In this series, we’ll share the secrets of barista competitors. From choosing a theme to how to set a practice schedule, we’ll talk to seasoned competitors about how to compete smartly, efficiently, and effectively.
It’s that time. Barista competition season is upon us. Whether you’re competing in the regional in Knoxville in January or Austin in February, you’re probably consumed with preparation details and figuring out all the odds and ends of putting together a cohesive presentation for the 2017 United States Barista Championship Qualifying Event.
Some details are easy to figure out ”others are more difficult. But luckily, there are hundreds of other barista competitors that have figured out a number of tricks, tips, and words of wisdom that can help any potential competitor. In this series, we’ll talk to seasoned barista competitors and ask them for their secrets, the things that have helped them succeed in competition. Every week, we’ll talk to a different competitor and highlight an aspect of competition: how to prepare, how to pick a theme, and for today, how to compete on the cheap.
Competitions can get costly quickly, and unless you think strategically about how to save and be resourceful, you can end up spending hundreds of dollars. Becky Reeves, who took third place at the 2016 regional competition in Kansas City and 16th at USBC, decided she could not tolerate that. œI’ve been an avid thrift-er my whole life, and I’ve mastered the art of surviving off of a bank account balance of .59 cents, shares Becky. The theme of her USBC competition was about reusing materials and spending no money on supplies, and here are some of her suggestions for saving money and competing on a tight budget.
- Take inventory of what you have.
œUsing things you are already comfortable with is very helpful in a competition environment, Becky shares. If you work for a large coffee business or even a mid-size coffee shop, your store is likely to have spare goodies and tools for you to snag without anyone missing anything. Along with saving money, as Becky points out, you have the added bonus of using tools you’re familiar with, which is a welcome benefit that might not seem obvious until you actually compete. œYou might be surprised but how much stuff cafes tend to collect over time, do a quick look around before you go Amazon crazy.
- Reach out to other competitors.
œJust like cafes, competitors hoard things too. Look to baristas, especially those in your area, who have competed in the past and are willing to share their smallwares with you. If anyone is in the Bay Area, for example, you can come check out a crazy closet of goods I have that only see the light of day during competition season. If you ask, most past competitors would be more than willing to share their tools with you.
- Look for help outside of the coffee community.
You don’t have to just look to other baristas for help. œIf you work in a café daily, I guarantee you have already made a brewer/bartending friend. Guess what, they have things you can use too. Even though we’re spoiled with the luxury of free coffee in our cafes, a free drink or two can sway most people. œAt USBC 2016, I talked to my local brewery and they were happy to loan me a couple small snifter glasses in exchange for a bag of coffee.
- Offer up a trade or services to companies.
As a competitor, you have something alluring to use ”a platform to shout out businesses or partners. œFor USBC in Atlanta, we reached out to a local farm and offered to do some volunteer work on the farm in exchange for some milk to use during comp. The farm was so happy that we had even reached out that we ended up just hanging out for a couple hours, milking so cows, and eating a lot of cheese. Most companies don’t even necessarily need a shout out, but a kind gesture like volunteering, or even just telling them about competition, which most people are usually confused by impressed by, can help you get supplies.
- Make something.
There are a number of things on your competition checklist that you can likely make, which will both save money and tie you closer to your routine and materials. œYou will be a lot more invested in your routine if you make things yourself. Find some old/cheap fabric to turn into napkins. For her routine, Becky made all the trays that were used to serve the judges, and shared that with her judges, too.
All these tips center around one big idea: ask for help! œThe ˜stuff’ aspect of competition shouldn’t have to hold anyone back. The coffee community is a strong one, with lots of opportunities to thrive. Feel free to ask someone, anyone for a hand ”make a plea on Twitter, seek out items from regulars, or ask your boss to spare a few demitasse spoons. œSet your priorities on the substance of your coffee and your routine as opposed to the cups you serve them out of. Keep an open mind and remain flexible, and remember, if you are borrowing someone else stuff, return it better than you got it.”
This will be a weekly series running every Saturday until the Austin Qualifying Champs event this February. Check in for more stories, tips, and secrets to mastering barista competition.