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New West barista gets silver at Starbucks North America Barista Championship

More than 17,000 baristas from across the continent competed in Starbucks’ first-ever North America Barista Championships – and a Queensborough Landing barista took second place.

Lower Mainland residents don’t have far to have a coffee created by one of Starbucks’ top baristas on the continent.

Holly Kang, a barista at Starbucks Queensborough Landing in New Westminster, beat out thousands of baristas to place second in the first-ever North America Barista Championship. She came home with a second-place trophy – and lots of inspiration – from the recent competition.

More than 17,000 Starbucks partners (employees) from across Canada and the U.S. participated in the multi-phase competition, which culminated with 21 regional champions competing in the finals at Starbucks Seattle headquarters June 3 to 5.

“It was an awesome experience,” Kang said. “And I had honour of being placed second in North America.”

Kang wowed judges in front of a live audience with their coffee craft skills, knowledge of Starbucks’ sustainability commitment, and their very own signature beverage, a Cold Brew with Golden Foam, which they presented to a panel of Starbucks partners.

“It really felt like I was on a reality competition, like TV show,” Kang said. “They had a whole bunch of cameras set up, and the bar was set up almost as if it was a stage. The production was pretty intense.”

For Kang, the experience was a “milestone moment” in her Starbucks career.

“This feels full circle – to gather all those things I've learned over the years and put it into practice on a big stage,” they said.

Baristas from across North America, including two Canadians, competed in the North America Barista Championship.

“On the first day, we had our signature beverage competition, where all the participants come with their own signature beverage that they've created in their own stores, and tell the story behind it,” Kang said. “On the second day of the competition, we had our coffee storytelling piece, where we chose a coffee to brew, and we had a chance to tell our own story based on the coffee.”

Kang said the third component, called the “craft portion” of the competition, was almost like competitors were working in their stores.

“We had a couple of drinks that they told us that we were to make; we weren't sure of exactly what types of drinks, but we were making it as if we were serving our customers in our stores,” they said. “The judges asked a couple questions along the way, almost as if I'm talking to a customer that comes in for a drink and I'm just serving them.”

After completing the three challenges, Kang and two participants from the United States were declare the Top 3 finalists. On the final day of the competition, the trio did a combination of the earlier activities; Darcy Todd from Arlington, Texas was ultimately crowned champion.

“It really ignited my passion to continue to be curious in the knowledge for coffee, not just about the coffee that we serve, but also the behind-the-scenes of how it goes from farm to the beans that we use in our stores,” Kang said of the experience. “It really ignited my curiosity to continue learning and also to be able to share it with a lot of my baristas at my home store.”

For Kang, one of the highlights of the competition was meeting participants from across North America, including the eastern Canadian representative from Quebec, and hearing their stories. Visiting some Starbucks’ sites and meeting employees who work behind the scenes was another highlight.

While Kang’s Cold Brew with Golden Foam was a hit with the judges, they were inspired by many of the signature drinks created by other competitors in the Starbucks North America Barista Championship.

“I didn't have a chance to try everyone's signature drink, so I think the first thing I'm doing is being able to just make them in my own store, and try that and be inspired,” Kang said. “I got lots of takeaways from just hearing about everyone's drinks.”

The winner of the North America Barista Champion received a trip to Starbucks’ research and development farm in Costa Rica. For second place, Kang received a trophy and a $2,500 neighbourhood grant to share with a non-profit organization.

“I haven't decided yet who I would love to give this grant to, but I'm definitely looking into the non-profit organizations that are local to New West,” Kang said. “And I would love to be able to support our LGBTQ community, being a queer person myself.”