Celebrewties, Startenders, and Barista Competitions

Here I sit at Victrola Coffee on 15th Ave in Capital Hill, it’s 7 am in the morning and I haven’t gone home yet since closing the bar. Huzzah.

I had a lengthy conversation with the other bartender tonight about why each of us does what we do for a living. I feel I need to push what I mean by “for a living,” it’s become more than just passion or sweat on our backs, I’m talking about what keeps us motivated in our respective industries. We were both braced in our craft and the development of such, and we both wanted to see amazing things come out of the niche markets we artists-type serve. I’ve had a lot of these type of discussions lately and they’ve served no purpose except solidifying my thoughts- Coffee people are truly of a different breed and deserve more recognition than they get. I’ll keep the mixologist vs. bartender conversation out of the post and we’ll skip straight to the Startenders (Star Bartenders.) If you didn’t know already, there is huge amounts of ego involved in the spirits realm, and I mean massive, and it’s everywhere. Seriously though, we’re talking about massive mother f*cking egos. Now, to get this out of the way, startenders are useless. Nothing good can come out of you loving, well…. you and everything you do. Startenders don’t serve better cocktails than other “inferior” bartenders (or mixologists) nor are they uncapable of serving quality experiences or cocktails. The ONLY difference is that people recognize them and glorify their magic hands and pouring capabilites.

I fear saying what I have to say next, but feel it needs to be said as well. We need to glorify more baristas, especially those dedicated to the craft and everything/everyone that makes it possible. I’ve judged a few United States Barista Championships now as well as regional competitions and the biggest flaw is not recognizing more baristas. James Hoffman (and Stephen Morissey) touched on it a bit in the first (ever) podcast coming from JimSeven.com. I think we need more recognition awards at every competition- Best Espresso, Best Cappuccino, Best Signature Drink, etc… We also need more facetime for barista competitors to interact with the general public. Barista competitors spend hundreds of hours training for their, quite literally, 15 minutes of fame. I propose that barista competitors serve their drinks to the public for 30 minutes after competition not only onthe 4th machine, but on the 5th, 6th and 7th machine as well. The innovation and service CAN NOT stop at the judges table, it must continue on to the general public starting at the competition venue. There are hundreds of coffee people who are specialty coffee ambassadors- truly enhancing their consumers service, beverage and knowledge in the name of specialty coffee and it’s producers. The cocktail industry has their spirit ambassadors and their marketing budgets, the coffee industry’s marketing happens street-level at every specialty coffee bar across this country. We must elevate these baristas to not just celebrewties of their respective coffee bars but also actual spokespeople supported by the commmuity in the name of better coffee and the people who make it better.

Raise your mugs!


Categories: Barista, Coffee, Community, NEW, Uncategorized


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2 Comments on “Celebrewties, Startenders, and Barista Competitions”

  1. Nik
    03/13/2011 at 12:18 pm #

    More machines. More specified recognition. More consumer involvement.


  2. 03/13/2011 at 11:09 pm #

    I disagree. Baristas have plenty of events and public notoriety in the public media spotlight — particularly when, say, compared with a town’s bartenders. I will agree that it would be worthy to see the best scores for things like the espresso, cappuccino, and/or signature drink portions. I also agree that a 4th machine, etc., would be nice for the lay public.

    But the industry has created barista competitions less to make celebrities out of baristas — and instead more to elevate the craft so that some recognition of standards and competence comes into play where it is otherwise grossly lacking. Furthermore, the industry has developed barista competitions and who attends them as a purely insider, navel-gazing event.

    Barista competitions are wholly disconnected from the reality any coffee-loving consumer experiences. Judges checking remaining grinds in the grinder? Specialty drinks you can’t even buy in shops? And no credit given for “real” barista skills like reading a customers preferences and getting their order just right or suggesting that they try something based on what they learn of their likes and dislikes? No, barista competitions are some freakish, irrelevant gymnastics event that exists only in some artificial universe to the lay public. And even the SCAA conference started telling consumers they were unwelcome a few years ago.

    Your “15 minutes of fame” comment is a bit presumptive and self-important, don’t you think? Not everyone on this planet who pours their hearts into training and dedication in what they do is entitled to public recognition. Isn’t this what the world has long lamented as the “starving artist” syndrome? It’s not just coffee, folks — so baristas should not feel singled out.

    And showman baristas are the worst when they suffer a prima donna syndrome and are not team players. Because the truth is that coffee is a business — not an arts studio. If a barista doesn’t take their shift getting on their knees and cleaning toilets once in a while, it has gone to their heads and they have completely forgotten that its the customers that keep them in business.

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