Twenty-four of the Bay Area’s top baristas demonstrated their best milk-swirling skills at Coffee Bar’s Second Annual Latte Art Throwdown Saturday night. It was an evening of hearts, rosettas and tulips — designs made by pouring foamed milk into cups of espresso.
In a back room before the competition, baristas drank beer, munched on olives and sized each other up. “I’m really nervous,” said Leslie Ruckerman, a full-time barista at San Jose’s Bellano Coffee. “I rarely do these things because I get too scared.”
Others were unphased by the contest. “I don’t have any competitive feelings with this,” said Tommy Smith, of Flying Goat Coffee. “But it’s a great way to raise your skill level.”
“Latte art is not much of a spectator sport until you drink the beverage,” said barista Arik Annonson. Nevertheless, more than 100 people turned out to watch the baristas and their creations, which were projected on an eight-foot screen. Cameras swarmed the competitors and a DJ scratched out Eye of the Tiger-style rhythms.
According to barista Jennifer Chhuth, good latte art is defined by symmetry, milk consistency and contrast between the white of the foam and the sepia shades of the espresso. Chhuth spent a month learning how to pour a rosetta—a popular and challenging design that resembles a fern.
But when it comes to coffee, good art does not always equal good taste.
“All you need to do latte art is contrast,” said Demart Denaro, admitting that the competition was more about aesthetics than good flavor. “But it’s always awesome to pour a really good (looking) drink and make it taste good.”
At the end of the night, judges declared Four Barrel Coffee employee Alex Powar the winner. His final design, a triple tulip, earned him a glass “pimp chalice” filled with the $5 entrance fees of all the competitors.