For six months, a battle has been brewing. A kind of duel, you could say, set not in the dusty flatland of arid desert, but behind the bars of cafés around the city. Where competitors wield not guns but milk pitchers, where the prize is not survival but a pretty sweet stack of swag. The test? Latté art. The only competition where high stakes meet warm milk, and anything goes (almost).
Since January, when the first of 2013's "competition seasons" began, baristas from around the bay have locked up shop and convened on certain Thursdays for a monthly latté art throwdown. Organized by the Bay Area Coffee Community -- a body launched last January -- the structure pits a spread of about 36 baristas (up to 60 on wild nights) against each other in a single elimination bracket. Pairs pour drinks of any size (cappuccino, macchiato, or an easy latté) at the same time, for three judges who determine a winner based on an age-old, honored set of criteria: texture, contrast, symmetry (or asymmetry if intentional), degree of difficulty, and overall impression. The winners advance, losers are left to cope with insurmountable shame.
The top three from every tournament are awarded points, to be amassed throughout the season. At the end, the three baristas with the most points take home, thanks to a few choice sponsors, a pile of shiny, quite expensive prizes, including, for first place, a Unic Rumba, a $5,900 home espresso machine, a fancy Baratza burr grinder, a featurette in Sprudge (king of coffee news), admission to Barista Camp (it's a thing), and more. Other prizes include more grinders, airfare to New York for Coffee Fest, engraved espresso tampers, and other very nice things. Like I said, the stakes are high.
This Thursday, the season is capping off with a finale hosted by Four Barrel at the coffee shop's Mission location, and it's going to be doubly intense. Why? A few SoCal latté art champs will be crashing the party in all their sparkling glory. LATNT, or L.A. Thursday Night Throwdowns, for all you coffee culture philistines, has been running a parallel competition down south. This week, they'll be sending up their winners, headed by their champion barista, Runei Matsumoto, to go head to head with our own best of the best. As things stand now, the top three are Leslie Ruckman from San Jose's Bellano Coffee, Taylere Yamamura from Saint Frank Coffee, and Selina Viguera, a Blue Bottle veteran. For a sneak peek into the LATNT world, check out this video. For more information on the BACC, check out their website.
The finale will include the BACC's final tournament, followed directly by the L.A. vs S.F. showdown, and it's free and open to the public. Past competitions boast taco pop ups and DJ's, rivers of cold beer, sampling from sponsors (tea! chai! chocolate!), and plenty of suspense. Come for the scene, stay for the coffee. And, if you're bold, get in on the action (only $5 to enter). Sign ups begin at 6, pouring at 7.