Being a BGA Member Means Getting Involved
When I discovered the Barista Guild of America (BGA), I didn't really know what to expect from this organization. My only other experience with a trade guild was the IEEE, which serves mostly electrical engineers, and as a result offers weekly lectures aimed at keeping engineers informed. So, the first thing I looked for were free lectures. I was disappointed when I discovered that these simply did not exist in the Northeast, specifically Boston.
My reaction to this realization was knee jerk at first. I was skeptical. There hadn't been a regional barista competition in Boston more than once, the BGA didn't offer free lectures, and there seemed to be more activity on the West Coast/Pacific Northwest. After my frustration subsided, it dawned me that in order for any of these things to happen in my community, I needed to stop talking about it and instead take action. After all, it took the IEEE over five years to start hosting weekly lectures, let alone find members willing to organize them, and it was members doing all of the legwork. For me, this is enough reason to renew my membership every year.
There are a lot of BGA members in specialty coffee at this point, and with that comes criticism, but it also provides an opportunity for members to tap into resources that simply aren't available otherwise. I was made aware of this after meeting a BGA member from Olympia who was helping run a Thursday Night Throwdown (TNT) in Boston during the SCAA Event. He explained to me the steps that he took with TNTNW and how he used the BGA as a promotional tool to help it along. So, not unlike the IEEE, it took people at the bottom to get everything going, and having a solid community as a foundation helped facilitate BGA involvement. Waiting for the BGA to step in and do things is not only unrealistic, it's problematic in that it doesn't actually build community. It's better to get the ball rolling yourself, and then reach out to the BGA for support. Also, it isn't limited to latte art throw-downs. You can host a lecture, a Q&A with a coffee professional, show an SCAA video, set up a cupping, or pretty much anything that gets coffee people in a room together. Reach out to the BGA, they will give you support. Simple.
Aside from event support, the BGA offers the opportunity for professional development through certification. I slept on that for four years. If I had known how beneficial it would be to my customer service skills, or how it would've helped me prepare for competition, I would've taken the classes and the test way sooner. It also allows for objective assessment of skills, and rewards baristas that can learn how to work the bar in accordance with SCAA standards and practices. This part may or may not carry over to your shop, but it ultimately makes you better in the sense that it forces you out of your comfort zone, and it forces you to produce quality under pressure. So, whether folks like it or not, it is beneficial to the individual.
If that's not reason enough to get involved, the BGA actually hosts an event called Barista Camp. This is a great opportunity to meet other baristas in the guild, and makes getting certification easier because they offer the classes, and give the exam, all in one place. It's also the only acceptable form of summer camp for adults, in my opinion. You also get a discount from Espresso Parts, and I'm certain that you'll find yourself buying competition wares, tampers, baskets, or something else coffee related at some point in your career.
I can't make you get involved, nor will I twist arms, but I will tell you that the BGA functions as a legitimate trade guild, with it's scope and depth of operation completely dependent on member involvement. Think about it, a trade guild is only as good as the people in it, and it's those same people have the power to build community, not the guild. So get involved, build some community locally, and then ask for support from you brothers and sisters in the BGA. I think the results will leave you pleasantly surprised.