Breathtaking is the only word that comes to mind when describing the 2011 World Barista Championship held this past June in Bogota, Colombia.

No, I am not referring to Bogota’s 2,625 m (8,612′) elevation that had many of us looking for commemorative oxygen bottles at the World Coffee Events souvenir stand, but rather the experience of watching an event that we all thought we knew come to life in ways that were completely unexpected and inspiringly authentic.

By now you have heard that the 2011 WBC was an event of firsts: the first World Barista Championship held in a coffee producing country, the first time that a competitor (Alejandro Mendez) representing an origin country (El Salvador) was crowned World Barista Champion, the first time many competitors visited a coffee farm and the first time that half of all finalists had more hair on their faces than heads… the list goes on and on. Attendance and Internet viewing records were shattered.

The long list of groundbreaking achievements is impressive for an event in its 12th year, but perhaps not something that is a surprise to all of us close to specialty coffee. Specialty coffee itself is no longer an exclusionary club of dedicated coffee enthusiasts (geeks), but is maturing to become a global mainstream consumer industry open for all to enjoy, bringing new participation, creativity and excitement. The World Barista Championship is just a concentration of what is happening in specialty coffee put on stage for all to see.

Maybe not a first, but certainly of note was the tireless dedication of the dozens of judges and volunteers behind the scenes that traveled to Bogota from around the globe, in most cases unpaid and at their own expense just to have the opportunity to take part in the experience and make a difference, even when “making a difference” meant spending hours scrubbing discarded cappuccino cups by hand underneath the audience risers. Our gracious hosts at the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation spared no expense or effort to see that this event would be the biggest and best in its history – and it was.

I watched a Colombian boy ask 2010 Champion Michael Phillips if he would pose for a photo and sign an autograph. As his mother snapped the picture of her son proudly standing aside his role model like so many adoring young fans of professional athletes and entertainers, I could only imagine what positive influence the whole WBC experience would have on his perception of coffee and more importantly, how it may help to broaden his view of the world and shape his future.

As the packed stadium of fans took to their feet and began spontaneously dancing during the festive last few minutes before the winning announcements were made, a new thought dawned on me: this is what we always hoped that the World Barista Championship could be and we’ve just started.

World Barista Championship 2011 Awards Ceremony

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