The term "Thursday Night Throwdown" means something special. No, it's not some sort of MMA Fight - the events (usually) result in very little physical violence. A TNT, as we coffee folk are wont to call it, is an ultra-nerdy latte art competition and community-building exercise for area baristas. And guess what! Altitude Coffee Lab hosted one on Thursday, Nov. 6.
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Most major cities host a TNT on a monthly basis. Phoenix ... well, Phoenix does its own thing. Here they occur on a more sporadic basis, but are well-attended and a whole lot of fun nonetheless.
The events originated as a way to promote local coffee culture. Baristas generally pay a small fee to enter the tournament, which is in turn either donated to charity or taken home by the winner. Oftentimes sponsors will donate prizes - coffee equipment, a matching cash donation, etc.
What is a latte art competition, you ask?
A latte art competition is exactly what it sounds like. Baristas compete, head to head, to see who can pour a more beautiful latte. Judges (yes, judges) take into account a number of factors when evaluating a pour. These include - but aren't limited to - the degree of difficulty of the pour, design symmetry, contrast between espresso and milk, and overall aesthetic beauty. Thursday's event was judged by three individuals, who completed a calibration process before the competition started. This helped ensure that the super subjective selection process was at least a little bit more uniform than it might have been otherwise.
A whopping thirty-two Phoenix coffee professionals started off in the competition's bracket. Baristas poured against a rival in direct one-on-one fashion. Judges compared these baristas' pours, and selected a winner to move on to the next round. Eventually the bracket was whittled down to only the top three baristas. Jimmy Orsini of Press Coffee in Scottsdale took third place, Suzy Lippmann of Crepe Bar took second, and Jeff Hawkinson won it all.
The interesting thing about Jeff Hawkinson is that he actually doesn't work in coffee anymore. A former barista at 32 Shea, Jeff is an AmeriCorps alumnus and is a Program Manager at Public Allies, an AmeriCorps Program run out of ASU's Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation. Weird but cool, right? Coffee nerds, we're everywhere.
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The top three took home a variety of donated prizes with a collective value of over a thousand dollars, including a Baratza grinder, Acaia Scale, and Not Neutral cappuccino cups. As for the buy-in fee? This time that money went back to the organizers to cover the costs of putting on the event. While I personally would have liked to see it go back into the community or to a coffee-centric charity, I guess there's always a next time.
Editor's Note: This post has been edited from its original version.