The importance of coffee competitions

Featured image courtesy of @SCA_UK

As we’re midway through the 2019 UKBC preliminary heats, it’s perhaps a good time to reflect on our view of the importance of coffee competitions.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to welcome Kasjan Orzol to the Formative team. Kasjan, who’s contributed this article, brings a great deal of passion, knowledge, and direction to Formative.
Ian Kissick


Competitions in the coffee industry are often small events, but they maintain a passionate following. They are not ideal, but they are of great importance on many levels.

Not only do they offer opportunities for personal development, but they help progress the whole industry, as well as highlighting important issues facing quality-focussed coffee. That’s why, here at Formative, we are very interested in competition.

Industry development

The competition stage is a prominent platform to share new ideas or talk about matters of importance. Research, sustainability, new techniques and innovative patterns of thinking are discussed in front of experienced judges.

Today, no one is surprised by baristas talking about water science, the deliberate sourcing of milk, or intentionally chilling of espressos before serving. The use of scales, distribution tools, ergonomic tampers, or milk jugs with straight spouts would perhaps not have become standard if not for competition. Extractions are higher, coffees tastier, and signature drinks more complex, in routines and shops around the world.

Some of the best competitors bring extremely wide experience and knowledge. Their presentations are educational and engaging. 

Whether you're a competitor, spectator, or judge, there's often a lot to learn from competition routines. From the intricacies of agronomy at origin to increasing extractions with novel equipment, the competition stage can often be as educational as the lecture theatre.

Personal development

Many baristas, seeking to become better at their job, delve into the world of competition. The first time you compete, you can spend weeks dialling in a coffee, in search of the best balance and flavour clarity. In itself, this can change a barista’s outlook, and their perception of coffee, and can even be a life-changing experience.

We’ve found that this quest for excellence is the best way to explore the possibilities of coffee and its’ service. Leading up to a post-routine debriefing you’ll get many, many people watching you prepare and discuss your coffee. Their feedback can be invaluable. Sometimes the simple fact that you are being judged forces you to perform at your best and push yourself even further.

Once a competitor, you’re in the loop of finding exceptional coffee with fascinating stories, excellent customer service and creative ways to serve drinks.

One key goal is to link botanical variety, growing conditions and processing method to the flavour of the coffee. The barista who has that knowledge and understanding of the product served is able to represent the coffee and its supply chain successfully.

And with that mindset, you might discover something the industry has not heard of yet.

Getting out on the stage puts you in the spotlight. You gain recognition and increased value on the job market. Especially if you do well. You might not be offered you a job right away, even if you win. But we’ve found that it exponentially increases your chances when applying.

Public awareness

While some competition formats fail to attract a wider audience, (even among coffee professionals), we’re seeing more and more events targeted at consumers. They increase awareness of the breadth and depth of the industry while showing coffee professionals of all levels of experience competing alongside one another.

Every chance to familiarise consumers with our industry is worth taking. Currently, the coffee trade is not economically sustainable for many farmers.

According to Kew Gardens research, 60% of coffee species are threatened with extinction. But the effects of limited genetic diversity and climate change don’t end there. World Coffee Research estimates that 47% of coffee production comes from countries that are expected to lose more than 60% of their suitable coffee land by 2050.

It seems clear that more educated customers are more likely to make more educated choices, even pay a little extra for their coffee. These choices could help support global research and mean more value being passed down the supply chain.

If we can use coffee competition to expand anyone's knowledge or interest in coffee, then surely that's a good thing.

Recognising every link in the seed-to-cup chain

Very often, competition baristas are proud of the coffee they’re using. They might have not gone to the farm or picked the roast profile themselves. But it’s their choice and they want to showcase it. The roasters and farmers whose coffee is used in competition can reap great rewards through competition. They become recognisable. Buyers from all over the begin to take notice, ever on the lookout for the next premium lot. A competitor won’t buy a container of coffee, but if a coffee performs well, it’s likely that buyers will be increasingly interested in it.

Finca Hartmann in Panama or Granja La Esperanza estate in Colombia are well known for their competition coffee and relationships with competitors.  Contestants all around the world choose them time and time again. But it has more benefit than just reputation, it also allows them to sell more coffee, at higher prices. While these farms represent world-class quality in their top lots, even their low scoring coffees attract attention.


Competing has a lot of benefits. It provides an incentive to constantly research and improve our knowledge and methods. It also gives voice to individuals of all backgrounds and allows them to represent the industry. At Formative our everyday job is influenced by coffee championships - many of our tools, methods and knowledge originate from them.


We'd love to hear your thoughts on Coffee Competition. Just jump into the comments below, or jump into our comments on Instagram.



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