Photo credit: Carolyn West.
Last year, I discovered The Barista League: Online, a digital coffee event where people from around the globe battled against various coffee-related challenges. I thoroughly enjoyed watching episodes of the series. Recently, I have wondered about how The Barista League are able to conduct such events, which led me to reach out to their team.
In this interview, I chat with Angela, the communications director at The Barista League, about hosting online events, coordinating logistics for those events, planning episodes, and more. I hope you enjoy our discussion.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself and your role at The Barista League?
My role at The Barista League actually all started with me competing. In 2018, my partner (in coffee competition and life) Cassie and I won The Barista League’s USA Tour. This landed us, along with the rest of the 2018 US Coffee Champions, on Ally Coffee’s Champs Trip to Colombia.
On the trip, we got to spend a bunch of time with Steve Moloney - the Founder of The Barista League - who happened to mention that he was looking for someone to manage social media. In the following months I transitioned from working as a full-time barista and coffee educator to being the full-time Communications Director at The Barista League. And the rest is history!
Last year, you run The Barista League: Online, an online competition where people from around the world went head-to-head in various areas of coffee. How did you coordinate the logistics for this event? How did you ensure that participants were able to collaborate with each other throughout the competition?
The logistics of the first season of The Barista League: Online were definitely a learning curve for our team. In March of 2020 we cancelled our full year of physical events and in just a few short weeks launched The Barista League: Online concept. So, our team of baristas-turned-event-planners quickly learned to cast, write scripts, edit, and release a full digital production.
The shipping - especially at the beginning of the pandemic - was another big hurdle to overcome. Boxes of equipment and coffee got delayed heading to competitors and we had to find creative ways to allow everyone to compete from afar.
Finding a balance of time between the competitors completing challenges and having time to connect with each other and guests has been an interesting challenge. Throughout the seasons, this is something that we’ve spent some time re-imagining. During the first season, we hosted some Zoom calls that coincided with episode releases as well as producing a “live” finale episode. In the second season, we added a season-long mentorship program so that the competitors got more face time with other amazing folks in the coffee industry. This season, we’re recording all episodes together on Zoom, where the competitors have a chance to interact directly with one another, our hosts, and our guests. It’s definitely been a lot of fun to explore the possibilities.
Every episode of the series had a specific theme, from latte art to processing methods. How did you come up with themes for your episodes?
For the first season of The Barista League: Online, the episode challenges stayed relatively true to the format of our physical competitions which have three rounds: Barista Skills, Sensory Skills, and the Mystery Round. Our main goal then was really figuring out how to make these challenges possible (and fun!) from afar for both our competitors and our judges.
For the second season of The Barista League: Online and now Battle of the Beans, which showcase a larger number and wider range of challenges, we really had the opportunity to get creative! We carried a few of the episodes - like the Mystery Box Challenge and The DIY Roast Challenge - over from the first season and also added a bunch!
Our team has a ton of fun brainstorming together and a lot of the challenge prompts come from ideas that we think would be a good time to complete ourselves. Other times inspiration comes from a product we’d love and would like to feature.
What were your biggest learnings as an organisation from running an online coffee event last year?
I think the biggest thing that we’ve learned running online coffee events is that so much is possible without the barriers of location and time zones. This has given us the opportunity to run events that are open worldwide instead of tied to a particular city.
On that note, we also learned that virtual events are inherently more accessible. An unlimited number of people can ‘attend’, episodes can be subtitled and translated into many different languages, folks could tune in from any time and any place… and the list goes on!
You are now running a new event, Battle of the Beans. Can you tell my readers a bit about this event and why you decided to host another online competition?
Battle of the Beans is a re-brand of The Barista League: Online. It features the best parts of the previous seasons with a few upgrades that our team is really excited about.
This season is really all about interaction. Instead of competitors receiving challenge prompts that they complete and film independently, we are meeting with our competitors weekly for Zoom call episode recordings where they are able to connect in real time with each other and special guests. We also have tons of ways that viewers can follow along, complete challenges, and even win some cool prizes!
How are you planning on recording episodes for the competition? Can you tell me a bit about the logistis behind this?
For this season of Battle of the Beans, each episode is recorded primarily on Zoom, with our competitors occasionally submitting additional recorded footage.
Each Zoom call is planned and loosely scripted in advance with a challenge prompt and any guests who will be joining. Once the call ends, our directors and video editors work together to trim down the footage into an engaging and fast-paced 15 minute (or less) episode. There’s so much that goes into an episode from start to finish but the goal is always the same: for everyone involved – the competitors, guests, and viewers – to have fun and enjoy the ride!
What was the best part about running The Barista League: Online last year? What are you looking forward to in the upcoming Battle of the Beans competition?
The best part of every season of our online competitions has been meeting new folks from all over the world - from competitors to partners to special guests, and episode judges. We’ve gotten to know so many incredible people in the past year and we owe it all to the virtual platform!
What is your favourite method of preparing coffee?
My favorite home brewing method is V60, but I also love brewing (and drinking) espresso.
If you could visit any coffee origin in the world, where would you go (and why)?
I would really love to visit Vietnam. I’ve tasted some incredible coffees from Asia in the past year and I’d love to learn to properly brew Vietnamese coffee. Having the opportunity to eat some delicious food would be a great bonus!
What’s your go-to snack to have with a brew?
I love a breakfast sandwich with a cup of coffee.
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