Coffee preparation has been elevated to an art. Scores of baristas, coffee roasters and fans travel to coffee competitions the world over to test their skills, applaud the talent, and determine who is the best in the business. Like wine, the coffee culture has expanded and deepened to include the most nuanced aspects of the beverage, in order that it may be fully celebrated as the world’s most popular drink.
The preeminent coffee competition in the United States, the U.S. Coffee Championships (known as CoffeeChamps), incorporates dozens of cities around the nation in its preliminary rounds before moving on to Seattle, WA in 2018. Founded in 2002, CoffeeChamps has four areas of focus: coffee tasting (also known as cupping), coffee brewing, roasting, and barista (espresso making).
CoffeeChamps was recognized in 2003 as the representative body in America for the World Barista Championship, the preeminent international coffee competition considered by many to be the last word in coffee competitions. Each year, individual champions representing more than 50 nations each prepare four espressos, four milk drinks, and four original signature drinks to exacting standards in a 15-minute performance set to music.
An even more storied competition is the annual Coffee Fest, which began in 1992 and is hosted by four different cities — Nashville, Chicago, Anaheim and Portland. Coffee Fest features competitions in latté art, espresso-making, and cold brew.
Latté Art Competition
The Latte Art World Championship, with 64 baristas in head-to-head, bracket-style competition, is judged by a three-member panel. Competitors are given three minutes to create—from only milk and espresso, with no flavorings—one free-pour drink for the judges, who then score it against his or her opponents. The judges score five categories: aesthetic beauty, definition, color infusion, degree of difficulty and creativity, and speed. First place in the competition earns a $2,000 prize; second place, $1,000; and third place, $500.
For those most impressed by the perfectly-pulled shot, America’s Best Espresso Competition is the tournament of choice. Roasters prepare three shots in ten minutes or less, also for a panel of three judges. The style of the tournament is likewise head-to-head, with winners moving on to the next round until a champion emerges from the original 32 roasters, culled from the three regional competitions (Western, Eastern and Central states) over the previous year. The prizes mirror those of the Latté Art Competition.
The most recent competition is the America’s Best Cold Brew Competition. Each competitor chooses to create either “traditional still” or “nitrogen-infused” cold brew entries.
Coffee competitions allow amateurs to get in on the action, from cheering on their favorite barista to attending fun and informative seminars like “Cold Brew U,” which covers topics such as bean sourcing and roast selection, accentuating flavor profile and Nitro Coffee. The rise and popularity of gourmet coffee has led to an unprecedented awareness of coffee culture: the sustainability of the coffee bean, fair wages for coffee farmers, and an appreciation of the craftsmanship involved—the last of which naturally prompts a desire to see who can do it best!