Dispatches from Barista Camp

If you love coffee, there isn't a more exciting time during your summer than coffee camp. Barista Camp is put on by the Barista Guild of America twice a year. Kaldi's was a proud sponsor had three of our baristas attend, Matt Foster, Jacque DesMarais and David Fasman. Jacque and David recap their experiences below.

David Fasman is a lead barista at Kaldi's Coffee DeMun Ave cafe and recently competed in the United States Barista Competition held in Boston April 11-14. David placed 3rd in the regional competition before competiting in the national competition in his first year. This is a recap of his camp experience.

Barista camp. These were the most exciting two words to me before I went to camp, and after they have lost none of their excitement. It is exactly what it sounds like, a bunch of incredibly dedicated, coffee professionals, spending entire days learning about coffee and bettering themselves at their craft.  Baristas are broken into teams at the beginning of camp and there are team challenges throughout. Simply put, it is the most incredible barista development and community event of the year.

There are experienced and un-experienced baristas at camp and there are levels of education that fit everyone’s need. Some of us already knew each other from the competition season, but that season can be incredibly stressful and not the best time for trying to actually get to know people. Camp allows for us to learn together and from some of the best in the industry. Excellent baristas, roasters, and coffee professionals teach the classes and run the team challenges. We all grow together.

Barista camp group.

A standard day at Barista camp consists of waking up at 7am and going to breakfast where there are teams set up at different “cafes”. How else do you get 150 baristas the coffee they need? Then everybody breaks off into their respective classes. Classes range from customer service and brewing, to espresso and latte art. There is a break for lunch and there is café service during this time as well. Post-lunch, classes resume. Around dinner time there is generally an optional lecture or round table discussion about hot button topics like microlots or batch brew versus pour overs. By night, there are team challenges like creating a signature beverage in 30 minutes and coffee trivia. We just can’t get enough coffee.

Most everyone is there working on their Barista Guild certifications. There are currently two levels of certification and the Guild is working on releasing the third level by next year. BGA certifications are nationally recognized and allow for professional development outside of internal company certifications. These classes can provide reinforcement for baristas already working within the SCAA parameters as well as insight into different methods of extraction and customer service.

Overall, barista camp is like a dream. I can ramble on about coffee for hours and know that the person I am talking to is just as interested as I am. I get to geek out on extraction ratios and brew methods. I can discuss the baristas role within the coffee industry and how we can affect change. Camp was one of the best coffee experiences of my life and I cannot wait to go again.

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

As with the other specialty coffee events’ arriving is more like getting to a family reunion than anything else. It’s always wonderful to be surrounded by some of the greatest minds in the industry along with some of the newest minds. Camp is always an amazing learning experience and my second year here was amazing.

One of my favorite things about camp is the community. It’s a great opportunity to get together and share ideas and theories as well as ways to grow the industry. My biggest takeaway was the sharing of ideas. When I first started in coffee common practice was for coffee professionals to keep ideas to themselves. Now the industry is very open to sharing ideas – it continues to amaze me how open we’ve become as an industry.

I got the opportunity to take my Level 2 classes at camp, which was a great opportunity. The classes are industry recognized classes and Level 2 is currently the highest they go. There are always things for me to even learn in these classes. One of my favorite things is always hearing how people someone else teaches similar classes to what I get to teach. There are always new ways to explain things and train people that gets me excited about what I love: teaching.

There were also some really great group discussions that I got to take part in. They do a panel called Symposium at Camp that is always one of my favorite topics. Symposium normally happens at the same time as the competitions so most of us don’t tend to get to go due to that. They bring it to camp though and we get a chance to discuss huge topics. This year we discussed how to make farms more sustainable and increase quality. It’s always a huge subject that gets us thinking about how we can impact the industry from our cafes.

World latte art competition espresso machine by Dalla Corte Espresso Systems.

Another big discussion was batch brew vs hand brew as well as it’s pros and cons. It was set up in more of a debate format where we got an opportunity to share and discuss theories. There wasn’t a clear winner, but we discussed ways to make both better and more accessible for our guests.

All in all, camp was a great opportunity to learn from one another about the one thing that we all love. I can’t wait to get more involved with the industry and see what we can do to work together to change it. There is still so much for us all to learn, but I’m happy to be part of an amazing community and support group.