MILAN – The international network of operators who have invested in a career behind the counter (or behind the competition platforms) exists and has the name of The Barista League: it almost sounds like the definition of a group of super heroes from the Marvel saga, but in concrete terms it is a virtual and real platform that contains organisation of events, conventions and competitions.
Over the years, The Barista League has grown from coffee competition of a small Swedish city to a global coffee competition and event company. We spoke with them.
The Barista League: when did the idea and the need to form a platform for all the players in the industry, from baristas to international champions, come about?
“The Barista League was started in Sweden in 2015 by Steve Moloney. The idea was
to create an event that was accessible for actual working baristas – free to compete,
no extensive training period, no need for specific equipment or long expensive trips
to faraway cities. Whether you’re just starting out your career as a barista or you’re
already a seasoned professional, whether you win or not, compete, volunteer or
judge, it should be a fun event for everyone.”
You organise events, day-long conferences: how did you manage to create such a vast network, and through which channels do you connect everyone?
“Yes, we have grown to do sold-out events and competitions all around the world.
This year we have a season of events spanning across Europe and the UK, as well
as Canada, North and South America, and Australia. We also throw parties during
big trade show weeks and, on occasion, work with partners to produce white label
events and projects for them using our expertise, networks and experience.
We believe that the success of The Barista League is quite simply owing to the
desire within the coffee industry for more community-driven and accessible events.
From the very first event our ambition is that 100% of the people who attend want to
come back. If we achieve that then we have succeeded. Because of that mission
we see a lot of returning faces and are seeing more and more of our events sell out.
We strive to make sure that our events have a distinct and positive impact on
everyone involved and we think this is what has helped us create such a vast
network; be it whether somebody takes home some new knowledge or inspiration, is
able to network with other coffee industry folk in their city, feels empowered by a bit
of friendly competition, or simply has a ton of fun for a night – people want to be
You also create competitions: can you tell us how they are structured, how often and where they are organised, who can participate?
“While we often say that The Barista League is a party disguised as a competition, we
have spent years creating a competition format that is representative of a barista’s
skills and is also fun to compete in and fun to watch. It all happens on one night over
about 4 hours. There are twelve teams of two competing in three rounds: Barista
Skills, Sensory Skills and the Mystery Round.
So, you compete in teams of two, application is free and you don’t need to bring anything or train or prep a presentation or anything. Round 1 is The Barista Skills. Teams have 10 min to make 4x espresso-based drinks for 3 judges. Round 2 is sensory skills. Teams taste 5 solutions and need to guess what they each are. This is a straight up, right or wrong sensory challenge. And round 3 is the mystery round.
This changes event to event, but in 2022 teams will be creating Cold Brew based
Mocktails with mystery ingredients. Each round scores the teams a certain number of points and the team with the most points at the end wins. But we put a lot of effort and energy into making the event just as fun for the team that comes last as well as the winner – it’s really all about having a good time and connecting with other great coffee people more than the scores and rules.”
The Barista League also have an eye on the issue of environmental sustainability: in practice, how do you actively intervene to limit your impact on the environment?
“We are all about the environment here at The Barista League, it’s the only way we
can ensure a safe future for ourselves and for our industry. Our goal is that we leave
a net neutral or positive impact on the environment with every event that we do.
While we may not be perfect yet, we are transparent and in being so we hope to set
an example for a minimum standard that all other coffee events should strive to
We have designed the event to use as few resources as possible, reusing, reducing
inputs and eliminating wasteful practices at the events. We track and report on every
event to ensure we are constantly reducing our impact and we make this information
available on our website to anyone who is interested.
You can go and read our Environmental Impact Statement here.”
How are you structured internally? Are you a diverse team of young people coming from the coffee sector?
“We are indeed! We are a small and diverse team of six individuals with backgrounds
in the coffee sector ranging from barista skills (we have a 2x Swedish Barista Champion), barista training, green coffee importing, roasting, as well as backgrounds outside the coffee sector in event management, community engagement, music, and graphic design! What brings us together is our love for coffee and our love for bringing other people together!
One fun fact is that only one member of our team is actually living in the same country that they were born in and among us we speak 8 languages.”
What are the next steps to evolve The Barista League?
“We have spent the last few years building a team and processes that can deliver
more competitions for more people around the world and we are really excited to
finally be at that stage now. Over the next few years we will be scaling up the
number of events and going into new countries and cities all around the world. And
then our focus is really just on improving the event and making the competition the
best barista event in the world.”