The 2. Zagreb Latte Art Throwdown is hosted by Lively Roasters Co. on the 5th of November. I would definitely encourage you to stop by, it should be fun!
The first latte art throwdown was organized by us (Cogito Coffee) and 42 Coffee Company. There were three qualifying stages held at three locations: 42 Coffee Company, Cafe U Dvorištu, and Express bar. The finals were held in our then-newly opened Cogito Coffee shop in downtown Zagreb. The winner of the event was Oliver Oljica, and as a prize we sent him to Sweden during the 2015 world latte art championship.
Latte art throwdowns are informal competitions, the purpose of which is to get people together and hopefully to have a fun time. It is one of the ways that we open up our coffee community to the public, showcase our skill, and demonstrate our passion. When we organized the first throwdown I was surprised by the talent and diversity of the competitors. The fact is that nowadays both your average neighborhood coffee shop and your hip specialty coffee shop will have at least one thing in common: they both draw nice latte art.
The other thing that strikes me is how many people come to watch latte art throwdowns. Latte art is appealing because it showcases a basic skill - the purpose and effect of which is easily appreciated. There is no explaining needed: you pull out a shape and you draw it.
At times this has been a source of frustration for baristas and coffee roasters. Sometimes we feel like people judge the quality of the cup by the quality of the drawing. This has led some of the most prominent baristas in the world to refuse to do latte art, labeling it a distraction. Matt Perger, one of Australia's best-known baristas, made the argument that latte art may actually make the cup taste worst. The reasoning is simple enough – in order to get that strong contrast of colors in the drawing we push the espresso crema to the top of the cup, and since the crema is mostly made up of CO2 it gives out more bitter, dry, and potentially astringent flavors, thereby making the cup less sweet and balanced.
The fact is that it is easier to sell an expensive cup of coffee with latte art than without it. The beauty of a tulip or rosette topping a flat white tells the average customer that the cup was made with care. Lattes exhibit a consistence of skill and attention, which affirms the customer's expectations. On the other hand, it is certainly true that great latte art does not promise a great cup of coffee and that our admiration of the drawing can distract us from paying attention to the taste.
I do not think that the point here is to get rid of latte art -- we can still do nice art and use these skills to promote great coffee, while not limiting the whole coffee experience to visual aesthetics. For me the question of latte art is related to an overarching issue I have with the specialty coffee industry: the role of aesthetics as a dominating force in defining, communicating, and promoting coffee culture. I will dedicate the next couple of posts to this question. For now, go and enjoy the latte art contest and have some great coffee while you're at it.