The First Women-Only Coffee Championships Held in Costa Rica

Feria del Café Frailes seeks to increase the gender diversity of coffee competitions.

BY SUNGHEE TARK
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Cover photo by Sunghee Tark

The coffee industry has come a long way in the past 20 years, with innovations happening in many parts of the world and in different links of the supply chain. The World Barista Championship serves as a showcase of some of the best coffee professionals from around the globe. However, despite the many talented competitors who have graced the stage, there has been a noticeable lack of racial and gender diversity among the competitors.  

This diversity gap is noticeable not only on the world stage but also at national and regional competitions. In order to address the noticeable gap in Costa Rica’s national barista competition, on January 21-22, Feria del Café Frailes, in partnership with ICAFE in Costa Rica, hosted the country’s first-ever women-only Barista Championship and Cup Tasters Championship.  

The winners of the two championships would have direct spots at the national competition to be held in March 2023. This serves as an opportunity for the winners to further their careers and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. 

A group of four women judges sip espresso at a table with a blue tablecloth set up on the event stage. A fifth woman with a clipboard looks on. All wear green event aprons.
In addition to women competitors, judging duties were filled by women.
Photo by Fernanda Carrillo.

Beginnings of Feria del Café in Frailes

Jonathan Ramirez, one of the competition’s organizers and ICAFE’s barista trainer, believes that this event was historical because it paved paths for more diverse representation in these competition stages in the country.  

“I have been directly involved in organizing Barista and Cup Tasters Championships since 2017 in Costa Rica,” Jonathan says. “Despite how many talented women (and gender-diverse) baristas there are in many places that I have worked, not many chose to compete on these stages.” As an organizer, that is something that he took to the team at ICAFE and SCA Costa Rica.  

In fact, in 2022, the semifinals of Barista and Cup Tasters Championships in Costa Rica had only one woman competitor each out of the top eight competitors. It was not too different in previous years, with women always being less represented in these stages.  

Barista Champion Sabrina Torres works at a Simonelli espresso machine on stage, while a judge watches. Sabrina wears a blue apron, has her hair tied back, and wears a microphone headset.
Valery Torres, winner of the Barista Championship at the Feria del Café Frailes, competes on stage. Photo by Sunghee Tark.

Making Space for Women in Coffee

Valery Torres, a barista at Dark Brews and the winning Barista Champion at the Feria del Café Frailes, will be competing soon at the national competition in March. She explains her reason for competing in the women-only Barista Championship. “Since my childhood, I grew up surrounded by coffee. I grew up in coffee-farming communities, and since four years ago, I have dedicated myself to the craft of making coffee.”  

Despite her interest in competing and challenging herself further, she doubted if the competition was the right path for her. “Competing on the stage at the Feria del Café was one of the best experiences I’ve had, where not only did I feel like I marked a path as a barista but also grew personally. However, until that juncture, there were many doubtful moments. I saw very few women on these stages and questioned if I could even do this. Participating in the competition (at Feria del Café Frailes) felt safer and more ‘doable.’ Now I know I can go out of my comfort zone to continue competing at the national levels, no matter what.”  

Three finalists in the Cup Tasters' champiuonship round pose for a photo. In the center is first place winner Sabrina Alvarado in a striped shirt, with blonde hair in a ponytail. The women hold green mugs.
Sabrina Alvarado (center) was crowned Cup Tasters Champion at Feria del Café Frailes.
Photo by Fernanda Carrillo.

Sabrina Alvarado, the newly crowned Cup Tasters Champion at the Feria del Café Frailes, is a coffee professional representing her family mill, Beneficio El Roble, in the region of Los Santos, as well as the Costa Rican Academy of Coffee. She shared a similar sentiment to Valery’s, saying, “I’ve learned two things participating in this competition. One is that with a commitment to discipline, effort, and dedication, we can achieve anything. And second, I’ve felt like I finally understood that we can do (things that) we were told or (indirectly shown) were not ours to do.” 

Looking Ahead

The organizers hope to see more diverse representation in the national competitions in the coming years, and they see this women-only championship as a signal to more individuals from diverse backgrounds to participate and compete in these stages.  

The second edition of the competitions is already in talks, with the possibility of expanding the scope to latte art and roasting competitions.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sunghee Tark (she/her) is the co-founder of Bean Voyage, a feminist organization that collaborates with smallholder womxn coffee producers to build an equitable coffee value chain. She is also a freelance coffee writer, Specialty Coffee Association LEAD Scholar, and Re:Co Fellow.

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