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Steamed-milk throwdown

Judges pick winning latte art during the tulip round. - Image by Jared Armijo-Wardle
Judges pick winning latte art during the tulip round.
Place

Bird Rock Little Italy

2295 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego

On October 23, 48 baristas gathered at the newly opened Bird Rock Little Italy to compete for bragging rights and an $840 cash prize in the latest installment of a monthly latte-art competition organized by the San Diego Coffee Network.

The network has been staging Thursday-Night Throwdowns over the past year in efforts to foment community within the San Diego coffee scene. The organization grew out of a local coffee blog started by Jessica Percifield in 2010. Last year she teamed up with Caffé Calabria roaster Mike Helms, barista Matt Barahura, and artist Jared Armijo-Wardle, who shared her interest in evangelizing local artisan coffee. The group works with sponsors from around the industry to promote events bringing coffee professionals and aficionados together.

In the process, they aim to expose casual coffee drinkers to the elevated standards of third-wave purveyors. The hope to elicit what Barahura calls the “Aha! moment,” when a drinker realizes coffee can taste significantly better than the commodified brews served by corporate franchises. While the throwdown events are nominally competitive, the feeling is mostly celebratory.

Barahura says that whenever you get a bunch of baristas around an espresso machine, “a throwdown just happens,” as they try to outdo each other drawing shapes by pouring steamed milk over espresso. He says visiting similar events around California showed him the sense of community that could exist around a city’s coffee culture, and he hopes SDCN’s efforts can bring some of that here.

Previous throwdowns have been hosted by Coffee & Tea Collective and Young Hickory, among others. Local roasters also participate by providing coffee — Café Virtuoso and James Coffee were on hand Thursday, brewing cups at a pour-over station while the contest waged around a pair of espresso machines at the other end of the counter.

To celebrate the opening of his new shop, Bird Rock owner Chuck Patton broke out an expensive and tough to get Haraaz Red Maraqah from Yemen. Patton says he is one of only three roasters in the U.S. to serve the bean.

While onlookers sipped free coffee, baristas competed one-on-one through a tournament-style single-elimination bracket. Round one featured heart-shaped latte art, round two focused on rosetta designs, and round three went with tulips.

As the bracket was whittled down, two finalists emerged: Bird Rock’s own Jacob White and previous winner Joshua Bonner, representing Ladies & Gentlemen, a roasting shop he recently launched along with his wife Hannah. In one of the closest calls of the night, the three-judge panel gave the cash prize to Bonner.

The evening concluded with a season finale: a mini bracket that saw the past four months’ top competitors vying to be named barista champion. This time, White emerged victorious. Glad to have the win in a shop he helped get up and running, White says he’s happy to be working in a business that values quality above all. He added that getting into coffee in the first place felt almost lazy, “But it’s wound up being the least lazy I have ever been.”

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Judges pick winning latte art during the tulip round. - Image by Jared Armijo-Wardle
Judges pick winning latte art during the tulip round.
Place

Bird Rock Little Italy

2295 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego

On October 23, 48 baristas gathered at the newly opened Bird Rock Little Italy to compete for bragging rights and an $840 cash prize in the latest installment of a monthly latte-art competition organized by the San Diego Coffee Network.

The network has been staging Thursday-Night Throwdowns over the past year in efforts to foment community within the San Diego coffee scene. The organization grew out of a local coffee blog started by Jessica Percifield in 2010. Last year she teamed up with Caffé Calabria roaster Mike Helms, barista Matt Barahura, and artist Jared Armijo-Wardle, who shared her interest in evangelizing local artisan coffee. The group works with sponsors from around the industry to promote events bringing coffee professionals and aficionados together.

In the process, they aim to expose casual coffee drinkers to the elevated standards of third-wave purveyors. The hope to elicit what Barahura calls the “Aha! moment,” when a drinker realizes coffee can taste significantly better than the commodified brews served by corporate franchises. While the throwdown events are nominally competitive, the feeling is mostly celebratory.

Barahura says that whenever you get a bunch of baristas around an espresso machine, “a throwdown just happens,” as they try to outdo each other drawing shapes by pouring steamed milk over espresso. He says visiting similar events around California showed him the sense of community that could exist around a city’s coffee culture, and he hopes SDCN’s efforts can bring some of that here.

Previous throwdowns have been hosted by Coffee & Tea Collective and Young Hickory, among others. Local roasters also participate by providing coffee — Café Virtuoso and James Coffee were on hand Thursday, brewing cups at a pour-over station while the contest waged around a pair of espresso machines at the other end of the counter.

To celebrate the opening of his new shop, Bird Rock owner Chuck Patton broke out an expensive and tough to get Haraaz Red Maraqah from Yemen. Patton says he is one of only three roasters in the U.S. to serve the bean.

While onlookers sipped free coffee, baristas competed one-on-one through a tournament-style single-elimination bracket. Round one featured heart-shaped latte art, round two focused on rosetta designs, and round three went with tulips.

As the bracket was whittled down, two finalists emerged: Bird Rock’s own Jacob White and previous winner Joshua Bonner, representing Ladies & Gentlemen, a roasting shop he recently launched along with his wife Hannah. In one of the closest calls of the night, the three-judge panel gave the cash prize to Bonner.

The evening concluded with a season finale: a mini bracket that saw the past four months’ top competitors vying to be named barista champion. This time, White emerged victorious. Glad to have the win in a shop he helped get up and running, White says he’s happy to be working in a business that values quality above all. He added that getting into coffee in the first place felt almost lazy, “But it’s wound up being the least lazy I have ever been.”

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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