On September 15, at the historical Pazo de Lestrove hotel in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, the second Galician Down Barista Championship, 21 baristas with Down syndrome (DS) competed in a very special barista competition. It was the first barista contest of its kind in the world.
“A couple of years ago, we started training people with Down syndrome as baristas, and the experience was amazing for everyone who was involved,” says Carolina Otero, championship organizer and marketing manager of Cafento, one of the largest coffee companies in Spain. “Our baristas found a lot of satisfaction in working with Down syndrome people, and realized that they really enjoyed preparing great coffee, they were fast learners and that, with a few days of good training, they would be capable to perform like professionals. So we decided to take a step forward.”
The first championship for baristas with DS was an informal affair held in Valencia in 2011. The popularity of the event was such that Carolina and her colleagues immediately got to work on the more structured Galician Down Syndrome Barista Championship, which meets the official barista competition requirements, save a few adaptations.
The championship event began a week before the actual day of competition, giving the competitors five days to train. Four teams were formed, two from the Down Compostela Foundation, in the Galician capital, Santiago de Compostela, where the famous Way of St. James ends; and two from the Association Down Vigo, a coastal city with the same name, Vigo, in the south of the Spanish autonomous region.
“They—the apprentices—all wanted to make cappuccinos because latte art was what they liked the most,” says Diego López, a Cafento barista who trained the Compostela teams. “But the classic latte art drawings were not enough for them! One of them drew a soccer field and even Neymar’s silhouette!” Neymar is an acclaimed Brazilian soccer player who plays at F. C. Barcelona.
Víctor Couto, the other Cafento coach, working with Vigo teams, says that “teaching people with Down syndrome is easier than I thought. There are no big differences than with any other kind of person. They come each day really eager to learn and practice.”
When asked about the actual skills these barista apprentices gain during the training lessons, Couto says, “Many experienced coffee shop owners and restaurant workers are not able to do some of the things these guys have learned to do during the training week. They are developing true barista skills.”
This is why Cafento and the other organizers—Down Compostela, Down Vigo, Pousadas de Compostela, and the Businessmen Association of Hotel and Catering of Santiago de Compostela—chose to give the competition winners a job opportunity and a chance to continue improving their professional skills.
The prize for the two best teams consisted of a period of real practice in some of the best hotels in Compostela and Vigo. This is the way AC Palacio del Carmen, A Tafona do Peregrino, Hostal dos Reis Católicos, NH Obradoiro, Puerta del Camino, San Lorenzo and Tryp Santiago in Compostela, and Gran Hotel Nagari, Hesperia Vigo, NH Palacio de Vigo, Pazo los Escudos or Tryp Los Galeones, in Vigo, got involved and supported the second edition of this initiative.
On September 15, a full audience packed the competition hall to watch each team’s performance. The four groups decided previously that the role of each barista should be on display during the show: there were the espresso specialists, latte art experts, and even cocktail authorities. There was a speaker, too, who was in charge of explaining every step his teammates were going through for the duration of the competition.
The teams were tasked with preparing two espressos, two cappuccinos, and two coffee cocktailsfor the two official barista judges. It was determined that Café Molido, one of the Vigo teams, was the best, followed by the Latte Art team, from Compostela. But the feeling among the public and organizers was that, in the end, all the 21 new baristas were winners.
The Galician Down Barista Championship will have a third edition next year, and Cafento is creating similar competitions in other parts of Spain.