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!

It's A Jam, Hon!

Something savory, something sweet.

As project hampden was nearing completion a few weeks ago, Lindsay came to me with the idea of hosting a barista jam. Having attended and instructed at barista jams, I honestly wasn't too keen on hosting one ourselves. Too much work and so much to do before we open.

My first inclination was to say "no." But the enthusiam... how could I deny the enthusiasm?

By now, I'm feeling a bit like the Old Guy at the Party. I've been doing coffee for (technically) seven years or so. That enthusiastic naivete of 2003/2004 where everything coffee was exciting has passed. The experience of cronyism, embezzlement, circling the wagons and other coffee industry politic tomfoolery has me a bit jaded and more than vehemently against the moronic title "Third Wave."

Jenny discusses the finer points of Eva Solo.

But everyone was so enthusiastic about hosting a jam that I would be a moron to tell them "no." Of course, the reality is that staging a proper jam requires us to shut down normal operations for a day - and shutting down for a day not long after opening to the public was not going to fly. It had to be before we opened. Lindsay and company set off at high speed to get things rolling.

Of course, the Blizzard (or Snowmageddon) of 2010 foiled our plans for February 6th, forcing a "snow date" for today - the day before Valentine's. Happily, more than a few baristas were willing to spend part of their Valentine's Weekend with the crew from Spro.

Ilenia and Rebecca talk vac pot.

To be honest, the event is all due to Lindsay. I did very little. She brought the staff together, planned the workshops, called the guests and made it all happen. The event went off very smoothly and while attendees trickled in and out throughout the day, I thought it was well-attended, informative and worthwhile for the participants.

More importantly, the jam was free. Unlike jams across America where the attendee pays, ours was free. Every one donated their time and their effort. Our Special Guests came from far and near, our roasters, creamery and sponsors donated their product generously and for that, we are tremendously grateful.

Allie and Jeremy work the Linea.

Milk Sponsor:
Trickling Springs Creamery

Breakfast and Lunch Sponsor:
Puffs and Pastries

Latte Art Throwdown and Dinner Sponsor:
Woodberry Kitchen

Coffee Sponsors:
Hines-Origins Organic Coffee
Intelligentsia Coffee
Barefoot Coffee Roasters
Counter Culture Coffee
Caffe Pronto
Southern Skies Coffee
Bluebird Artisanal Coffee
Zeke's Coffee
Callao Coffee

A crowd gathers.

Alternative Brewing Workshops:
Eva Solo - Jenny Nelson
Abid Clever - Joy Davis
Vac Pot - Ilenia Madelaire & Rebecca Dowding
Chemex - Kimmy Fung
Aeropress - Jeremy Hyman

Barista Competition Workshop - Scott Conary, Carrboro Coffee

Latte Art Workshop - Phil Proteau, Counter Culture Coffee

Phil, Peter and Jade sit down for lunch.

Some Towson customers stop by for a brew.

Lehigh Valley Represent!

Jin, Larry and Tim do a little coffee cupping.

Scott Conary (of World Barista Championship fame) discusses competitions.