If there ever was a news article that embodied what we’ve found unsatisfying about how barista competitions are promoted, this one from today’s News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) is up there: More than another cup of joe | TheNewsTribune.com | Tacoma, WA.

Over the weekend, Tacoma hosted the Northwest Regional Barista Competition. Barista competitions may be old hat for many of us, so we have to respect efforts to simplify things for a layman audience. As much as barista competitions bring out an industry tension between keep-it-to-ourselves insiders and those with a desire for mass public appeal, public awareness and recognition are two primary goals of these events. Therefore Barista Competition 101 introductory information is critical for the public to understand why coffee professionals do all of this in the first place.

Northwest Regional Barista Competition judges courtesy of the News Tribune Technical judges at the Northwest Regional Barista Competition, courtesy the News Tribune

Jay Lijewski, the coffee program developer for Dillanos Coffee Roasters (the main sponsor of the event), lands two barista competition quotes in the article. In the first quote, Mr. Lijewski states, “It’s almost like an Iron Chef for coffee.” But in his very next quote, two lines later in the piece, he states, “We’re trying to elevate the name barista, to make it something like a sommelier.”

Individually, each (albeit flawed) example is backed by semi-accurate elements of truth. But combined, Mr. Lijewski offers a bad case of mixed metaphors. A mistake like this may seem innocuous, but it’s not just Mr. Lijewski. Both of his quotes are akin to industry platitudes. Which underscores just how confused even the coffee industry is on how to represent the barista and the role they play to the lay public. If the industry can’t even articulate it right, how can anyone expect the public to do that?

“It’s like wine.” “It’s like Iron Chef.” Each are examples of uncreative ways which we define coffee and baristas by what they are not, rather than by what they are. Some degree of analogy may be necessary to explain the basic concepts, but we’re not going to educate anyone by simply coming up with more and more inconsistent ways to confuse them.