Partners compete in world’s first Starbucks Reserve Roastery Barista Championship in Milan

 Five finalists, three rounds of heated competition, and copious amounts of coffee

This September saw five Milan Roastery partners battle it out through coffee tests challenging their skills, knowledge, and expertise – not to mention a deep passion for handcrafted coffee. Having been whittled down from 30 competitors back in July, the five finalists had everything to play for: the title of Roastery Barista Champion 2020.

Taking place in the Reserve Roastery Milano on its two-year anniversary, the annual Barista Championship format was completely redesigned to focus specifically on Starbucks Reserve Roastery partners and manual coffee craft.

The Milan Roastery is an extravaganza of coffee innovation and Italian craftspersonship, with intricate architecture, outstanding design, and most importantly, passionate partners.  

The two-day competition was the first of its kind in more ways than one, with the addition of virtual judging to overcome COVID-19 travel restrictions. Each round saw two physical judges joined by one virtual judge, all paying careful attention to taste, presentation and technique.

The five finalists were challenged to pick a Roastery-exclusive coffee of their choice to showcase across the three stages. Once chosen, they were ready and raring to go.

First up was Barista Craft, where partners created a carefully calibrated espresso in a series of expertly poured Flat Whites – cue latte art aplenty!

Next came Coffee Curiosity. Here, the competitors showcased their preferred brewing method, whether Coffee Pres, Syphon, Chemex or Pour-Over. At this point, things were *literally* heating up.

Last up was the Signature Beverage round, where baristas utilised mixology credentials in the Roastery’s Arriviamo Bar. The creative prowess showcased here was crucial, with the aim to develop a beverage fit for the prestigious Roastery menu. If successful, the winner would have a chance to develop their drink with the Starbucks innovation team.

After a nerve-wracking three rounds over the course of two days, only one barista could take home the grand prize: three cheers for 24-year-old Gisella Felice!

We caught up with Gisella as she celebrated her victory in Milan.

Gisella Felice, Roastery Barista Champion 2020

What is your favourite coffee?

My favourite has to be the coffee I used in the competition, the Costa Rica Honey Process, which has a delicious natural sweetness.

How did you keep your coffee passion alive during lockdown?

It’s impossible for true passion to disappear, it’s always there!

How did you prepare for the Barista Championships?

I dedicated myself, mind, body and soul to the competition – a lot of hard work got me to this point. Talking about coffee is such an integral part of my life, it always has been!

What was your favourite part of the competition?

I loved presenting a Brazilian coffee brewed with the Syphon method, where I got to share one of my most cherished childhood memories with the judges. Of course, another special moment was when they announced I was the winner – that was very emotional, I’ll never forget it.

What qualities make a Starbucks Roastery Barista Champion?

A lot of passion and dedication for sure! Not to mention persistence and a constant desire to improve and overcome your limits.

How did it feel when you won the first Roastery Barista Championships?

It took me a while to realise that it was my name being called! It’s hard to describe the feeling, a mix of total shock and joy. Winning the championship really shows that hard work pays off.

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Starbucks Milano Duetto – an innovative ode to coffee, arts and culture