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An evolution of barista competition experience and industry

Jacque DesMarais is Kaldi's Coffee retail coffee trainer and competed for the third year in the United States Barista Competition. She placed 2nd at this year's regional event held in Kansas City earlier this year. 

The first day of USBC always seems more like a family reunion than the start of a hectic week of competitions/trade show. There is nothing better though than walking into a room of friends on the first day there. As always, it was another year of learning and developing my skill both as a barista and trainer.

My competition experience has evolved over the years into a very methodical but relaxed preparation once I get to the convention center. I enjoy watching competitors and try to stay as relaxed and ahead of what needs to be done as I can. The atmosphere of the prep room has changed over the three years I've been competing as well. The prep room is the room that all the competitors share to prepare for the competition and is full of dishes, cups, coffee, and grinders. Three years ago this room was very tense with each competitor tending to their own things. It has evolved into a room where people are sharing ideas, helping polish dishes, and helping taste one another coffees. The entire competition is more warm and welcoming as a whole which I think says a lot about where our industry is going.

The competitions are important because they teach you specifics on what you can improve in your skill set. This gives me an opportunity to take what I learn back to our teams in St. Louis and share my knowledge with them. This is by far one of my favorite things about the competitions. It gives me a very tangible list of things that we can do better while making coffee and communicating. They are also very important for our industry and the growth of it. Most people don't know what a barista is, let alone that we have national and world competitions. A large part of competing is to grow the recognition of the industry. As coffee prices continue to rise we are faced with the task of becoming better educators. Competition gives us the opportunity to learn more about all aspects of the industry to past that down to our baristas and guests.

The USBC is an opportunity to come together as an industry and share ideas and theories. This has always been the best part of these events and provides me with the most takeaways. Typically they come as side conversations about training, milk steaming, talking to guests, pulling shots, etc, but these continue to be the conversations that I learn and grow the most from. They give me the opportunity to bring what I have learned back to our cafes. It is always great to see the level that we are at as a company as well. Kaldi's is one of the leading companies in the industry and others are realizing that as we grow and develop.
As an industry the message that I was receiving about our overall goal is education both for our baristas and guests. We are sourcing great coffees and getting excited about great coffees, but we are not yet to a point where we are educating. This is what I see as the biggest way for specialty coffee to grow. We are gaining the respect as an industry but we need to continue to build on that by providing clear and transparent information through the whole process. I think we are already seeing guests eager to learn and should continue to build on that in an accessible way.
I can't wait to see what the next few years brings for the industry and I am so excited to be a part of it and to have gotten the opportunity to share my passion for coffee in Boston. Competition is something I look forward to every year and I am always honored to be a part of it and hopefully continue to be a part of it.
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