Latte Art Throwdown at Phoenix Cooks Sept. 4

Sixteen baristas will compete head-to-head in a bracket-style Latte Art Throwdown at the J.W. Marriott Sept. 4 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. as part of Phoenix Cooks. They'll be freehand pouring lattes with rosettas, tulips, hearts swans and maybe even a phoenix to compete for the title bragging rights of best latte artist in the Valley.

"Latte art is really an indication of how comfortable you are in layering the steamed milk and the crema to where you can draw with it," says Jen Macias, director of education and training at Cartel Coffee Lab. "The only thing that latte art can really show you is the gestalt of the aesthetic of it." (Check out how to do latte art over on our sister blog, Chow Bella.)

The latte artists, including four from Cartel, will face a panel of three judges including the event's organizers, Brian Clemens of Cartel and Steve Kraus of Press, as well as Jason Calhoon, who snagged the Southwest Regional Barista title in 2008.

"We really wanted to promote the barista craft, not just one brand or café," Clemens says of how he and Kraus came up with the idea and the plan to go host-less. "It's also a place for baristas to interact, gain respect from one another, and be able to show off their craft in a competitive but really freeing environment."

More on latte art -- including a link to our "How To" -- after the jump.

Each artist will make two lattes: one with the traditional rosetta design, worth 60 percent of their score, and one with a design of their choosing, worth the other 40 percent. Both lattes will be judged on the design's balance and symmetry, the presentation, and the originality. Taste is a likely fourth component, but isn't finalized, says Clemens.

How will Clemens remain unbiased? "I'm going to avoid being partial by taking each latte as it's presented to me for that latte," Clemens says. "Not looking at the barista behind the bar, but using guidelines such as clarity of design and execution of technique to judge."

Your ticket to Phoenix Cooks will get you into the throwdown and could score you a free latte too.

"As soon as we judge the drinks, we don't just want to throw them away," Clemens says. "We want attendees to be able to experience the craft of these baristas, so we're going to go ahead and hand those off to attendees to taste."

There's also an open invite after party at Press Coffee and Wine Bar as soon as Phoenix Cooks is over, about 4 p.m.

"Come and hang out, and get to know other baristas," Clemens says. "We'll probably have a little throwdown there too. Everyone's welcome!"

Learn to make your own latte art with Jen Macias here