Cambodian National Barista Championship


A Visit to Phnom Penh

It’s the final day of the Cambodia National Barista Championship, we’re here in Phnom Pen with Tristan Creswick, our resident Barista Trainer/Roaster who has been invited to judge in this year’s Semi-Finals. With years of coffee experience, extensive knowledge of SCA standards, and keen sensory skills, Tristan is a natural on the judging panel.

Having spent all of the previous day calibrating, the judges have established a collective baseline, and are ready to evaluate the semi-finalists. It’s only 9:30 in the morning but competitors are arriving, bringing with them family and friends to offer support and encouragement. The excitement becomes nearly tangible as the Lively Plaza in Phnom Pen’s Aeon Mall begins to fill up.


Coffee: A Global Favourite

It is estimated that an average of 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed each year around the world. According to the Mordor Intelligence forecast, the coffee industry is expecting a growth of 5.5% by 2024. As more and more people discover the delights of waking up to a cup of freshly brewed coffee, surely it’s safe to say that coffee is fast becoming the world’s favorite beverage.

With the widespread popularity of the brew, you would think more would be known about the people preparing it, but often that is not the case. Events like Cambodian National Barista Championship are vital to the coffee industry, providing not only an opportunity for aspiring baristas to shine for potential employers, but also allowing the general public to see “behind the scenes” of the industry leaders. Today’s event is typical of “Barista Competitions” worldwide, a growing practice allowing skilled baristas to compete with one another for a chance at a championship title. 


What is a Barista Competition?

So, what is the Cambodia National Barista Championship? Like other competitions of its kind, the CNBC gives baristas a chance to show off their technical prowess and carefully honed sensorial skills. Each barista is given a time limit, in which they must make four sets of espresso, cappuccino, and signature beverages.

Competitors are judged on Sensorial and Technical skills. A barista’s sensorial skill is determined from the taste, texture, flavor, and presentation of their beverages. Judges are on the lookout for a contestant’s skill in harmoniously pairing the taste of coffee with other flavors in their signature beverage. On the technical side, judges want to ensure each barista understands the correct procedures to making coffee, knows how to brew espresso using the approved steps (in the correct order), and leaves the area cleaned according to competition guidelines. 

Every competition relies on the expertise of its judges. The Kofi team, who have put on the CNBC for the past ten years, has ensured they have a well trained and diverse judging panel. With judging positions becoming more and more competitive, judges are expected not only to have a perfect knowledge of the rules and guidelines of the competition but also be able to work with others as part of a team, establishing a perfect and consistent baseline from which to judge each facet of the competition.

Making coffee is an art form, and the men and women who make it into the final rounds are considered the best of the best, leading them to exciting employment opportunities. Much like the well-honed sommelier, or the exacting sushi chef, a champion barista is in a class of their own and their skills are valued throughout the coffee industry.

Barista competitions vary from country to country, some being sanctioned by the WCE (the governing body over the annual World Barista Competition), and some being independently operated. To make it into the WCE’s World Barista Competition, a barista must first win a WCE sanctioned National Competition, going on to represent their country in the World Barista Competition.

The Cambodia National Barista Championship is not yet sanctioned by the WCE and will not lead into the World Barista Competition, however, winning the Cambodia National Barista Championship is a huge accomplishment in its own right, leading to national recognition and better prospects and awarding a generous prize of a single group espresso machine and grinder. Sanctioned or unsanctioned, competing in any coffee competition is a beneficial part of a barista’s career. 

The Grande Finale

As the competition nears it’s final round, the crowd has become more invested in the individual competitors. It’s easy to catch the subtle shaking of an otherwise confident barista’s hand as he pours his signature beverage, and notice the judges scrutinizing gaze as one barista attempts to tamp his coffee perfectly level, and in all the growing anticipation you can’t not appreciate all the hard work, dedication, and time that has been invested into this very moment. When the final round has been completed and the judges have reached a decision, the winner of the 2019 Cambodia National Barista Championship is finally announced.

The crowd has grown considerably as loved ones and spectators gather in the Lively Plaza for the announcement. The Emcee calls the final six contestants up to the stage, everyone is hushed as we wait to know who has shone brightest today on the Lively Plaza stage. There is a long static silence before the emcee calls out “KOSAL NISAY!” and the young man drops to his knees in an act of pure emotion, he covers his face, overwhelmed by relief and joy. His supporters rush to embrace him, exclamations and tears of happiness can be heard coming from his inner circle. Our resident Barista Trainer Tristan Creswick, a judge in the competition, poses for a photo with Mr. Nisay, looking confident and easy with the tension and solemnity of judging over. 

It was an absolute pleasure to be involved in the competition, to see the beauty, artistry, talent, and determination that these dedicated baristas displayed on the stage at Lively Plaza. Who knows? Maybe the next barista champion could be you?

Tristan Creswick