What I Learned At CNBC And 4 Reasons Why You Should Do It!

If you’ve been around the specialty coffee scene for a little while you might have heard about the Barista Championships. There are Regionals, Nationals and Worlds.

The Canadian National Barista Championships (CNBC) happened two weeks ago. The way you qualify is to be in the top four in your region. Canada has four regions; West, Prairie, Central and East. To qualify for worlds, you have to place 1st.

This year I decided to throw my hat in the ring.

Jon Plett Canadian National Barista Championships

Although I have been around the competition volunteering in various capacities for the last few years, it seemed to not have prepared me at all for what I was about to get into.

Competing was heaps of work and I’m so happy I did it. I was fortunate enough to qualify for Nationals where I ended up 7th in Canada.

Through the whole experience I went through times of excitement, hating it and total discouragement. I still don’t know if I’ll ever compete again but I did learn so much through the process and I am unquestionably a better barista for doing so. (If you’d like to check out my routine click here, and fast forward to 1:09:00)

I still believe that the competition is more about “beating the game” than how amazing you are at making coffee, but here are 4 reasons why you should compete at least once.

  1. Grow in knowledge – Throughout the process you’ll hit many obstacles you need to overcome, this often forces you to reevaluate or reconsider some things you’ve never questioned before or haven’t questioned for a long time. For me it even consisted of going back to simple coffee basic principals and questioning my techniques for brewing, distributing, dosing…etc. I was fortunate to have an amazing coach (Momiji Kishi) who questions everything and asks “why?” to your every motion. It’s amazing how difficult simple actions can become when you are forced to justify them.
  1. Connect in the industry – Just by attending your regional and/or national competition you’ll get to rub shoulders with roasters, importers, distributors and fellow baristas. Being a competitor just takes it up a notch. This just may be the most fun part of these events; Connecting with old friends and meeting new ones. This is a very small and “arms open” industry, so getting connected is not very intimidating and makes it that much more fun visiting cafes in the cities of the new friends you’ve made.
  1. Challenge yourself – Coming up with a routine can seem simple at first. This is what I want to talk about, this is how I’m going to approach it and this is the coffee I’m going to use…. That is up until the moment that you need to insert the “must have’s” into your speech, such as tasting notes and display knowledge about your coffee. Balancing that with the synergy of the theme and your signature drink, it can quickly lose its “fun-nes”. As I mentioned earlier in the “Grow in knowledge” point, in the same way Momiji questioned my motions, she questioned all parts of my speech. Why is this or that part important? How does that affect the coffee? What are you trying to prove? Why is it important that you prove it?
    This can be extremely challenging, but it anchors you to represent coffee in a professional way.
  1. Makes you a better barista – This is the most important part. Chances are if you’re competing, or thinking about competing, it’s because you enjoy what you do; You enjoy making and serving coffee and you want to get better at doing it. For me, the training and time I put into preparing for competition has had the single biggest impact on my professionalism behind the bar. I’m a much cleaner and more efficient barista than I ever have been before. I’m more aware of my motions and my environment (customer interaction, cleanliness, wait times) which all together has made me more efficient and professional. This alone is succeeding.

So if you’ve ever thought about competing as a barista (or in any other area of life), just do it! Allow no space for success to be defined by the digit in front of your name, by training and doing it, you’ve already won.

To see my routine click here and fast forward to 1:09:00


2 thoughts on “What I Learned At CNBC And 4 Reasons Why You Should Do It!

  1. Elena Minekova

    Wow, 7th in Canada!! Well done! How long did it take you to come up with a concept for your routine? This is not something that happens in a minute. How long did you practice? Are you going to compete again next year?

    1. jonnysjava Post author

      Thanks Elena!
      I took about 3-4 weeks to come up with my routine with lots of tweaks along the way. My signature drink wasn’t established till about 4 days prior to competition and I almost changed my theme the day before because my coffee wasn’t performing the way I wanted it to. But it all ended up working out in the end! 🙂
      I’m not sure if I’ll compete again next year. All though I did enjoy the experience and I learned a lot from doing it, I’m not quite sure competing is for me. We’ll see what it looks like next year though, my fellow competitors tell me I’ll catch the fever haha.


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