A week ago, the SCA announced a modified structure to the 2018 US Coffee Championships, specifically the Barista Championship and Brewers Cup. The new format adds a series of micro-regionals that feed into the two national qualifying events. The three to six new sub-qualifiers are as yet to be announced, but will happen in fall 2017 (that’s soon!). Competitors in these micro-regional events for both the Barista Championship and the Brewers Cup will use a compulsory coffee provided for them. Participants will be allowed to bring their own grinders, but it is not required.

The overall effect is to help defray the cost of competing, one of the factors keeping new baristas from entering these events, as well as opening up more spots for competitors. The past two years have seen the number of would-be Barista Championship and Brewers Cup competitors far outnumber the spaces available, often leaving rookies and comp vets alike out in the proverbial cold.

The intent of these changes is clear, but how successful are they at achieving their goals, and perhaps more importantly, how problematic? In a recent think piece, Counter Culture roaster RJ Joseph breaks down the pros and cons as she sees them. The upsides noted are the increased number of spots, the removing of cost as a barrier of entry, and the corollary benefit of the compulsory coffee keeping the events from being “buying competitions” or “gesha competitions.”

And yet, many of the potential downsides Joseph notes run directly counter to the SCA’s stated inclusivity goals with the new format. She points out the obvious: adding an additional round, while doing so in an attempt to open up more spots and make it cheaper to compete, increases the overall cost of the competition cycle for a competitor that makes it to the national level.

I will say that, as a means of allowing more folks compete and to do so at a fraction of the cost, I think that the addition micro-regional is a step in the right direction. That is to say, the people making it to the national level for whom the new round brings an additional cost are not the same as those getting their first taste of competition life, one afforded them by the inclusivity offered by a micro-regional. Nonetheless, Joseph’s point remains valid.

Another potential downfall Joseph notes is that “yearly format changes are barriers in themselves.” The changes “make it hard for potential competitors, judges, volunteers and competitor-sponsoring companies to know what to expect and budget,” and the changes are often made reactively, from feedback after the changes have been announced.

Even with the potential drawbacks, the changes show that the SCA is striving to make changes for the better. They are listening, but as RJ Joseph’s thoughts on the changes bring into focus, this is not a perfect solution and there are no easy answers. We’ll be watching closely as the first of the pre-regionals is announced for fall 2017.

Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network.

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