Beyond the Bean Barista Bursary

The Beyond the Bean Barista Bursary logoI have a confession to make. I don’t like (watching) barista competitions. The UKBC, Latte Art Championships, Brewers Cup, Coffee in Good Spirits… I just don’t enjoy watching them, although I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoyed the Tasters Cup at Cup North. I think this was because, unlike all the other competitions, there’s no subjective element, no judging. The contestants either got it right or wrong. End of story.

It’s not just coffee, by the way. I’m the same with everything else. Dancing? I’m a tango dancer, I love it. Strictly Come Dancing? No thanks. I love to bake, particularly cakes. Watching the Great British Bake Off? Never seen a single episode. It just doesn’t appeal.

That said, I enjoy watching baristas at work in coffee shops. I’ve learnt so much just by standing behind or in front of a counter, observing, asking questions, interacting. Unfortunately, I find I don’t get that much enjoyment from watching the competitions.

So, bearing all this in mind, when Gary from Beyond the Bean asked me to take part in judging a barista bursary, with the view of finding a competitor for the UKBCs, I… jumped at the chance!

You can find out why after the gallery.

  • UK Latte Art Champ, Dhan Bahadur Tamang, in action in 2013 at the London Coffee Festival.
  • As a spectator, you have to follow much of the action on video screens...
  • ... while competitors have to put in huge amounts of preparation. All this kit belongs to...
  • ... Joe of Flat Caps Coffee in Newcastle, seen here competing in the UKBC in 2014.
  • Once again, a lot of the action is followed on the big screen.
  • You can learn a lot just from watching. This is Vadym, winner of the 2014 Ibrik Competition.
  • My favourite competition is the Tasters Cup, a straight head-to-head, with no judging.
  • However, for me, the true value lies in what baristas gain from competing. For example, Lou, from Opposite in Leeds, credits the UKBC for introducing her to a whole new world of coffee.
  • Other examples come from Trevor, of The Plan Cafe in Cardiff and...
  • ... Alex from Norwich's Strangers, both of whom told me how much competing helped them.
  • It's a similar story in York, where Nicola, from the Perky Peacock...
  • ... and Steve from Spring Espresso, both got so much from taking part in the UKBCs...
  • ... as did Gordon from The Attic. As well as competing and winning various competitions, Gordon has also acted as a UKBC sensory judge.
  • That's why I'm getting behind Beyond the Bean's Barista Bursary.
UK Latte Art Champ, Dhan Bahadur Tamang, in action in 2013 at the London Coffee Festival.1 As a spectator, you have to follow much of the action on video screens...2 ... while competitors have to put in huge amounts of preparation. All this kit belongs to...3 ... Joe of Flat Caps Coffee in Newcastle, seen here competing in the UKBC in 2014.4 Once again, a lot of the action is followed on the big screen.5 You can learn a lot just from watching. This is Vadym, winner of the 2014 Ibrik Competition.6 My favourite competition is the Tasters Cup, a straight head-to-head, with no judging.7 However, for me, the true value lies in what baristas gain from competing. For example, Lou, from Opposite in Leeds, credits the UKBC for introducing her to a whole new world of coffee.8 Other examples come from Trevor, of The Plan Cafe in Cardiff and...9 ... Alex from Norwich's Strangers, both of whom told me how much competing helped them.10 It's a similar story in York, where Nicola, from the Perky Peacock...11 ... and Steve from Spring Espresso, both got so much from taking part in the UKBCs...12 ... as did Gordon from The Attic. As well as competing and winning various competitions, Gordon has also acted as a UKBC sensory judge.13 That's why I'm getting behind Beyond the Bean's Barista Bursary.14
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So, given my dislike of barista competitions, why on earth would I positively embrace supporting one? The simple answer is that I think that they’re an excellent idea.

Really? Yes, really.

Let me clarify. While I don’t like them, I appreciate that they are very popular. Clearly, while they might not be for me, I’m probably in  minority. There’s a definite element of theatre to the UKBCs and their ilk, and there’s also an element of education, which, for me, is more important.

It’s no coincidence that the one competition I did get a lot out of was the Ibrik competition back at the 2014 London Coffee Festival 2014. Why? Because I knew nothing about the Ibrik, so just by watching the competitions and the eventual winner, Vadim Granovskiy, I gained a lot.

So, I appreciate the role the competitions play in educating and, hopefully, inspiring people about speciality coffee.

However, the main reason I jumped at the chance to get behind the UKBCs is because I understand how much they mean to baristas who’ve competed in them. In my role as roving correspondent for Caffeine Magazine, I talk to a lot of baristas and coffee shop owners around the country. I’ve found that there’s a common theme in what motivated and inspired many of them at the start of their careers: competing in the UKBC. Another common thread is that they credit the UKBCs with taking them on a massive learning curve and talk of how competing gave a boost to their careers. This applies to everyone, by the way, not just the winners: simply taking part has been critical to many a barista’s development.

However, I’m aware that as the competitions have become more successful and high-profile, so the bar has been raised. On the one hand, that’s a good thing: increasing competition drives standards up. On the other hand, there’s a downside. I’ve spoken to plenty of baristas who’ve said, in essence, that they’d love to compete (or compete again), but that they don’t have the time.

If you want to enter the UKBC these days, you can’t just rock up and compete on the day. You need to spend a lot of time preparing. You need to find a roaster, select your beans, develop your routine and, above all, practice. Practice, practice, practice. And all of this while you’re trying to hold down a job as a barista or run a busy coffee shop. It’s this level of commitment that is sadly in danger of becoming a barrier to entry, stopping talented baristas from competing in the first place.

That’s where the Beyond the Bean Barista Bursary comes in. You can find the full details on Beyond the Bean’s website, but the short version is that we’re looking for baristas who want to compete in the UKBCs. Send us a three minute video that showcases your skills and we’ll invite the best of you  to a judging day early in 2016, where you’ll have the chance to impress us in person.

We’ll then select one of you as the recipient of the bursary, an impressive package of financial support and training, to prepare you to compete in the UKBCs. The best part is, the further you go, the more support you’ll get. If you qualify for the UKBC finals, Beyond the Bean will be there, backing you all the way. If you lift the UKBC crown, Beyond the Bean will still be supporting you when you’re representing the UK in the World Barista Championships.

So, what are you waiting for? Submit your video now!


February 2016: find out how I got on judging the shortlisted entries and discover who won this year’s Beyond the Bean Barista Bursary.

October 2016: The Beyond the Bean Barista Bursary is back for another year!


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