Saturday, February 13, 2010

Throw It Down

Getting things started.

A barista event just wouldn't be a "barista event" without the near-obligatory Latte Art Throwdown. I've attended and judged more than a few throwdowns over the years and have come to prefer the relative newcomer, Winner Takes All, Sudden Death format where competitors art are placed head-to-head and the judges decide then and there which of the two is the superior art based on color, contrast, symmetry and design. The one that makes it, lives. The one that dies is unceremoniously dumped out in front of an audience of tens.

This style of latte art throwdown makes for something much more interesting and exciting than the typical format of judges sitting down with each art and scoring it for later dissemination. The Thursday Night Throwdown I recently attending in Washington DC followed this Millrock-style of judging and was insanely droll and boring. So droll it was that we left.

Phil and Tim go head-to-head.

At most throwdowns, baristas toss in five bucks for a chance at winning the entire booty. Personally speaking, I prefer a higher stakes game: Twenty Bucks. But most baristas aren't game for a twenty dollar throwdown (even though the return is greater), so I almost never have the chance to play for those stakes. Even better, we once were able to stage a Macchiato Throwdown, which given the smaller demitasse cup, requires greater skill and control to make proper art. A Twenty Dollar Macchiato Throwdown - that's my ideal latte art competition.

For this first-time-ever-in-Baltimore throwdown, it simply became a "bet what you can afford" competition where competitors tossed into the pile whatever they could afford. Five bucks, personal effects, Skittles - whatever. In the end, the booty consisted of $42 cash, 184 grams of Tropical Skittles, a pair of ladies leather gloves, a wallet from Clever Cat, two coffee mugs, a hat, 4 paint pens and a #2 pencil.

Judges Scott and Anisha set the trend.

Serving as judges were World Barista Championship head judge and owner of North Carolina's Carrboro Coffee Scott Conary, and Anisha Jagtap, pastry chef and owner of Baltimore's Puffs and Pastries.

The competitors lineup:

Tim - Perfect Brew Services
Phil - Counter Culture Coffee
Tim N. - Town Hall Coffee
Jess - Spro Coffee
Lindsay - Spro Coffee
Ian - Cosmic Cup Coffee
Yours Truly
Devlin - Spro Coffee

Jess prepares her espresso as the loot awaits.

The competition was fast, furious and suspense filled. Would the seasoned veteran judge and the pastry chef recognize true latte art brillance in such a post-industrial city? Would the throwdown newcomer competitors crack under the increasing pressure and heckling of Micah from Baltimore's Red Emma's Coffeehouse?

In the end, it would be the latte art workshop instructor, Phil Proteau of Counter Culture Coffee who would dominate the entire field from start to finish, take home the leftover bag of Skittles and drink his hour-old winning latte.

Emcee Micah (in hat) heckles the competitors.

Anisha kills someone's dreams of Skittles Glory.

Cosmic Cup's Ian prepares his latte art assault.

Hopes, Dream and the Crushed.

Phil celebrates his victory...

And drinks it too!

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