Tuesday, July 23, 2024

New rules for 2024 World Barista Championship: What can we expect?


Although it may feel like the 2023 World Barista Championship only just happened, it won’t be long before next year’s competition arrives. From 1 to 4 May 2024, the pioneering championship will take place at the first-ever World of Coffee Asia event in Busan, South Korea.

To a certain extent, as with every year, we have an idea of what might happen at the World Barista Championship. Undoubtedly, baristas will be showcasing some truly excellent coffees, alongside their flair for creativity and innovation.

In addition to our expectations, however, the Specialty Coffee Association recently released the updated rules and regulations for the 2024 WBC

“Rules changes are focused on minor language clarifications to current practices around judging, conflicts of interest, and the milk beverage,” the organisation said in a press release. “Additionally, the tactile experience section of the espresso evaluation protocol has been updated.”

So let’s break down these new rules and how they could impact the competition – as well as any other trends we might see at next year’s event. I spoke to Daniele Ricci, 2023 WBC runner-up, and Anthony Douglas, 2022 World Barista Champion, to discuss further.

You may also like our article on what happened at the 2023 World Barista Championship.

A barista prepares coffee at a coffee competition.

Reflecting on previous changes to World Barista Championship rules

Before we take a look at next year’s WBC rules and regulations, we must first revisit the changes made to the 2023 competition format. These were some of the biggest the industry has ever seen.

By far the most significant rule changes were:

  • Competitors will be able to use “commercially-available animal and plant-based milks” in the milk beverage course
    • Prior to this rule change, a milk beverage had to contain cow’s milk. If not, a competitor using any other type of milk would score zero in the milk beverage round
  • No additional ingredients added to milk for the milk beverage course. If not, the competitor will receive zero points in the “Taste Experience” category
  • Brewing temperature can be anywhere between 90.5°C and 96°C (or 195°F and 205°F)
    • Competitors can also select individual group head temperatures
  • Updated scoresheets, which are now in compliance with the SCA’s new Coffee Value Assessment
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Examining the latter specifically, there are now four types of scoring at the WBC:

  • A yes/no score (or 1/0) for the Evaluation Scales stage
  • A numeric score from 0 to 3 for “accuracy”
  • A numeric score from 0 to 3 for “impression”
  • A numeric score from 0 to 6 for “experience”

Additionally, for the espresso course, scoring aftertaste is now part of the “Taste Experience” category, as opposed to assessing tactile descriptors. Similarly, WBC competitors need to provide descriptors for the thickness and texture of their espresso, which the judges will assess. 

And finally, beyond technical skills, judges are also scoring competitors based on the originality of their routine and concept – alongside wider considerations for assessing the total impression score.

So what are the new 2024 rules and regulations?

Following on from the 2023 WBC rule changes, next year’s competition was already going to be an interesting one. But with the SCA announcing new and updated 2024 rules and regulations, what else could be in store?

Anthony Douglas is the Head of Research and Development at Axil Coffee Roasters in Melbourne, Australia. He also won the 2022 WBC.

“I’m genuinely enthused about the direction of the new rules and regulations for the 2024 WBC in Busan,” he says. “These changes signal a progressive shift, encouraging more of an expression of the specificity and complexity of descriptors, as well as giving more weight to elements of the scoresheet directly attributed to a barista’s ability to dial in their coffee.”

Milk Beverage 3.2

Once again, the biggest change revolves around the milk beverage course. Although the new rule has been added for clarity – and doesn’t formally impact current practices – there are still nuances that competitors should be aware of:

All commercially available unflavored milks can be used. Plain (sweetened or unsweetened) plant-based milks and animal milks can be used. Combining and blending commercially available milks is allowed, provided all milks are commercially available and prepared as directed, if required (e.g. commercially available milk powders may be used, if prepared as directed on the package). Outside of combining milks, no additions may be made to milk, regardless of the type of milk chosen. Competitors can remove elements from commercially available milks (e.g. through freeze-distillation) provided that no ingredients or additives are used in the process of distillation.”

