I first got wind of the Austin, Texas barista competitions called Thursday Night Throwdowns via the Twitter feed of Lorenzo Perkins, the SCRBC 2012 champion and man in charge of wholesale customer support and training at Cuvee Coffee out in Spicewood,Texas. Follow him here: https://twitter.com/LorenzoPerkins

I was curious so I asked Mr. Perkins if he’d care to elaborate on what goes on at these events. He responded with the following:

Thursday Night Throwdown The gentle hum of espresso machine electronics, growls coming from an espresso grinder, soft whispers of delicately steamed and textured milk and a low din of nervous baristas permeate a fluorescent lit warehouse on the east side of Austin. Two beautifully crafted cups are set on a table, and the crowd pushes forward to catch a glimpse of the whimsical designs of hearts and rosettas, followed quickly with by oohs and ahhs and, as the winner is chosen, simultaneous moans and applause. This is a Thursday Night Throwdown. Latte art, those pretty designs you see talented baristas adorning their expertly prepared espresso beverages with, have become more ubiquitous in the last few years not only in Austin, but around the United States due in part to events such like these, promoted by the Barista Guild of America. And last Thursday, 30 baristas from around the city gathered to learn about milk, meet others in the local coffee community, and most importantly have a great time.

These are the dunking contests of the coffee world where style is as heavily weighted as substance. Baristas are set in a single elimination bracket tournament involving head to head pours, the winner being decided by three judges based on balance of design, symmetry, contrast, and definition. Half-subjective emotion driven art show and half-objective fact centered science class, a small educational seminar precedes the actual tournament. For baristas newer to the idea of latte art, these events can be intimidating. Having a “class” and practice session before can calm some nerves, while allowing people to familiarize themselves with how the milk and machine will respond, and at the same time breaking the ice.

Ron De Young, the South Central Chapter Representative of the Barista Guild and Lorenzo Perkins, an Executive Council Member, guide latte art neophytes through proper steaming techniques, pouring styles, and then go on to emcee the event and move through the crowd engaging everyone in topics from new cafes in the city to in-depth espresso theory. Baristas are able to walk away from these events with a little more knowledge under their belt, and little more confidence in presenting coffee to the discriminating connoisseur, and hopefully, a few more friendly faces they can call friends. Six Thursday Night Throwdowns have happened monthly this year, and it looks like the enthusiastic baristas, the Barista Guild, and community minded local cafes and roasters will keep them going for quite a while.

As the tournament moves on, and baristas are eliminated, the audience grows quieter and quieter in anticipation of the designs. Two more cups, oohs and ahhs, and uproarious applause and cheers as the new TNT champion is crowned.

List of winners:

March TNT winner: Lauren Carpenter, Caffe Medici

April TNT winner: Danielle Amari, Juan Pelota

May TNT winner: Andy, Once Over Coffee Bar. {review http://chowpapi.com/wordpress/wordpress-2.8.6/wordpress/once-over-mad-scientist-coffee-comes-to-austin/}

June TNT winner: Samantha Jensen, Houndstooth

July TNT winner: Ronnie Newguys, Frank

August TNT winner: Daniel Read, Houndstooth

Twitter feed for the Thursday Night Throwdowns https://twitter.com/TNTATX

I drink a staggering amount of coffee in Austin, Texas. I keep Cuvee Coffee at the house for when I can’t make it to Once Over Coffee Bar, the finest coffee shop in town. If you’re not familiar with Cuvee, check out their website. They’re bringing national recognition to Central Texas for their superior coffees. http://cuveecoffee.com/

Two other notable places I like to get my morning cup:

Houndstooth 4200 North Lamar Boulevard (512) 531-9417

and the original Caffe Medici 1101 West Lynn Street (512) 524-5049


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