Starbucks names first North American Barista Champion: Darcy Todd of Texas


Todd, a four-year partner (employee), was chosen from an original group of more than 17,000 baristas across the U.S. and Canada, capping a five-month long celebration of community, connection and craft.

As green and white confetti fell from above, the winner of Starbucks first-ever North America Barista Championship was crowned: Darcy Todd from Arlington, Texas. 

Todd was named in front of a live audience at the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle, chosen from an original group of more than 17,000 baristas representing company-operated, Siren Retail and licensed stores across the U.S. and Canada. The announcement caps a five-month long competition celebrating community, connection and craft that started with store selections in February.  

Twenty-one regional champions flew to Seattle for this week’s three-day final event, which was broadcast live and took place in front of about 400 family, friends and Starbucks partners (employees), under green-tinted spotlights on a specially constructed stage designed to look like dueling store coffee bars. Nearly 3,000 people watched online.

“I'm shocked and very honored,” Todd said, moments after winning. “A lot of us might struggle to find our passion and who we are, but when you have people like this (motioning at her fellow champions) who are all really supporting you and creating that community, it helps you find that sense of self.” 

During the competition, the champions created and presented unique signature beverages made from in-store ingredients, crafted core Starbucks drinks like lattes and iced shaken espressos, led coffee tastings and told stories about favorite customers and key moments in their career. 

At the end of the second day, judges selected three finalists – Todd, Holly Kang from Vancouver, British Columbia, and Adrian Mata Pantoja from Tempe, Arizona – to compete in one last coffee and storytelling finale.    

Todd will be awarded a trip to Hacienda Alsacia, Starbucks research and development farm in Costa Rica, and will present her signature beverage – an Iced Peaches and Cream Latte with Coconut Milk – to Starbucks beverage innovation teams in Seattle. 

Todd also advances to next year’s first Starbucks Global Barista Championship, which will also take place at Hacienda Alsacia, facing off against winners from markets around the world.  

Along with the other regional champions, she’ll also be able to nominate a nonprofit organization to receive a $2,500 Neighborhood Grant from The Starbucks Foundation.

Sara Trilling, president of Starbucks North America, paid tribute to all the regional champions at the end of the competition.

"These 21 baristas represent all of our Green Apron partners across the U.S. and Canada, showcasing their exceptional skills in coffee craft and storytelling,” Trilling said. "The North America Barista Championship was meant to be a thoughtful and intentional investment in our baristas, celebrating how unique and special they are.”   

After Todd’s name was announced, the audience erupted, and confetti rained down from cannons attached to scaffolding around the stage. The competitors cried, hugged, danced, took selfies and threw confetti at each other.

“Everyone has their role to play but baristas are the heart and soul of the company,” Todd said. “They are who customers see and connect with every day. When we were at dinner the other night, I was looking around and taking it in that we’re in a room full of the most talented baristas (in North America). I’m so honored to be here.” 

Learn more about the winner, and the two runners-up.

Darcy Todd, Arlington, Texas 

Darcy Todd majored in psychology in college and has always been interested in theories relating to how different cultures interact with each other.  

“There’s the Peach versus Coconut Theory in which there are different ways that countries approach relationships,” Todd said, explaining the inspiration behind her signature beverage, an Iced Blonde Vanilla Latte with coconut milk and Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Foam with a splash of peach juice. “This drink represents how Starbucks is the Third Place and it doesn’t matter what culture you’re from. Differences go away because coffee is our common ground.” 

“[My signature] drink represents how Starbucks is the Third Place and it doesn’t matter what culture you’re from. Differences go away because coffee is our common ground.”

Presenting her creation to a panel of coffee experts and judges in Seattle has been the latest in a year full of coffee milestones for Todd. She also completed her Coffee Master certification. 

“I keep thinking, ‘How did I get here?’” she said. “Looking back on this entire journey, I think I’ve grown. I have more faith and pride in myself, and there are so many people who supported me along the way. There is a balance between being humble and owning our craft, but also knowing that I am good at what I do, and that's how I got this far.”    

A four-year partner, Todd’s coffee passion started at a young age, when she was inspired to become a barista, just like her cousin, who was “the coolest person in the world.” She said Starbucks has always been her place to study and hang out, long before she joined the company. During the competition, she reminisced about some of the moments she experienced in stores as a customer and partner, the good and the bad, and all the people who helped her along the way. 

