The one-of-a-kind barista team competition and party produced by The Barista League visited Kansas City for its latest event at the end of August.
BY EDDIE P. GOMEZ
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Photos by Paige Hicks/The Barista League
On a warm and breezy night in late August, The Barista League dropped into Kansas City, Mo., with one of its trademark events, a one-night barista competition. Held in the West Bottoms section of Kansas City, the event allowed guests to gather for a bit of weekend revelry and light-hearted competition in a party atmosphere. Eleven barista teams arrived ready to display their best behind-the-bar skills as friends and family rooted for them to take home the title. Blip Roasters, which occupies a charmingly repurposed warehouse space, provided the perfect venue to get the party rolling into high gear.
Blip Roasters features a full-scale coffee roaster and actual working motorcycle shop. The wonderfully curated space boasts a working café with a massive coffee bar and plenty of comfortable nooks into which visitors can settle to enjoy their coffee drinks, not to mention tons of motorcycle gear for sale. Blip Roasters’ highly trained staff really cares about the motorcycle-riding community and making good coffee accessible, so their café’s hybrid approach provides a quality experience rooted in the best of both worlds.
Guests arrived at the venue with The Barista League’s knack for great decorating on display everywhere. Purple moons hung from the rafters, a translucent fog machine mist slowly spread into corners, and plenty of mood lighting set the stage for a night of unabashed socializing and networking. The Barista League provided an assortment of complimentary coffee drinks and other treats to ease guests into the night, giving them a chance to mingle before the competitive action got underway.
Toddy Cold Brew Systems offered attendees a refreshing selection of cold brews while Rancilio Group North America put together delicious affogatos, some featuring crumbled cookies. The staff working at a Poursteady Professional Automatic Pour Over Coffee Machine crafted an endless supply of single-origin coffees. For those needing a bit more spark, a small bar served alcoholic beverages and complemented the full coffee bar’s range of signature coffee drinks. All of this while a DJ and his team pumped out a steady flow of beats.
And then the competition started. Barista League competitions typically feature three rounds where teams of two complete challenges and score points. The first round focuses on barista skills. The teams have 10 minutes to make four drinks on an espresso machine. Then they have two minutes to serve the judges and have fun.
In the second round, the team members tested their sensory skills. Each team member had five minutes to taste five different mystery infusions, then they had to identify the mystery flavors. Each right answer brought more points to the team.
Finally, the Mystery Round closed out the competition, asking team members to respond to challenges on the fly while continuing to stay focused and complete the tasks before them. At the end of the night, points would be tallied and a winning team announced, with the top team winning a trip to a mystery location where they’ll travel with the winners of the other Barista League events from this season.
The interaction of the teams with the judges also helped to fuel the festive atmosphere. The judging crew in Kansas City featured some local fixtures and others who had traveled for the event; the group included Anita Tam of Slow Pour Supply; Brian Roberts of The Black Pantry; Holly Bastin of Roast Ratings; and Jackie Nguyen of Cafe Cà Phê.
After the three spirited rounds of competition were concluded, many of the judges stuck around and made themselves available for coffee-related conversations with guests, providing access and insights to anyone interested in knowing more about how specialty coffee works. The cool thing about this type of access is that the panel of judges represented a wide spectrum of professions from within the coffee industry, so there was plenty to talk about.
One look at the list of names for the barista teams let attendees know that they were there to have a good time yet serious about being named the winners of the informal coffee competition. Competing teams at The Barista League Kansas City included: Late Bloomers, Has Beans, G(ay)oat Milk, Steam Queens, Dialed In, Messy Bros, The Muggers, The Rochy Boiiss, The Friendly Beans, Scroat Milk Fridays!, No Filter, and Coffee Cowboys.
Emcee Laura Clark kicked off the event promptly at 7, and for the next three hours each team focused on doing their best during the three rounds of competition while audience members poured in to watch them make drinks and hear their presentation to the judges. Others roamed about freely, making the most of the offerings by socializing or relaxing with friends. Others danced. Some grabbed cold brews and bites to eat from the taco truck out front.
For a lot of attendees, the best part of the evening happened when the results were announced at the end of a long night. People crowded in to wish their favorite team the best. The crowd literally went bananas after the top three teams were announced, and exploded into another round of celebratory bliss when Late Bloomers were announced the overall winners of the barista competition.
As a spectator, I was left mesmerized by The Barista League’s visit to Kansas City for several reasons. First of all, it was simply good, clean fun. More importantly, the event showed that Kansas City belongs among the top tier of American coffee cities. The event also gave the members of the K.C. barista community an exceptionally vibrant space in which to gather without the worries of being on the job.
After the event finished, I asked Holly Bastin to elaborate on what the event did for the coffee community in Kansas City. She replied, “Since COVID times, we really haven’t had the opportunity to get together. We used to be one of the most tight-knit coffee communities in the country and people knew us for that. … So, tonight has been a really nice way to bring us all back together again.”
Kudos to The Barista League, Kate Blackman and Erica Jackson (Late Bloomers), the Kansas City barista community, Blip Roasters, and all who helped put on this unforgettable event. The next Barista League competition takes place on September 17 at Flere Fugle in Copenhagen, followed by stops in Melbourne, Barcelona, Manchester, and Mexico City to finish out the year.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eddie P. Gomez (he/him) is a freelance writer based in Modesto, Calif. When he is not substitute teaching kindergarten classes, he wanders from city to city, perfecting the art of the food and coffee adventure.