As many of you know I love to cover the local coffee scene on my blog. So I was honored to be asked to help judge the July Counter Culture Coffee Thursday Night Throwdown (TNT) latte art competition at Jubala Village Coffee in North Raleigh. I had a great time watching all my favorite local baristas battle it out in this friendly competition.
The purpose of these friendly throwdowns is to cultivate a coffee culture that respects presentation and quality and it is great opportunity for the local coffee community to come together and have a fun! Below are a few quick pictures from that the July throwdown at Jubala and a recap of the results.
At the start of the competition, the large chalk board at Jubala was converted into the throwdown bracket where each barista was listed against their competitor for the first round. Baristas had to battle through three rounds of head-to-head competition to make it to the final championship round.
Soon after the event started the first names were called and the first two baristas took their places behind the espresso maker to start their “battle”. While the shots are pulled for them by the house barista, each competing barista is responsible for steaming their own milk. This is a crucial step in preparing to pour the best latte art possible.
Baristas free-pour the steamed frothed milk combining it with the espresso shot to create a swirled design in the cup which can feature hearts, tulips, rosettas, or the birdlike phoenix design.
Once the baristas have completed their work, Lem Butler of Counter Culture positions the art under a mounted digital camera set up to a projector so the images can be projected onto the cafe’ wall for the audience to see.
The barista’s creations are presented to the crowd and judges where they are evaluated on several criteria including balance and symmetry, use of space, color contrast and definition, and overall impression. The entire score is based solely on appearance, not taste. Above is a nice example of a tulip poured back in July.
Back in July I was humbled to judge alongside Andrew Cash, the owner of Jubala Village Coffee, and Scott Conary, the president of Carrboro Coffee. Both of these guys know way more about coffee and the intricacies of latte art than I do. Scott actually judges espresso on the international stage at such events like the WBC (World Barista Competition). However, despite my lack of experience they were both awesome and taught me a lot about espresso techniques and what to look for in a latte pour.
These events draw large crowds to cheer on their favorite local baristas and see the designs they create. After the art is judged the drinks are handed out to a few lucky customers to enjoy, so finding a spot close to the action along the bar can be a little tricky!
Even customers can get in on the action at these throwdowns. The events are open to the public and anyone can compete. All you need to enter is $5 and the courage to step behind the espresso machine!
Of course, it can be a little stressful with the talented competition and so many people watching over you as you pour, but that didn’t seem to be an issue for Daniel of Jubala Coffee (pictured above).
As the competition ramps up and baristas are slowly eliminated the remaining competitors begin to take things up a notch by pouring their latte art into increasingly smaller and smaller cups. You see, the smaller the vessel, the more difficult it is to pour so creating a nice piece of latte art in a smaller cup will beat out of good poor in a bigger cup.
The baristas are also thrown a few curve balls by the event organizers along the way. Like having to pour their lattes while wearing a blindfold or pouring “goofy style” meaning they have to pour the steamed milk using their non-dominate hand (like using your left instead of your right and vice versa). These extra challenges can make for some interesting latte art creations!
In the end, barista Kyle Ramage of Jubala was the victor of the July 2012 TNT. He had some very stiff competition from Katie, a fellow barista at Jubala. Katie poured some incredible designs and is sure to be a strong contender for the title at the next TNT in August.
The July TNT champion had t0 maneuver their way through a sea of talented baristas to claim the title that night. The rest must now wait another month for the next challenge to showcase their skills once again. Fortunately for them, the next latte art throwdown will be tonight (August 30, 2012) at Sola Coffee & Cafe at 7705 Lead Mine Road North Raleigh. The competition begins around 7pm.
I had an absolute blast helping to judge the throwdown. If you haven’t been to one of these before you should definitely check one out, they are a lot of fun. Hope to see you there! Visit my flickr photo album for more of my pictures from the July 2012 TNT Latte Art Throwdown at Jubala.
August TNT event Details
– Date/Time: Thursday August 30th, 7-9pm
– Location: Sola Coffee – 7705 Lead Mine Road – Raleigh, NC
– Free admission
– Open to the public
– $5 for baristas to enter the competition