Latte art on display
10/18/2012 10:00 PM
Usually, when you order a latte, the steamed milk is a frothy blob atop the espresso. Some coffee shops don’t stop there—they create art: a tulip, a rosette, a leafy shrub or a heart. It’s almost a shame to drink it and ruin the design.
Tonight, I saw some of the best baristas in the Windy City show their stuff at a latte art throwdown. The scene was Counter Culture Coffee at 177 N. Ada St., and I’ve got to say, the place was buzzing with adrenalin. Or maybe caffeine.
“Events like this are a great way for coffee professionals to show off their skills,” said Rich Futrell from Counter Culture.
The throwdown was organized by New Gotham Coffee Community, a Chicago organization whose members are baristas and other members of the coffee industry.
“We have a latte art competition once a month,” said Talia Strader of New Gotham. The crowd is mostly coffee folk, but all coffee enthusiasts are welcome. If you’re into latte art or just want to soak up the aroma of coffee and espresso brewing, you’ll have to wait until 2013 for the next event—tonight’s was the last of this year. You can like New Gotham on Facebook to learn when and where they'll meet next.
Contestants pay a $5 entrance fee and the winner gets the pot. That was just over $100 in tonight’s competition, but the bragging rights may be as important as the hundy.
One young up-and-comer in the Chicago latte art game is David Beck, who plies his trade at Intelligentsia in the Monadnock Building. He’s what you might call a quadruple threat.
“I can do tulips, tears, rosettes, hearts,” Beck said. He’s only been a barista for about a year, but he’s comfortable with his skill level. In fact, he poured his competition latte with a firm and steady hand, and the result was a near-perfectly formed rosette.
In fact, most of the contestants chose rosettes. The judges had mere seconds to choose which barista moves on in each round. Marty Sweeney, one of the judges and an educator at Intelligentsia, said he looks for “contract, symmetry, and leaf definition.”
The throwdown vibe was congenial and friendly, but the baristas were eager to show who was the king or queen of latte art. Nerves were also in evidence: I saw one latte that bore an uncanny resemblance to a weird impressionist painting on display at the Art Institute.
“These baristas may do 100 lattes a day, so they have the skill to make a really great-looking latte,” said Counter Culture’s Rich Futrell. “There are definitely some nerves you have to battle. It’s like a pro basketball player who can sink 100 foul shots in a row in practice, but when the crowd starts screaming, he can’t get it in the basket.”