The Ultimate Espresso Barista Challenge

Robert McKeon Aloe
4 min readJan 18, 2020


The rise of coffee has led to many competitions, but many of these competitions don’t sufficiently separate the best barista from the best coffee or the best machine. Some could argue the best baristas will also roast their own beans, but to produce the very best espresso, one should be able to overcome a challenge so difficult that there is no perfection.

Espresso Ninja Warrior

I’ve thought about crazy competitions before. For university, they say you should spend three hours per credit hour in your course load. So, if you take 42 credits, you should spent 168 a week on course work. It would be an interesting competition to take so many courses across majors and levels to see who ends up with the highest GPA.

For espresso, I think the same could be done using a mix of machines and coffee beans. The aim is to find who is better at making espresso regardless of machine or bean. Anyone can make good espresso from good beans on a good machine, but what about on a crappy machine or with lower grade beans?

Current Espresso Competitions

America’s Best Espresso had people bring in their own roasts and make three shots in 15 minutes using a $15,000 three group commercial machine. The main aim is less who can make the best espresso out of skill, and more a competition of the best beans for espresso.

The United States Barista Championship is very clear about looking for the best overall barista by looking at espresso and two espresso based drinks. Their quote is crystal clear, so I will add it below:

“In 15 minutes, the barista must prepare and serve espressos, cappuccinos, and a personally designed signature beverage for four sensory judges; all while being assessed on their preparation abilities by two technical judges.”

The Ultimate Espresso Competition

I’m proposing an extraordinary competition focused entirely on a barista’s ability to brew espresso across multiple machines and multiple bean qualities. The aim is to test the full range in both machine and bean.

I picked five machines and four bean qualities. The worst machine and the worse blend get the most points for a challenger while the best machine with the best blend get the least with the weighting below. Obvious, these machines could be changed, but I figure they are a nice starting point.

Each barista would make three espresso for each of the machine/bean combination. The judges could be the same for all or just the same per bean/machine combination. The weighted scores would be summed up, and whoever has the highest total weighted score would win.

Part of the aim for these combinations is that a barista might be the best at one combination but not all of them. It would challenge them to understand each machine and bean in a limited time. Even if one machine is a competitor’s preferred machine, they would still have to be able to use the other machines well.

So, hopefully, nobody would win all the combinations, at least initially, and this would allow a better grading between the best and the worst of the competitors, eliminating other variables.

The beans and the machines could be changed. Anything in the rules could be changed. Maybe everyone gets the same grinder. The key is this idea to take all the baristas to the limit. You could even look at bad grinders as well.




Robert McKeon Aloe

I’m in love with my Wife, my Kids, Espresso, Data Science, tomatoes, cooking, engineering, talking, family, Paris, and Italy, not necessarily in that order.