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One of the biggest takeaways from this could be that we see more competitors use plant milk blends – or even animal and plant milk blends. If so, baristas would be following in the footsteps of several 2023 WBC competitors. These include finalist Patrik Rolf, who used a blend of 90% cow’s milk and 10% coconut milk, and semi-finalist Benjamin Put, who used a blend containing 40% oat milk.

Tactile experience 15.1.15

Similar to one of the 2023 rule changes, the way judges assess lingering mouthfeel is now distinct from aftertaste:

The tactile experience that is present after the coffee has left the mouth will be taken into consideration in the Tactile Experience (e.g. astringent or silky).

Considering that mouthfeel is not directly related to aftertaste, this rule change seems logical. And it could potentially make the judging process slightly easier.

Espresso 3.1 

For the 2024 competition, one of the more interesting rule changes refers somewhat to infused or flavoured coffees:

“Coffee is the accumulation of roasted product of the seed of the fruit of a plant of the genus Coffea. For the purposes of this competition, no additives of any kind may be added to coffee after it reaches the “green coffee” stage, i.e. seeds of the Coffea genus, dried as a part of the post harvest process, and free from all pericarp layers. This includes exposure to aromatic substances, flavorings, perfumes, liquids, powders, etc.”

While the SCA again states this rule was updated only for clarity, it is maybe an unexpected addition.

Ultimately, it means competitors won’t be able to use any infused or flavoured coffees in their routines. That is unless additional ingredients were added during processing before the coffee was dried.

A competitor uses an AeroPress at a coffee competition.

How could the new rules affect next year’s competition?

Reflecting on the 2023-24 updated rules and regulations, a couple of things stand out regarding what might happen in Busan.

First and foremost, it would be unusual to not see more competitors incorporating plant milks in their routines. Although baristas may not choose to go fully plant-based during their performances, it’s likely that more will include at least one type of plant milk (most probably oat) during the milk beverage or signature drink courses.

“I think the increased freedom given in the milk beverage course more closely aligns with the signature beverage rules, in the sense that competitors can explore different milks and ratios in order to work with specific aspects of their coffee – creating and tailoring new and interesting experiences,” Anthony tells me. “We saw a little bit of this at the 2023 WBC in Greece, and I think there will be even more creative expression in Busan next year.”

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Moreover, the rule change about additives and green coffee may encourage competitors to be open and transparent if they choose to include infused or flavoured coffees in their routines. This could push the boundaries of the championship even further.

Daniele Ricci is the Head of Coffee at MAME Specialty Coffee in Zürich, Switzerland. He is also the 2023 WBC runner-up.

“We will for sure see a higher number of competitors using plant-based beverages, as well as more in-depth innovation and knowledge regarding infused coffees and/or new fermentation techniques,” he says.

Additional trends to look out for

Of course, we should always expect to see high-quality varieties and species on the WBC stage. These include Gesha, Sidra, and eugenioides, to name a few. And considering that so many 2023 WBC finalists used Colombian coffees, there is a chance this trend could continue.

“I think competitors will keep using Panamanian and Colombian coffees mainly, and a few new countries perhaps,” Daniele tells me. “Pure natural and washed coffees will be difficult to find at next year’s competition. Especially in the second and final rounds.”

Finally, given the surprising lack of female representation at the 2023 competition, we should also hope to see more diversity on the global coffee stage.

A competitor takes part in the World Barista Championship coffee competition.

The 2024 World Barista Championship will take place from 1 to 4 May at the inaugural World of Coffee Asia event in Busan, South Korea.

While we won’t know what will happen for sure, for now, the new rule changes provide us with some insight as to how the competition is changing.

“In summary, these recent updates not only foster greater creativity, but also empower baristas to more expressively showcase their expertise and individuality on the global stage,” Anthony concludes.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on why more people didn’t use plant milks at the 2023 WBC.

Photo credits: Specialty Coffee Association, World Coffee Championships

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