Interviews! The U.S. To Enter the World Latte Art Championship Field

The beautiful Ms. Sonja Grant of Iceland, who is in Boston to oversee the U.S. Latte Art Exhibition.

Today marks the day that the United States begins its journey to be a part of the World Latte Art Championship elite: At 2 p.m. in the Activity Hall of the Boston Convention Center, the U.S. Latte Art Exhibition will commence. If all goes well, we’ll have an official U.S. Latte Art Championship—and a seat at the World Latte Art Championship table—in 2014.

But this is still a competition, oh yes sireee. The winner of the U.S. Latte Art Exhibition taking place this weekend will get one heck of a prize package!

Here’s the schedule for the U.S. Latte Art Championship:
Thursday, April 11
2–3 p.m.: Round 1

Friday, April 12
11 a.m. to 12 p.m.: Round 1 continued
3–4 p.m.: Round 2
4 p.m.: Finalists announced!

Saturday, April 13
11 a.m. to 12 p.m.: Final round
12 p.m.: Awards ceremony

And if you see any of these folks around, feel free to give them a hug: they organized this grand event. Primary organizers: Skip Finely and Sevan Istanboulian of Dalla Corte North America; Patrick Burns of Palace Coffee.

Planning committee: Lorenzo Perkins (Cuvee Coffee); Richard Sandlin (Bay Area Coffee Community); Lara Gallagher (SCAA); Tara Shenson (SCAA); Jon Stovall (Coffee Tools Ap); Garold LaRue (Avoca Coffee); Heather Ringwood (Espresso Parts); Panda Fernandez (Espresso Parts); Chris Elliott (Prima Coffee); Sonja Grant; Emma Markland Webster

Before the latte artists had a chance to get lathered into pouring intensity, I got the chance to chat with Sonja Grant, who is on the World Coffee Events Board and oversees national latte art competitions around the world, as well as Patrick Burns of Palace Coffee, who has been the man behind the mission: without Patrick, this competition wouldn’t be happening.

The beautiful Ms. Sonja Grant of Iceland, who is in Boston to oversee the U.S. Latte Art Exhibition.

The beautiful Ms. Sonja Grant of Iceland, who is in Boston to oversee the U.S. Latte Art Exhibition.

Sarah: You have worked on Latte Art Championship in many nations — which ones?
Sonja: I have been involved with the World Latte Art Championship since we had the first one in Greece in 2005, I was a judge then and a helper with the organizing of the judges panel. Since then I have been a part of the group that has organized and developed the championship in a world level a long with helping in countries for the national level. World Coffee Events was established in 2010 and the group of people behind the organizing the championship got bigger and more efficient, and professional. I have helped in  countries like Mexico, Denmark, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Lithuania, France, Iceland, Korea, Russia, Italy (I do not remember more…) I’m going to Belgium in April and then of course I will be in Nice for the WCE World Championships 2013 in June.

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Patrick: Last year I launched the Barista Throwdown league. Palace Coffee Company is in a part of the US that doesn’t have coffee culture. We are in Canyon right smack in the middle of the Panhandle of Texas. The only other coffee shops around are hours away. I desperately wanted to create a community and I know that TNT’s were successful in bigger markets. We needed to tweak ours a bit to get baristas from miles away to take part. That is how we came up with a league format (6 competitions over 6 months) where baristas earn points for each round won. We also have baristas pour in identical cups and similar designs (heats against hearts etc…). It was successful so much so that other communities started to look at it for their own communities (Austin, Dallas, Kansas City, San Francisco). I competed at the Big Central this year and met Skip Finley at the TNT. We talked about the need for a US Latte Art Championship and he asked if I thought the league format could help get baristas from across the country together. When I got back home I put together a flow chart together of how it could work up from a district to regional, to national level. He then presented it at the February 4th SCAA meeting to get their approval. They said yes and then we started working toward an exhibition to showcase the potential competition.

Sarah: Why do you feel it is important for the U.S. to have this championship? How will it benefit our barista community?
Sonja: I think it is important for US to be involved with the World Latte Art Championship, and to do that US need to have a national level championship to choose the best latte Art Champion to represent US in the Wolds. I believe that it is important for everybody and  all countries to learn from other cultures, and that is the same for the US baristas. They could learn and exchange knowledge with other baristas in other parts of the world – World Latte Art Championship is one way to do that, and it is fun as well.
Patrick: I feel that latte art has taken a bad rap. Sure it is seen as fluff and not important but I see it different. I compare it to dining at a nice restaurant. If I spend the money even if the food tastes great, if the plating is done exquisitely it enhances my experience. Everyday at Palace we have customers who feel special that there drinks look and taste amazing so much so that some come back for another just to have a different latte art pattern. Of course baristas put to much emphasis on the art but that is for great trainers and owners to coach out of them. We have tremendous talent in the US and it is a shame that these baristas are not invited to the Worlds because we have not put together a competition.
Sarah: What does it do for our coffee community?
Patrick: TNTs are great ways to bring baristas together and have a little fun. I’d love to tie throwdowns and Latte Art Leagues into the BGA and have an educational component so it’s more than just a party.
 
Sarah: What are some things about this latte art format that may surprise people? Most in the U.S. are used to the head-to-head format, and this is not like that at all.
Patrick: I love the head to head format but I also like an even playing field both for the baristas and for the judges and that is why we have identical cups and we call the design round by round for Round 1. The semi finals and finals are more in line with the World Latte Art Rules. The big difference is identical pours. Each barista will have to produce a pattern and then replicate it for the judges. The judging is also more intense. For those that aren’t familiar it is more like the judging in the Barista Competition replacing the tasting components with the visual components.

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.