Thursday, February 21, 2008

   from Nick


Like it or not, in as dynamic a community as the barista community here in the USA, it takes a lot to grab people's attention and get them excited about anything.

This is my love letter to the Latte Art Throwdown.

(As far as I know), the first such Throwdown was during the SCAA Conference weekend in Long Beach, CA last year at the Intelligentsia LA Roasting Works. Put in your $5, one pull, one pour. A team of 2 or 3 judges score the thing, and winner takes all. We must have had at least 30 people (and over a hundred watching) in that first Throwdown, and it was historic. Winner: Kyle Glanville.

The energy and excitement was unmatched. The spontaneity, the international diversity, the passion, and the beer, made for an experience that nobody present will ever forget.

Since then, in the interest of "keeping it fresh," the rules have changed here and there. A party at the Counter Culture Atlanta training center during the Atlanta Coffeefest 2007 inspired a Heather Perry emcee'd redux of the original Throwdown. Winner: "Danger" Dan Griffin.

Seattle Coffeefest birthed two Throwdowns, but in the "BYOV" (Bring Your Own Vessel") version, inspired by a challenge on WBC Champ James Hoffmann's blog. One at Zoka's new roasting facility, the other at Stumptown's Seattle training room. Extra points for a creative vessel, and points for heckling. Winner: Matt Higgins wins with a pig's foot (yes, really)

This past weekend in DC, a new iteration of the Latte Art Throwdown: pour two macchiatos (out of one pitcher), choose the one you like better, and present it for judging. The two judges (in this case, USBC judge Marcus Boni and oft CoE judge and Q-Grader Trish Skeie) confer, and compare it to the best macchiato-art cup, set aside for comparison. The better pour is kept for the next challenger... the losing pour is ceremoniously dumped into the trash.

Mine was dumped. Winner: Amber Sather

The coffee world has never seen anything like it. The Latte Art Throwdowns are the unquestionably most electrifying hour in the entire coffee industry. The screaming. The whooping and hollering. The spontaneity. The spills. The oohs and ahhs. The high-fives and chest-bumping. The bewildered onlookers, usually other coffee professionals, who couldn't fathom anything remotely like that in their particular segment of the industry. The skill. The amazing pours. The shitty pours. The "famous faces." The lesser-known faces. Every part of it... ELECTRIFYING.

How long the thing lasts, remains to be seen. There's something special about each one that makes repeating the same format feel like you're trying to recapture something that's you can't capture, and there are only so many versions of the Throwdown that will keep everyone's attention engaged, in this internet-speed culture that we live in.

Enjoy it while it lasts, y'all. These are special times... don't take it for granted!

In the mean time, baristas around the world... set aside a $5 dollar bill in your wallet. Fold it up right now (fold it once and fold it again) and put it in a special place. That's your Throwdown bill. It's like emergency money, but for Throwdowns only. If you have to lend someone that $5, make sure you tell them, "You'd better pay me back, cuz that's my Throwdown money!"

(photos property of their owners on flickr)


Blogger onocoffee said...

I wanted to note that the Latte Art Throwdown in Washington DC became the Macchiato Throwdown for one simple reason:

When Terry Z. and myself started to drum up interest for the throwdown, there was was only one gallon of milk left. So, instead of using cappuccino cups, we decided to go with demitasse cups to conserve milk.

Happily, the Counter Culture crew ran out and purchased more milk to satiate the hungry crowd.

2/21/2008 10:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Troy Reynard said...

I'd like to see some barista competition judges jump into the throwdowns...let those who judge be judged!

2/21/2008 05:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was a latte art throwdown at the Intelly Coffeegeek event in January...kind of unfair for the consumers competing against the likes of Amber Sather and Sarah Kluth from the Intelly juggernaut, but fun nonetheless!

2/21/2008 06:02:00 PM  
Blogger michael said...

In the interest of historical accuracy... The origins of the throwdown go back well before longbeach. The one and only Doug Zell and myself were in the intelly lunch room one day before the 07 Chicago coffee fest/GLRBC talking latte art trash. Before you know it someone throws down a buck, the other follows suit and the weekly Intelly friday lunchroom throw down was born. There was a string of champions whose faces were pasted atop a trophy vanilla syrup bottle. Some time before long beach, the wily Mr. Glanville was in town at the works on a friday and took all the money (buy in was a dollar back then) and ran with it back to silverlake... and so it began to spread.
mike p

2/22/2008 10:05:00 PM  
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