Latte art throwdowns are a peculiar thing. They’re extremely dynamic. They can serve many purposes and can be approached in many different ways. Have you ever attended a latte art throwdown? Have you participated in one? I remember participating in my first latte art throwdown at a shop in Dayton, Ohio. My mom came with me. It’s okay to laugh. For those of you who don’t know my mom, you might be wondering what I was thinking bringing my mom with me to a latte art throwdown. But for those of you who do know my mom, you know. She’s the real hype-man. Collecting strangers at the event throughout the evening, she created a real cheer section for me anytime I went up to compete.
One thing that’s funny about competing in latte art throwdowns is that, no matter how confident you feel, when you get up there behind the machine standing next another barista and a whole crowd of people surrounding you, you can’t help but shake. And if you know anything about what it takes to pour latte art, you know you need your hands. Your hands are really really important, so when they start shaking, it can either go really well or really bad, depending on whether that shake turns your pour into a sexy rosetta or a blob that you end up spilling on the floor on the way to place it in front of the judges.
I would say I didn’t do too bad in my first latte art throwdown. I think I made it to the semi-finals round where I had to pour a swan (which I had never done before). Before I went up I was watching Youtube videos of swan latte art trying to figure out some way for it to look like I sort of knew what I was doing. Even though I didn’t move on, I’d say I held my weight.
Ultimately, the biggest takeaways of the evening were, one, I really really love being a barista and I really really love the specialty coffee industry (I got to meet and chat with a lot of cool people that night). And two, a latte art throwdown had to happen in Northwest Ohio.
I’m thankful a significant amount of time passed between me participating in the Dayton latte art throwdown, and the 419 Latte Art Throwdown happening, because in that passing time I learned so many valuable things, gained so many valuable experiences, and met some important people who played a vital role in making the 419 Throwdown happen.
Not just playing a vital role, but the one actually making the 419 Latte Art Throwdown happen was, my partner-in-crime, Brendo Schack. We sat down together the beginning of February when he approached me with his plan for the throwdown. All we had at the very start was a name, a date, and a prize. The 419 Latte Art Throwdown, that would be held on April 19th (4/19), with a first place prize of $419. And so we went. Collecting an incredible group of sponsors (Actual Coffee, Third Wave Water, La Marzocco, Acaia, Brewista, Oatly, Barista Magazine, Cafe Imports, Compak, and Flatlands Coffee), and gathering friends that helped us along the way, the 419 Latte Art Throwdown came into existence.
The evening began at 8:00 when baristas could register to reserve their spot in the competition. With there only being 16 spots in the competition, registration was first come, first serve, and the lucky first 8 received dope goody bags full of swag from some of our sweet sponsors. Around that time we also had food delivered from some of our local friends at Pisanello’s Pizza and Kabob-It, and our good friend, Lance, from Actual Coffee showed up with our coffee and milk for the throwdown, and beer from the local Earnest Brew Works. Around 8:30, we had an optional time where baristas could become familiar with our machine and take a practice pour if they so chose to do, and we kicked off the night with introductions and first-pour at 9:00.
The evening was a blast! A majority of the competitors were representing local shops in the 419 area (something we wanted to be a goal of ours and that we were really hoping for), while we had a few alumni baristas from out of town that used to work at local shops, and one independent competitor. With each round of the competition being revealed as we went, the first round consisted of baristas pouring lattes, the second round pouring into take-away cups, the third round cappuccinos, and the final round pouring with oat milk sponsored by Oatly! And just for fun, to decide our third place winner, we had the two pour into 12oz Brewista frothing pitchers!
Coming out of the evening in first place was, Ben Spang, from Plate One in Toledo. In second place, Andrew Trumbull, an alumni barista from Claro Coffee in Toledo. And in third place, Zack Mickens, a current barista from Purebred Coffee in Troy, Ohio (and an alumni barista from Flatlands!).
The night was a success! I would say, even more than a success! Coming from that one latte art throwdown in Dayton over a year ago, I don’t think I ever could have imagined 419 Throwdown happening as it did.
The more and more invested I become in the coffee industry, the more and more passionate I become about connecting it. Before I started competing in the SCA Coffee Competitions, I didn’t realize how accessible the larger specialty coffee industry was. Access to resources, information, relationships/partnerships were at my fingertips, and I didn’t realize it. Being a barista in a small town can sometimes feel like being stuck in a bubble, but the more I began toreach out, talk to people, share information and went into conversations with a willingness to learn, growth became exponential.
Just how I said earlier, that latte art throwdowns can be dynamic and serve multiple purposes, this was our purpose; to serve and inspire the 419 coffee community, to make an investment in forward movement that is already happening in our area, and to help connect our local community of baristas to one another and to the larger industry. We joked throughout the preparations that the actual latte art was just an excuse to throw a big party and to have all of these people in the same place at the same time. That’s exactly what happened. It was incredible, and it was an honor and a privilege to help facilitate it.
Something I hope to never forget, and that I hope continues to inspire me and others in their ventures as coffee professionals or enthusiasts, is the excitement and energy felt in the room that Friday night. It was pure and authentic excitement. It didn’t matter who was pouring or from what shop they were representing, shouts and cheers consumed the space. There was a genuine eagerness for more; more connection, more community, more coffee.
This is what we’re about.
If you were able to attend (in person or virtually), thank you for a being a part of it! It’s your support, excitement, and desire for growth that keeps the industry moving in this area. If you were unable to attend, be on the lookout for the second annual 419 Latte Art Throwdown, but in the meantime, let’s talk!
If you’re a barista in the 419 area and you have an idea for an event or get together, or you want to know how to get more connected, anything, let’s make it happen. If you’re a community member and you want to learn more about coffee or want to see more coffee events happen, let’s make it happen.
Please feel free to contact us! Heck, even ask for Rachel and I’d love to talk to you personally!
Lastly, I want to give one last gargantuan thank you to all of those who were involved in making the 419 Latte Art Throwdown possible, sponsors, friends, family, baristas, guests, all of you!! Thank you so so much!!!
See ya next time.
written by Rachel Diaz