Member preview

Dispatch from a coffee “throw down”


BEGIN DISPATCH

Dear Reader, how do you begin your day of taking on this inane — sometimes quite insane but who are we kidding “trippy” — existence you call your life?

Let’s clear the air of the clichés of how many times you can press snooze in a given half hour time slot, taking your normal bowel inducing trip to the loo, or the monotonous routine of the daily sociological standard of getting dressed. Instead, let us zero in on that very common & mildly addictive morning injection of liquid caffeine in the form of sodas, energy drinks, teas, and of course — Coffee. Depending on where you are from in the world, you have a word for the specialty drink we are going to discuss today: Café, Koiffe, Kava, and Kahawa to name a few.

Photo courtesy of event organizers
Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, equivalent to 146 billion cups of coffee per year, making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world. Coffee represents 75% of all the caffeine consumed in the United States. The average coffee cup size is 9 ounces…
90% of people in the world consume at least one meal or beverage with caffeine in it daily. On a per capita average, however, Finland leads the way with the average adult consuming at least 400 mg of caffeine every day.

Another question to dear reader: What do Hearts, Tulips, Stacks & Rosettas all have in common?

This past Saturday evening and finishing in the early hours of Sunday morning, over 120 baristas from all over LA and the country — even as far off as Australia, France, Japan, and Vietnam— competed in multiple coffee centric competitions such as blind taste test and a head-to-head “Latte Art” knockout tournament. Not your typical southern California Saturday night out with friends! Or apparently, I was the odd man out in not knowing this happens on the reg in the coffee community. The night was the culmination of previous rounds that were already done and dusted. We were witnessing history at “The Finals.” Phew, am I back to watching the World Cup? I did not know Coffee was this serious a hobby! I just thought it was tight jeans and shirt with an eccentric mustache for the fellas or hair every which way and color for the ladies that could differentiate a true barista from the regular chaff of coffee drinkers like myself. Don’t @ me baristas, it’s a joke.

Before the competition began the festivities were in full swing. Grilled sandys, keg beer, pizza delivery, and tubs of canned Modelos, Tecates, and Bud Diesels were there to quench the other part of your thirst palate. Everyone came for the long haul party — which didn’t wind down till close to 3am. During the gorging on food/booze, catching up with the homies, and the discussions of vernacular that might as well been a different language — the environment was palpably friendly in nature.

I FELT APART OF THE CREW!

The visual party of “Latte Art” was due to begin any minute, but let us digress to the other senses that were tingling from the sounds and smells. “Tink, Tink, Tink,” is the sound you hear above the dull roar of the fraternizing crowd. Imagine a heavy handed champagne toast, but instead of a glass there is a small ceramic bowl that creates a bolder and lower pitched sound that clings to your eardrums. “Sluurrrrp” is the next sound you recognize. If you have every eaten at a traditional ramen restaurant the octave of the perfect slurp is music to your ears — or anyone that has ever partaken in the age old ritual of eating soup. Again, an odd sound to the untrained and biased ears of muah. Lastly, you hear a “Spttt” sound of liquid exiting a mouth and back into a cup. Dear Reader, I have just described to you the audible noises of a blind taste test. To partake in said taste test a patron, and/or judge, would see before them six small bowls, filled of black liquid, with corresponding numbers to each. Another row of cups are just behind the six with a brown tinted clear substance — H2O. A proper taste test would be to get a liquid spoonful from a numbered bowl, and basically inhale the contents into your mouth — without putting the spoon into your mouth because each person has to “wash” their spoon in the same bowl so you wont have spoonful’s of other’s back wash — and either swallow or spit out into your very own plastic trash receptacle. You then hear the deeper aforementioned sound of a toast coming, but sadly it is just the taster dipping their just used spoon into water and tapping it against the bowl to expel the last drops of liquid before diving into the next numbered option. I really hope that the water was boiling hot and we could all hesitantly say that action killed any germs transferred from spoon to water to another’s spoon. (I may be missing something, but I don’t know if they have this hygiene thing figured out…)

Photo courtesy of event organizers

All the while this is happening and as soon as you walked through the threshold from the outside world, you are overtaken by your olfactory senses. Coffee scents fill the air along with the whiffs of pizza, beer, faint cologne & perfume, and the occasional weed cloud — I mean we are in Cali. Smell is a tricky thing though, being able to transport you to and from this dimension into the pseudo-reality of your memory and when/where you smelt that smell first, most recent, or most notably. Anybody else think that is absolutely wild? For me, the smell of coffee is a motivation to get things moving, a plethora of coffee shop visits over the years, but also my first ever job of bagging groceries at “Fresh Market” back in TN where the grinds filled the entire store from opening all the way to the next morning’s opening — just always ruminating. I bet some of you dear readers might feel the same way with their coffee scent memory.

What is the first thing that comes to the reader’s mind when they think about and/or smell “Coffee”? Take a second and see what comes out of that noggin of yours!

LET’S GET READY TO GRIND!

So how does one “throw down” exactly? The jist is two baristas would each make a cup of caffeinated goodness with the addition of the same “latte” design type, and after competitors would put their piece of art on the counter for judges to identify the superior of the pair. It was knockout tournament style, so if you lose you are out — other than buying back in for a paltry $5. A La Marzocco Leva and a Racilio Specialty were alternating back and forth to get through the multitude of baristas, so things moved quite quickly once we started. Deeper into the competition, there were opportunities other than the designs provided that allowed the baristas to be creative in their own way. Eventually we were left with three winners — 1st, 2nd, & 3rd place. The winners received a professional home espresso machine, but the main takeaway was bragging rights until the next throw down.

1st, 2nd, & 3rd place finishers. Representing Arkansas, New York, & California(LA) respectively.

The night wasn’t about the party. It wasn’t about the mouth or stomach pleasures either. Hell it wasn’t even about the damn Coffee! It was about Community (yes — capital “C”). Specifically the coffee Community coming together with each other over their prized subject. During the throw down, every losing competitor congratulated their opponent in defeat, but even more noticeable were the winners who were always gracious in their achievement — never posturing, belittling, or pontificating — only respecting their foe with thanks. That energy is incredibly illuminating, but also so needed in today’s fractured times. Even in a competition, people can put aside their egos and just enjoy the company of others with shared interests. #FaithRestoredInHumanity

In the end, we are all just trying to survive — but ultimately ENJOY — this existence. Soccer, reading, and writing are some of my passions. Why can’t coffee be the passion that others pursue and ENJOY? The coffee community may of just found themselves a new advocate in yours truly.

See you at the next throw down!

END DISPATCH