“My store manager and assistant store manager were there for me every step of the way, and I want all my partners to know that I miss them and they’re the reason that I’m here,” Todd said. “Thank you to the customers who cheered me on, and of course my family: my mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law.”  

Holly Kang, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

On Monday afternoon, Holly Kang came face to face with themselves. They had just entered the corridor leading to the finals stage. Lining the hallway were poster-sized photos of all the regional champions, along with their name and home city.

At the end of the row on the right side was Kang’s photo.

“It was really emotional,” said Kang, who uses she/they pronouns. “It signified how far I’ve come in this journey and the partners who I’ve been able to meet along the way.”

“Being able to deliver that Starbucks experience encompasses connection and coffee – not just the coffee part but really being able to be consistently kind. Everyone deserves to have that.”

Since Kang began working at Starbucks eight years ago, they have sought out challenging experiences and opportunities. “They make me grow every day and develop into not just a better partner, but also a better person,” Kang said.  

In January, Kang visited Starbucks coffee farm, Hacienda Alsacia in Costa Rica as part of the company’s Origin Experience, where partners who have completed the Coffee Master training are eligible to win a spot to learn about coffee from farmers and agronomists.  

“I took away so much from that journey,” Kang said. “(Participating in Barista Championships) was something I wanted to challenge myself on my personal development to be able to take that courage and participate.”  

Kang remembers their first coffee experience: the pride in mastering an iced version of a favorite Korean instant coffee, which came in packages along with dried milk and sugar, for the adults in the family.  

At Starbucks, they learned about the many other variations of coffee. “It was like, ‘Oh, coffee can be like this, but it can also be like this.’”  

Kang also knows the Starbucks experience is a lot more than just the beverages a customer may order.   

Tuesday evening, before the winner was announced, Kang’s mind was back in their home store, thinking about a regular customer, a man named Guri, who comes in each morning and orders two quad-shot Grande Flat Whites with one sugar. He brings his own marking pen and carefully writes “Sis” on the second drink before bringing it home for his sister.   

Guri doesn’t usually talk much but Kang knows it’s an important ritual in Guri’s day.  

“The role of a barista isn’t just to deliver that last 10 feet of coffee into the customer’s hands, but also being able to make that connection,” Kang said. “You never know – sometimes it might be the only interaction they have that day, or it might be the one interaction that really lifts their spirits for that day. Being able to deliver that Starbucks experience encompasses connection and coffee – not just the coffee part but really being able to be consistently kind. Everyone deserves to have that.”  

Adrian Mata Pantoja, Tempe, Arizona

Adrian Mata Pantoja will never forget the conversation he had with a customer shortly after he started working at Starbucks, just after the COVID-19 pandemic. The man came into the store and explained he was experiencing housing instability.

"Come up to the counter, have a good cup of coffee, have a good conversation, make yourself feel at home. It’s a gentle reminder for us to never forget that, where we came from. We are still a people company first, that happens to serve coffee.”

“He asked me for something warm and happy, he asked for a feeling, not a flavor,” recalled Mata Pantoja. “For me, that was really impactful. I decided to make a drink inspired by something that made me feel warm and happy as a kid – rice pudding, arroz con leche.”  

Mata Pantoja named it a Sunset Latte, after the highway that ran next to his store. A tall latte with one shot of Starbucks Blonde Espresso, one and a half pumps of white mocha, one and a half pumps of cinnamon dulce, steamed with oat milk, with a dash of cinnamon on top.  

He shared that story, and the signature beverage, during the competition, a personal reminder about the community and the connection that often comes with his favorite coffee memories.  

Like two other meaningful scenes: weekend mornings with his family growing up, drinking café de olla, a traditional Mexican coffee beverage, cracking open fresh conchas. And more recently, his store manager, Chris Ramirez, flying out to Colorado to support him during the regional championship.  

“I think this competition really brings us back to our roots as a company,” Mata Pantoja said. "Come up to the counter, have a good cup of coffee, have a good conversation, make yourself feel at home. It’s a gentle reminder for us to never forget that, where we came from. We are still a people company first, that happens to serve coffee.” 

Mata Pantoja is a rising junior at Arizona State University, a student with the Starbucks College Achievement Plan studying business administration. For him, the competition is a tribute to all the Starbucks baristas, who he called the “blood and backbone of the company.” 

“It’s our baristas who put the ideas into action and exemplify our values,” he said. “This competition is an homage to their hard work.”  

Linda Dahlstrom contributed to this article. 

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