Although coffee culture began seeping into Australian life in the mid-20th century with the introduction of the espresso machine, it took a sharp upward swerve in the 1990s. In the mid-’90s the term ‘barista’ began to be used for the person who made the coffee. The first annual Australian Barista Championship took place in 2001. It has since become the Australasian Barista Championship and has been held in various centres including, oddly enough, Thailand.
Although the original meaning of “barista” is a bar-tender – someone who serves drinks including hot drinks and alcohol – it is now commonly used in the rest of the world to describe someone who wrangles an espresso machine. It seems the first barista competition was held in Norway in 1998 and the format was adopted for the first world championships in 2000. The Australian competition began the following year.
The first World Barista Championship was held in Monte Carlo. Robert Thoresen of Norway won the day from Erla Kristisdottir (Iceland) and Martin Hildebrandt (Denmark). Scandinavians dominated the competition for the first five years. The rules require competitors to prepare and serve 12 coffee beverages in 15 minutes – four espresso, four cappuccino, and four signature drinks.
Along with the World Barista Championship, there are now a number of associated events including the World Latte Art Championship, the World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship which promotes drinks that showcase coffee and spirits, and the World Coffee Tasting Championships. The World Barista Championship is managed and produced by World Coffee Events, an event management organisation registered in Dublin, Ireland, and founded by the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe and the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
The Australian competition is run by the Australian Specialty Coffee Association. The first Australian championship was won by Corinne Tweedale, who went on to become a trainer for Gloria Jean’s. Australians have taken out the world title twice, in 2003 and 2015.