by David Pohl
Equator was a bronze sponsor of the 2008 Western Regional Barista Championship (WRBC) this year, held at the Gaia Arts Center in Berkeley, CA, March 28-30. This was the third year Equator has been involved in the WRBC and it was the best competition yet.
In addition to sponsoring the event and sending a number of support staff to help run things over the weekend, Equator worked with barista Ashlee Shell, who ended up coming in 15th place (out of 35). This was Ashley's first WRBC and her performance was truly outstanding. Nugget Markets, Ashley's employer and one of the country's top companies according to Fortune Magazine (#12 in the 100 Best Companies to Work for 2008), held its own internal barista competition last fall, from which Ashlee Shell emerged the winner.
The WRBC is part of the United States Barista Championship (USBC), which itself is part of the World Barista Championship (WBC). These events seek to elevate the skill of the barista and highlight the best baristas in the world. The winner of the WRBC goes on to the USBC in Minneapolis next month, and the winner of that event will go on to the WBC to be held in Denmark in June.
Baristas competing in any of the WBC events are required to create 12 espresso based drinks in 15 minutes, with an exacting attention to detail and presentation. Most competitors rehearse their routines dozens if not hundreds of times prior to competing, and yet, given all of the variables at play, it is extremely difficult to do well, score high, or win the competition. Seasoned baristas have described their experience at the WRBC as humbling. Those of us who work in coffee know the unpredictable nature of espresso, so add to that a time limit and hundreds of spectators and television cameras, and the WRBC is nothing short of difficult. Those who are most successful in the competitions seem to have a unique combination of nerves of steel, espresso proficiency and stage presence.
From the three years I have participated in the WRBC I have seen a consistent up tick in the skill level of the competing baristas as well as a surge in interest by the public at large. Most of the competing baristas at the WRBC this year practiced for months before the competition, and this showed in the overall high skill level of the baristas. And, this year's event, held near the BART station in downtown Berkeley, attracted a record number of spectators, some "coffee geeks" and other just curious coffee aficionados. The press coverage was great too. In addition to the competition, attendees were treated to free espresso drinks and Clover brewed coffees from sponsoring roasters throughout the weekend (including Equator). The line for the free coffee from the "Fourth Machine," so called because there are three competition machines, was usually 20-30 long, making for a busy, action packed weekend.
Equator is delighted to participate in the WRBC every year and feels it is on of the most dynamic events in the coffee industry today. It is very gratifying to see the emergence of new, highly skilled, professional baristas, which we know is good for the coffee industry. If you missed the WRBC this year be sure to attend next year, if for no other reason than the free espresso pulled by some of the west-coast's best baristas. And in the meantime visit our web album from the event as well as the official WRBC site. www.wrbc2008.com WRBC 2008 Web Album