Questions have been raised about the professionalism of the World Barista Championship (WBC), the 2006 competition for which took place in Bern this summer during the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) World of Coffee event, after it emerged that the Head Judge in the final round had been a coach to the winner of event, the runner up and several other finalists.

Speaking exclusively to C&CI, Doug Zell, CEO of Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, who is a member of the Board of Directors of the WBC, confirmed that the Head Judge in the final round of what was the seventh WBC, Fritz Storm, has acted as a coach to all of the finalists at some point in time, with the exception of the fourth placed finalist, Anne Lunnell of Sweden.

“Fritz Storm had, prior to the event, in fact coached or trained several of the competitors in the competition in the years 2004-2006,” Zell confirmed to C&CI. These include the winner of the 2006 event, Claus Thomsen, from Denmark; the runner up, Sammy Piccolo, from Canada; third placed Matthew Riddle, from the US; fifth placed James Hoffmann, from the UK; and sixth placed Ingbjorg Jona, from Iceland.

In the final round of the competition, Zell explained, the Head Judge does not have a voting role, and is in charge of procedures. However, he was unable to confirm whether Storm had played an active role as a voting judge in earlier rounds of the competition, or whether other judges – who may have had a voting role – may also have judged baristas with whom they had a working relationship.

Storm is a professional barista trainer. His impartiality as a judge has not been questioned, but Zell acknowledged that the WBC event is still evolving from one run by volunteers to a more professional set-up, and acknowledged that the organisers of the WBC needed to “take steps in the right direction.”

The WBC produced a 17 page document, Judge Rules & Regulations, for the 2006 WBC which can be found on the WBC web site. The document states that: “Anyone who has not competed in a WBC sanctioned barista competition after the 2005 WEB leading up to the 2006 WBC is eligible to become a WBC judge once they have successfully completed and passed the 2006 WBC Judges Certification Workshop.” The document lays down how judges should prepare for the event, and how they should behave during it, but does not preclude individuals who have, or are coaching competitors from acting as judges.