to best serve the barista community.
œThe BGA has been so active in creating more inclusive events such as BGA Camps and I have loved seeing how many people they have been able to reach and the enthusiasm that has come from those events said Heather Perry, SCAA 2nd Vice President and 2x USBC Champion. œI can’t wait to see what the BGA envisions for these additional resources and the opportunity to reach an even larger community of baristas.
For many competitors, this new system will also reduce the costs of competing by eliminating the expense associated with the requirement to compete at a regional event; by removing the regional requirement, most competitors can expect to see a less expensive path to the USBC.
It was important to ensure that there was still a system for competitors to attend an informational, competition-like event to practice their routines and learn about the competition system. To address this need, the SCAA is working with the BGA to develop a prep fest model that will be member-driven and will follow a event structure similar to regional competitions. More information on prep fests will be available later in 2015.
œTALKING POINTS DEVELOPED BY SCAA
/SPRUDGE (obtained by Barista Magazine)
Editor’s note: Sprudge editors contacted us with the following statement: “We did not develop these talking points with the SCAA. This is a false statement.”
STAFF & BGAEC Talking Points “ RBC Announcement
- Was this decided because the regionals didn’t make any/enough profit?
- The SCAA is a non-profit organization so by definition we don’t make profit-driven decisions. However, it is critical that our programs and events be self sustaining, otherwise we are forced to allocate funds from other programs and events to ensure their survival. This was unfortunately the case with the regional barista competitions and despite several attempts to correct this issue, the event model continued to fail to produce enough revenue to cover the costs associated with producing them.
- It’s worth mentioning that this change will likely have positive financial outcome for competitors too. Unless the RBC was happening in your city, there were travel costs associated with the requirement to compete regionally that will no longer exist for most competitors.
- I’m a competitor ¦how am I supposed to practice my routine in a real competition environment now?
- The SCAA is developing an event template for prepfests that would allow members to host and hold their own events that allowed for community engagement and offered a informational, competition-like environment. More information about prepfests will be released later in the year.
- Why did the BGA make this decision?
- The BGA doesn’t produce the USCC program or make decisions about program elements but they have always worked closely with the SCAA to represent the interests of the BGA membership. We know that the changes happening will feel like a loss to some, but we want to assure members that producing and supporting regionally focused events, such as Camp and BGA MDE’s, as well as providing vision and leadership to develop new event models that serve our membership continues to be a priority for the Executive Council.
- So basically there are no more regional events for baristas.
- Actually, there are currently more regional barista events than ever! The SCAA will continue to produce the 4 regional Barista Camps, as well as support Member Driven Events around the country (there were over 150 in 2015 so far). The BGA is also working on the envisioning of a completely new event model, designed for Baristas in the intermediate to advanced stage in their professional careers.