Baristas and other coffee enthusiasts will be at Drip Café in Hockessin tomorrow night for the first "Latte Art Throwdown." The event is open to anyone with enviable pouring skills and $10.
For spectators, though, the real draw might be what they're doing with the left-overs.
Drip Café owner Greg Vogeley has had the jitters this week. At first glance, someone might think it’s a by-product of his business and that he’s taste-testing every cup before it goes out the door. In truth, he’s just excited about hosting the first “Latte Throwdown” tomorrow night.
The event, dreamed up over coffee talk with Kennett Square’s Philter Coffee Shop owner Chris Thompson and Wilmington’s Loma Coffee Shop owner Ben Cordova, is something they hope to turn into a circuit event over the next few months.
“The plan is for the second one to happen at Philter in May,” Vogeley said while tending to customers earlier this week. “Then, hopefully Loma will have the third one in July. Other shops have expressed interest so it could go any number of places after that.”
Inspired by March Madness, the throwdown will feature head-to-head competition for eight pairs of baristas. Here’s how it works: three judges will keep their backs turned while the competitors compress their coffee grounds and steam and pour their milk. They’ll set their efforts on the counter, at which point the judges will turn around and make a split-second aesthetic call on whose work is best. The competition will progress like that until there’s only one man—or woman—left standing.
The buy-in is $10 but competition is not exclusive to professional baristas. Vogeley said that he hopes to see former baristas, home enthusiasts, current baristas and everyone in between.
“There will be tremendous bragging rights for the person who wins,” Vogeley said. “And, of course, money, too. The winner also takes home the pot.”
Vogeley himself may or may not compete, depending on the number of people who sign up for competition. Not confident in his own pouring-under-pressure skills, it’s not the pot that worries him, though. It’s the friendly “smack talk” that’s already started. Pulling out his phone, he scrolls through some text messages from Thompson that include photos and trash-talking jokes that the Philter crew is going to show Vogeley who can pour a more artful cup of espresso. Thompson is betting on himself and his own staff but insists that the trash talking is all in jest.
“I’m really just excited about the opportunity to bring three great shops together and raise awareness about the quality of coffee in the area,” Thompson said, before adding that that he hardly considers himself the best pourer in town. “I like to make drinks look pretty and I think I’m OK at what I do.”
Vogeley laughs and says that he has confidence in Thompson’s skills behind the counter. He also said he sort-of loves the back-and-forth smack talk.
“It’s fun,” he said. “And, the trash talk actually just builds the camaraderie between everyone even more. But, the whole point is that the event gives the coffee community a chance to come together and hang out with other like-minded people.
For coffee-drinkers (and non-pourers), one of the best benefits of the event may have less to do with the camaraderie and more to do with the free cups of joe that will be available. Spectators, who are welcome to watch the event free of charge, will also be able to gulp down as much of the cast-off cups as they want.
Non-coffee drinkers are also welcome. Fordham and Dominion Brewing Company in Dover has signed on as the throwdown’s main sponsor and will be providing some of their handcrafted beers and sodas for the event.
“I’m so excited about Fordham’s participation,” Vogeley said. “We’re serious about making this a circuit event and they’ve agreed to stay with us awhile as a sponsor. It’s exactly the relationship I wanted.”
For now, he’s concentrating on tonight. There’s still much to do before sign-ups for the event start at 6:30 p.m. He’s got make sure he’s got enough ingredients on hand, space for everyone, space for the live music and a hundred other small details that make an event successful and memorable.
“I can’t wait to see and meet the baristas that show up to compete and hope the community will come out to watch them pour,” he said. “And, I don’t care if a barista from another shop wins. The whole point is that when we’re successful together, it pushes the whole coffee community up, which is what we want.”