It’s Monday morning, and I’m starting my work week the way most people people do: with a cup of coffee the size of a cereal bowl in hand.
However, this is no average cup of joe. From the suds in my cup, a foam bear stares up at me. I stare back for a second, and resist the urge the pull out my phone and take a picture. Instead, I bring the cup to my lips and shatter the image with a large gulp. I mean, it is Monday morning after all.
And just like that, the life of my carefully crafted latte art has come to an abrupt end.
Although the lifespan of latte art may be fleeting, the culture surrounding this 21st century art is anything but. If you dive below the foamy surface of this popular vice, you’ll find an entire community – neigh, culture – surrounding latte art.
“Yeah, I’m driving an hour and a half this weekend to compete in a latte art throwdown in Warren, Ohio,” says Giovanni Roberts, a barista at Tazza D’oro in Millvale, Pennsylvania. Roberts just moved to Pittsburgh from Louisiana, where he founded the Barista Guild of Baton Rouge.
While most folks are familiar with the practice of latte art, few know that friendly competitions, dubbed “throwdowns,” are common practice within local coffee scenes. These events provide coffee enthusiasts an opportunity to bond, share tricks, and, of course, engage in some friendly competition. And, within the greater coffee community, they pull people together from across the country.
“At our first throwdown in Baton Rouge, we had a guy from Austin, Texas show up,” says Roberts. “He was like, ‘Yeah, I’m here,’ and he ended up coming in 4th.”
Pittsburgh’s bustling coffee scene has been growing for years, exemplified by events like “Pittsburgh Speciality Coffee Week,” which began in 2015, the “Rise & Shine” coffee festival, and the “Pittsburgh Coffee Passport” program, which guides patrons on a tour of Pittsburgh’s ever-expanding independent coffee shop collection. More and more bespoke coffee shops, such as Adda Northside, Mechanic Coffee in Verona, and Arrivisite in Shadyside have popped up around the city in the past few years.
Despite the coffee (pardon my pun) buzz in Pittsburgh, an essential element of the scene has been missing – the latte art throwdown.
This will change this Friday, February 8th, when Pittsburgh’s first latte art throwdown series hosts their introductory event at De Fer Coffee & Tea in The Strip District. Prior to this series, Pittsburgh hosted a singular event as part of Specialty Coffee Week in 2018 – and found great success.
“We thought, ‘Why are we only doing one of these?’” says Matt Marietti, owner of De Fer Coffee & Tea. “It was a lot of fun, and we had a huge attendance.”
The event at Def Fer this Friday is the first in a series of four culminating competitions. Dubbed “Pittsburgh’s Latte Art Throwdown Series,” there will be one throwdown every quarter, hosted at local coffee shops including De Fer, Artisan Cafe, Tazza D’Oro, and Commonplace Coffee.
Entry to the competition is first come first serve, and cups will be judged on aesthetics, definition, color fusion, and difficulty/creativity. Everyone from experts to enthusiasts is encouraged to enter, and everyone is invited to attend (did someone say complimentary coffee & beer?)
“For the people watching, it’s just a great time to hangout and have a drink,” says Roberts. “And for the coffee community, it helps out a ton. The more throwdowns, the more the community works together. There is more comradery.”
1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners will take home a prize, ranging from cash, to items from the event’s many coffee-centric sponsors.
And for those looking for a tip, Chris Koster of De Fer Coffee & Tea shares this:
“You gotta get the milk right. If you mess that up, your drink will fail.”
Registration begins at 5:00 P.M. More information can be found online.
De Fer Coffee & Tea (2002 Smallman St)