The U.S. Latte Art Championship Experience

Simeon, winner of the inaugural U.S. Latte Art Championship, hoists his trophy. He'll represent the United States in Melbourne at the World Latte Art Championship next week. From left: Row, Simeon, Kyle, Dean. Photo courtesy of the SCAA

We’re still reflecting on how awesome the inaugural U.S. Latte Art Championship—which took place at the SCAA show in Seattle two weeks ago—was. Thanks to the tireless efforts of a small team of believers—led by Skip Finley and Sevan Istanboulian of Dalla Corte North America, and the whole Dalla Corte Espresso Systems crew from Italy—this competition went off so seamlessly, it would seem it’s been a part of the U.S. Coffee Championships offerings for years.

The SCAA required Skip and Sevan to put on a U.S. Latte Art Exhibition in 2013 as a test to see whether the contest would catch on with U.S. baristas, and if Dalla Corte could pull it off. It was “yes” all around. So there were plenty of people thrilled to see the U.S. Latte Art Championship take off for reals this year.

With 14 competitors, the competition began on Thursday, April 24, with the final round taking place for six baristas on Saturday, April 26. Then those six had to wait until Sunday’s big awards ceremony to find out who won. In the end, it was Simeon Bricker of the Roasterie in Kansas City who took top place. Simeon will travel to Melbourne, Australia, next week to represent the United States at the World Latte Art Championship, which will be the first time a U.S. competitor has officially taken part in the international contest.

Dalla Corte’s terrific video about the United States Latte Art Championship

The structure of the latte art competitions that lead up to the World Latte Art Championship is quite different than the head-to-head style contest we see more of in the United States. In the first round, competitors have to make two free pour lattes and two designer lattes on stage for the judges (two visual, one head, and one technical) in a six-minute presentation. The six finalists went on to a round in which they made two macchiatos, two free pour lattes, and two designer lattes in an eight-minute performance. Competitors were judged on their foam quality, difficulty of design, ability to reproduce, and creativity.

Here’s the final ranking:
1st place: Simeon Bricket, The Roasterie, Kansas City, Missouri
2nd place: Eugene Lee, Cafe Dulce, Glendale, California
3rd place: Kyle Dols, Morsel, Seattle, Washington
4th Place: Dean Kallivrousis, Onyx Coffee Lab, Springdale, Arizona
5th Place: Row Aczon, Honolulu Coffee Co., Honolulu, Hawaii
6th Place: Donald Morrison, De Cafe Baristas, Pasadena, California

Simeon, winner of the inaugural U.S. Latte Art Championship, hoists his trophy. He'll represent the United States in Melbourne at the World Latte Art Championship next week. From left: Row, Simeon, Kyle, Dean. Photo courtesy of the SCAA

Simeon, winner of the inaugural U.S. Latte Art Championship, hoists his trophy. He’ll represent the United States in Melbourne at the World Latte Art Championship next week. From left: Row, Simeon, Kyle, Dean. Photo courtesy of the SCAA

We wanted to hear from a competitor what the competition experience was like. Dean, who placed fourth, stepped up for us to share his story.

Latte Art, and My Experience at the United States Latte Art Championship
By Dean Kallivrousis

Two years. I waited two years for the United States to have a national competition and produce a champion to compete in the World Latte Art Championship (WLAC).

You see, latte art was my gateway drug into specialty coffee. I was working for a company at the time that did not practice latte art. One day, bored and streaming through YouTube, I discovered this thing in coffee that I called for quite some time, “foam art.” The next day, I was pumped to share with my peers at work about this thing that was so strange but seemed possible. I was told it was not possible due to our espresso, espresso machine, pitchers, etc. Stubborn as I am, I set out to acquire this new skill. On my 10-minute work breaks, you could find me on the company computer looking up latte-art videos and trying to understand mixing foam with espresso to make beautiful shapes.

Dean competing in the U.S. Latte Art Championship. Photo courtesy of the SCAA

Dean competing in the U.S. Latte Art Championship. Photo courtesy of the SCAA

I must have gone through 20 gallons of milk before I poured my first heart. But what shocked me more than making latte art was how dazzled our regulars were when they were served their drink with a heart or tulip on top—and this encouraged me even more. I wanted to find out how to amaze guests that came in with latte art.

One day, the manager of a local coffeehouse visited the shop where I was working. I was stoked when I heard her drink order—it was small and straight-up—perfect milk to espresso ratio. When I handed her the drink with a crisp heart on top, she took one look at it and told me I should think about applying for a job at her company’s new shop.

After a year with her company, I got the idea to compete. I looked for U.S. competitions in the World Coffee Events competition roster, but the United States wasn’t qualified to compete at the world level.  Then a friend introduced me to Coffee Fest, which has a terrific series of latte art championships. Competing in Coffee Fest was another life changing experience. I was hooked. Meeting new people, seeing new pours, feeling the nerves of competition. I loved every moment of it.

It was after Coffee Fest when I began to look for other competitions around the U.S. That lead me to Amarillo, Texas, to a shop called Palace Coffee Company. You see, under the direction of owner Patrick Burns, Palace had created a “latte art league.” Competitors would gain points for how far they progressed in a throw down—one point for every round they made it through. By the time the 2014 Big Central Regional rolled around, I realized I was hardly the only one wanting a latte art competition that would lead to the World Latte Art Championship. Ideas and people started coming together. I was introduced to Skip Finley of Dalla Corte, who was incredibly passionate about getting the competition off the ground.

The first ever U.S. Latte Art Championship was finally announced—it would take place at the SCAA show in Seattle in April of 2014. The post for signups online must have been live for only about 10 minutes before I had my application submitted.

I competed and I ended up placing as a finalist. The competition itself is fierce as anything I’ve experience. The competition mimics that of barista competition while in a busy cafe—but it’s way harder than that. As a competitor, you give your visual judges a photo and the expectation is to make two identical drinks that exactly match that photo. I can understand why this type of criteria matters in specialty coffee, especially in the retail setting. I am of the opinion that it is the total experience that makes it worthwhile to the consumer, not just taste. You eat (or drink) with your eyes first.

I have never experience such electricity during a competition as there was at the U.S. Latte Art Championship. People clapped and cheered. People were loud. People were excited because their senses were engaged, which I think is the whole point of latte art, and ultimately specialty coffee.

About the Author

Sarah

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.