Barista League: Behind the Scenes with Steven Maloney

Steven Maloney, Swedish Barista Champion in 2016 and 2017, started Barista League events three years ago as a way to bring a different kind of energy back to the coffee community.

Originally from Australia, Steven embraced Nordic coffee culture when he moved to Sweden in 2012. In an industry where competition can become fierce and open forums can become closed cliques, Steven set out to create a competitive coffee event that prioritizes fun and inclusivity above rankings and victory. Here, he takes us behind the scenes of what inspired the event and how the gatherings function.

The feeling I had as a barista, and that other people have, is that you see people doing all this cool stuff, traveling to origin, and you’re always kind of stuck behind the bar — you’re making cappuccinos all day, working long hours, and not being able to do all the exciting stuff in coffee.

What I wanted to do was create an event that was about bringing the fun to actual working baristas, making the events as easy as possible to get to, making them free, and incentivizing as many people as possible to come along. We want to do something that’s not strictly latte art, getting better prizes, getting more people from outside of the cities.

We’re amping up the production value with three rounds: Barista Skills, Sensory Skills, and the Mystery Round. The Barista Skills I think of as the most serious. You do the things a barista needs to be able to do, to a really high level. You need to be able to dial in a mystery coffee quickly, you need to be able to pour really good milk, you need to be able to brew amazing coffee, you need to understand brewing variables. Within that scope, we have a whole bunch of challenges we can do.

We are really flexible and adapt the events based on the city we’re in, the host, or the type of equipment we have at our disposal, but the first skills round is always about testing a barista on what a barista should be able to do well.

The Sensory Skills round is usually a little quicker. At past events we have blindfolded people and had them smell ingredients, like strawberries or peanuts; had ten cups of coffee but only five different coffees, having them try to match like the game Memory; guessing the origin. In Oslo, we had five different infusions. Competitors cupped them and tried to guess what the infusion is out of typical coffee flavors.

They Mystery Round is our chance to do something a little bit crazier, speed rounds or handcuffing people together or blindfolding them. In Berlin we gave everyone these crazy goggles and had them brew an Aeropress. So it’s whatever crazy event we can think of that fits in with the rest.

We typically run the different rounds at the same time so there are things going on all at once and baristas don’t have hours of waiting. This goes back to our detail-oriented approach to creating an event where you examine, “Oh, this is a really cool event but the judges have to work 24 hours and don’t get a lunch break.” Or, “Oh, this is a really cool event, but it takes ten days of time and a lot of stress and waiting.” I wanted to cut all that out and make it the most fun in every aspect and engaging for everyone who is there.

Steven and his colleagues will be making the League’s US debut this summer, with the following tour dates across the country:

· Portland, Oregon: August 30th

· Kansas City, Missouri: September 1st

· Greenville, South Carolina: September 6th

· Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: September 8th

Registration to compete in the Barista League USA Tour opens July 10th!

Ally is sponsoring the two US Barista League winners to join the Champs Trip, along with US and World top finishers in the Barista Competition, Brewers Cup, Roasters Competition, and Cup Tasters, for a prize trip to Colombia in September.

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