Editor’s note: Kait Berreckman of Beansmith Coffee in Omaha contacted me in June to tell me about the Nebraska Barista Association‘s Thursday Night Throwdown (TNT) scheduled for July 18, and I was psyched! I wanted Barista Magazine to support the event, and the grassroots group, however we could. So we became a sponsor and sent magazines and goodies for the event. I asked Kait if she would write about this first-ever TNT in Nebraska for the blog, and she was happy to share. Thanks, Kait! And keep up the good work, Nebraska Barista Association!
Article by Kait Berreckman
I love TNTs. I love the thrill of competition. I love the beer. I love the pours, of course. But most of all, like many of us in the specialty coffee world, I love the community. A buzzword if there ever was one, but I’ve yet to attend a TNT that didn’t inspire me to praise the specialty coffee community. After a TNT I feel motivated to pour better, encouraged to learn more, and closer to my fellow coffee people.
I fell in love with TNTs over the two years I spent in Austin and Houston, Texas. So when I came home to the Nebraska coffee scene, I had no idea what to expect. I started a group called the Nebraska Barista Association (yep, the NBA, it’s a funny joke) to gauge the level of interest in TNTs, meet-ups, brew method exchanges, etc. The initial response was great; we had some professional baristas and a lot of home enthusiasts. So we got started. We held a manual brew method party, we watched the United States Barista Championship finals, and we skirted around a TNT for months—until finally, it was time.
A local shop with a lot of busy baristas who was looking for the opportunity to host a coffee event expressed interest in hosting a throwdown to celebrate its newly remodeled bar and new 3-group Linea. Aromas Coffeehouse in Omaha’s Old Market would be the perfect place for our very first TNT. I want to stress that this wasn’t even the NBA’s first TNT. It was Omaha, Nebraska’s very first TNT EVER.
A week out, we had 25 Facebook attendees and a whole lot of maybes. I was nervous no one would show; I was nervous everyone would show. I had peppered Omaha’s indie shops with flyers and put a call out to the big guys (Scooter’s and Crane).
And it turned out I needn’t have worried: at 7pm on Thursday, July 18, we had an 18-person bracket that included baristas from Omaha, Lincoln, and Kansas City. We had killer swag, thanks to Barista Magazine, Espresso Parts, the Barista Guild of America, and Beansmith Coffee. We hosted an hour of “open gym” time for people to get their nerves out, and then we were off!
I was super impressed with everyone. I saw a whole lot of a great milk texture, some lovely pours, and overall a room full of people with great attitudes. The whole crowd was engaged—I have not seen so many iPhones hovering over a counter in a long time, proving once again that everyone loves latte art.
Latte art is the true gateway drug. It draws in customers and baristas alike for its mystery and beauty. And as we dig further into coffee, we discover that the mystery and the beauty never end and latte art becomes this perfect expression of that.
Simeon Bricker from The Roasterie in Kansas City took first place followed by Laura Clark of Homer’s Coffeehouse, also in KC, and third place went to an Omahan, Todd Campbell, who works for Starbucks. I want to especially encourage people who throw TNTs to not forget Starbucks and any other big chains in your areas when you’re promoting. Passionate baristas are everywhere and it’s our responsibility to find them and give them opportunities to grow and learn.
I firmly believe a specialty coffee culture can exist anywhere when the people who love it band together. Omaha may be a little late to the game, but we’re here now. I can’t wait to see the coffee scene take off here and as always, I can’t wait for the next TNT.