Preparing for USBC: In-House Barista Competitions

photo By Colin Whitcomb, Madcap Coffee, BGA Executive Council

This year’s barista competition season is underway. With the stakes higher than ever, we’ve been providing resources to ensure that competitors are ready to impress during their 15 minutes.

One method for preparing for a barista competition is to have an in-house competition. For some, having an in-house competition is necessary because the number of potential competitors exceeds the number of spots one company is allowed. For others, an in-house competition provides an opportunity to work some nerves out, get some feedback, and get the feel of going through an entire 15 minutes in front of an audience.


To get a bit more perspective on how some companies utilize an in-house barista competition, I reached out to baristas at Peregrine Espresso in DC, and Stone Creek Coffee in Milwaukee.

First we have a bit about the how’s and why’s of an in-house comp by Dawn Shanks of Peregrine Espresso:

"At Peregrine, I'm lucky to work with a group of exceptional people who all care about each other. That doesn't mean, however, that we can't get a little competitive amongst ourselves every once in awhile. Once a year we have an In-House competition, which feels like a scaled down USBC, complete with sensory and tech judges, a head judge and score sheets. Rules for the competitors are mostly modeled after the ones in the USBC Rules and Regs Handbook.

Staff from all three of our locations come together for this, and competitors range from competition veterans and our newest staff; anyone is welcome to participate. The presentations range from thoughtful, professional narratives to funny, almost slapstick routines. Heckling and cheering are in no short supply amongst the audience as they pass around snacks and drinks. The winners are announced at the end, and score sheets are given back with the opportunity for going over them with the judges.

The parallels to the big USBC competitions are not an accident; although you can participate in In-House just for kicks it's also our way of deciding who will be our competitors at our regional competition and Coffeefest's America's Best Coffeehouse. The other reasons for getting together for this is our belief that competition experience can help a barista grow in talent and passion, and also it's just fun to get all three stores together and showcase some talent.

photo[1]If you want to set something up like this in your shop, get on board with managers and owners about what In-House will look like from an event planning perspective first. Figure out time, location and refreshment logistics. If you have a lot of interested competitors, try to do it at a time when the shop is closed or work with the scheduling manager to make sure you have the store coverage you need while the competition is off- site.

It helps if at least one person on staff is familiar with USBC format and has competed, judged or participated in some capacity. If not, read the USBC handbook, watch some videos and reach out to fellow BGA members who have experience for some nuts and bolts advice.

Make sure at least one person involved is a point person for potential competitors who have questions and want help putting together a presentation. At Peregrine, the store trainers made sure we had standing weekly time set aside at the DC Counter Culture Training Center and were there to help out in whatever ways were needed.

My final and most important suggestion is to have fun. This is your coffee family and you're all there because you love coffee and your workplace culture. It's great to hang out and celebrate off the clock and relax!"

Next we hear from Sam Brown at Stone Creek where they used a little different method for the first round of their in-house competitions:

"With competition season right around the corner, it is time to decide what two baristas will represent your coffee shop and / or roaster in the regional. How do you decide who the two will be? This is often a very hard decision to make. At Stone Creek Coffee Roasters we decided to have an in house barista competition, with a little twist or two.

photo1First, we put out the word to see who would be interested in competing. We heard back from 7 of our most talented baristas, all with varying range of skill and experience. How do you level the playing field?

First, we started by secluding the baristas and calling them out in a random order. They were greeted with an unknown coffee (SCC Costa Rica Cerro Verde) and some signature drink ingredients next to the bar. They had 15 minutes to get to know the coffee and design a signature drink using: grapefruit juice, cranberry juice, cola, honey bbq sauce, and nutella.

Then the baristas were given 10 minutes to step up and 10 minutes to make 2 cappuccinos, 2 espressos, and 2 drinks of their own design. This setup was designed not only to mimic the USBC, but also to see how the baristas would handle under pressure. Everyone was able to put a routine together and will be taking part of our next round of in house competition."

Learn more about competing, volunteering, or judging an upcoming Regional Barista Competition at

BlogLily Kubota