A decade since it first began, this year, Starbucks EMEA crowned its Barista Champion for 2023. On its 10-year anniversary, we’ve celebrated with a week of jam-packed coffee action which saw Vaso Papastamatiou from Greece taking home the title of best barista.
A culmination of incredible coffee craft and inspirational passion, the annual event brings together green apron partners from across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, showcasing their exceptional knowledge and shared commitment to the art of coffee craft.
Over 15,000 green apron partners entered, and this week, 32 National Barista Champions descended on Amsterdam and London for a week of elevated coffee experiences and competition.
The annual Barista Championship is one of the biggest dates in the region’s calendar – not just a competition but an opportunity to connect and learn from experts across Starbucks global coffee Supply Chain.
Kicking off on Monday, here's a day-by-day breakdown of the action that's been happening this week:
Day 1 - UK Store Manager 'Limitless' Conference
The Champions headed to Starbucks UK's 'Limitless' store managers conference, where they were greeted by over 1,500 UK green apron partners. The 32 National Barista Champions were welcomed to the stage with a rapturous round of applause - ensuring a warm welcome to the National Champions who had travelled from all corners of EMEA the night before.
At the conference the champions explored the various areas on offer. First, they were transported to the first ten feet at the Rwanda Origin Experience, before enjoying a personal coffee tasting by partners who visited Rwanda back in May this year. Next, they bagged an exclusive sneak peek of this year's Holiday campaign, shrouded in secrecy until its official reveal later this year. Sssh!
And then it was a journey from East London to Amsterdam, as the barista champions boarded a plane bound for Schiphol airport, the epicentre of Starbucks green coffee bean transformation for stores spanning Europe, the Middle East, and Africa—a true roasting hub of EMEA.
Day 2 - Amsterdam Roasting Plant
Since 2002, Amsterdam has been the home of roasting and packaging coffee for all markets across EMEA. The Amsterdam Roasting Plant, or ARP for short, and its partners are some of the most skilled partners within the business, expertly blending and roasting coffee to be served to partners and customers every day – from Blond to Signature and everything in between.
The champions engaged in four sessions to delve deeper into the science and art of Starbucks coffee:
- Plant Tour: An exclusive behind-the-scenes journey through the Amsterdam Roasting Plant, a normally closed-off environment opened exclusively for the champions.
- Cupping and Sensory Evaluation: Learning to identify the intricate fragrances, aromas, and flavours of coffee through the senses of smell and taste.
- C.A.F.E. Practices: Discovering how Starbucks promotes transparent, profitable, and sustainable coffee-growing practices while prioritising the well-being of coffee farmers and their communities.
- Roasting Expertise: Unveiling the secrets of coffee transformation, where art meets science. Amsterdam's master roaster shared the delicate balance between flavour creation and consistency assurance.
Day 3 – Practice, practice, practice
Day three took partners back to London, this time, to Starbucks EMEA’s London Support Centre – home of our beverage innovation, coffee engagement, and partner experience.
It was a day filled with practice and preparation for the big day and for some partners, this day marked their first encounter with the Starbucks Mastrena 2 machine – which meant hours of honing their craft with the support of their fellow competitors. With the Mastrena, one of the many secrets behind our coffee expertise, baristas had to refine their skills even further on the high-tech equipment to deliver an intimate latte and espresso-making experience.
Guiding one another – the champions each perfected their skills in situ ahead of the semi-final.
An emotional day for many as they got to grips with the equipment, setting, and scale of the event itself, tears fell, pulses raced, and new friendships were made.
Day 4 – Semi-Final
The heat was on as the race picked up a pace, and the first full day of finals commenced. Four coffee stations were set up, each testing a different competency including coffee tasting, latte art, and signature beverage creation.
Four champions competed simultaneously, each marked to set criteria by the meticulous judges with three at each station carefully scrutinising each competitor's 30-minute routine, as they passed through each of the challenges back-to-back.
Day 5 – Grand Final
The final day after a long week of coffee craft – and the day we saw the winner crowned.
Kicking off with a surprise, the finalists were whittled down to a top 10... or so we thought. The competition turned out to be tighter than anyone could have anticipated, and with just four points in it between four contestants, the surprise decision was made to bring two additional contestants in to the final and forming a top 12.
To test their coffee acumen, participants were put through a gruelling blind coffee-tasting challenge, requiring them to identify coffee blends and their origins by taste and smell only.
In the famous latte art showdown, the task was scaled up an extra notch compared to last year thanks to the arrival of the ominiously unpredictable “Plinko Board”, which saw coins fall through the arcade-style machine to randomly select the milk and latte art that the champions needed to create in their coffee. It was up to pure fate whether champions were to create their designs out of oat, whole milk, skimmed milk, or the dreaded almond...
After calculating the scores from the nail-biting Latte Art head-to-head, the top three finalists were announced, with Vaso from Greece, Valentina from the Milan Roastery, and Burak from Turkey making it through to the final round.
As a fun (and caffeine) filled week full of sensational coffee craft and emotion drew to a close, the anticipation grew as the three final pitches were shared by the three finalists: their last chance to prove their passion and impressive knowledge on all things coffee. After the judge's final deliberation, in a confetti rainfall, Vaso Papastamatiou from Greece was crowned the champion of champions and EMEA Barista Champion 2023.
With their passion and expertise on full display, the National Champions not only showcased their extensive coffee craft but also their shared commitment to delivering exceptional experiences to customers around the world. The Starbucks EMEA Barista Championship, now in its 10th year, continues to be a remarkable testament to the dedication and talent of green apron partners who bring the magic of Starbucks coffee to life every day. Here’s to the next 10 years and Vaso, the new EMEA Barista Champion.