Behind the steady hiss of steaming milk, the whirl of blenders and the splash of coffee filling cups in Starbucks® stores, you’ll find passionate, hard-working baristas who handcraft beverages for more than 75 million customers around the world each week.
Starbucks has recognized baristas and their beverage artistry through Barista Championships in Europe and across the China Asia Pacific region for the past few years. And, for the first time, Starbucks is doing the same in America by conducting the 2015 U.S. Barista Championships.
The championships began in mid-February as regional directors held district-level competitions in communities across the country. Semi-finals took place from March through May with more than 100 baristas moving forward to the final round of competition that began on June 1. When finals are complete later this summer, there will be 18 champions representing regions across the U.S.
During the finals, baristas compete in three categories: Barista Craft, Signature Beverage and Personal Coffee Tastings. Baristas showcase their latte art skills, create their own signature beverage using ingredients that currently exist in Starbucks® stores and provide a coffee tasting of their choosing. That tasting may include a food pairing, music or any other sensory experience that enhances the coffee experience.
Growing up on a coffee farm
Store manager Ivan Rizo-Pineda won the finals in the Western Mountain region earlier this month. Ivan grew up on a coffee farm in Nicaragua that his great-grandparents started and passed down to his father. He understands and appreciates the journey that coffee takes from the farm to the cup.
“I started drinking coffee at a very early age,” said Rizo-Pineda. “I remember waking up early in the morning to wash coffee beans with my father before eating a breakfast of coffee, fresh tortillas and cheese that my mother would make.”
Rizo-Pineda joined Starbucks in the fall of 2012 as an assistant store manager in Carson City, Nevada. He enjoys sharing stories about the origin of coffee and how his father taught him to process coffee cherries. He was able to bring his childhood experience and culture into his presentation at the Barista Championships.
“I created a coffee tasting that was very personal to me,” said Rizo-Pineda. “I shared a Starbucks Reserve® coffee called Nicaragua Cabo Azul. It comes from the Matagalpa district, which is only two and half hours away from where I grew up.”
Celebrating craft, igniting coffee passion
Bryce Conrad received top honors at the regional finals in the Pacific Northwest.
“I read about the championships in the UK and thought it was great that Starbucks was encouraging baristas to share their love of coffee,” said Conrad. “With the encouragement of my store manager, I decided to apply.”
What started out as an interest for cooking turned into a love for coffee when Conrad joined Starbucks as a barista in Spanaway, Washington in 2013.
“I began working in a restaurant kitchen when I was just 16,” said Conrad. “When I got to Starbucks, I had the chance to branch out, to be out front instead of behind the scenes. I love being able to interact with customers and educate them about coffee.”
Conrad was amazed by how much his skills developed throughout the championships. “Every level of the competition was a learning experience and it boosted my confidence,” he said. “I’ve also been able to ignite an increased level of passion and energy around coffee with the baristas in my store.”
Regional finalists, like Rizo-Pineda and Conrad, receive two identical plaques to celebrate their win – one for their store, and one to keep at their home. They will also take a one-week trip to Seattle in September to visit the Starbucks Support Center (headquarters) and iconic Starbucks® locations such as the first store in Pike Place Market and the Starbucks Reserve® Roastery and Tasting Room.
Over the next year, the barista champions can serve as spokespeople for Starbucks, sharing their coffee knowledge with fellow partners, customers and the media.
“With the Barista Championships, we are elevating our partners and celebrating their craft,” said Chad Moore. “It’s so rewarding to see them recognized as true artists.”