The Baton Rouge coffee community got really intense about steamed milk on Thursday night. At the Latte Art Throwdown, baristas were ready to show off.
Held on March 7 at Light House Coffee, the sixth Latte Art Throwdown was open to anyone who wanted to test their skills in a competitive setting. Thirty-two contenders went through elimination rounds of making latte art to determine who was the best, drawing whatever idea came to them in the moment.
Rotated around the five specialty coffee shops in Baton Rouge, the event is always hosted by the Barista Guild of Baton Rouge, who wants to promote the coffee community and expand knowledge about its organization. The latest competition drew a large crowd of hopeful competitors and onlookers, offering free beer and blasting music as the night went on.
Emily Jean McCollister, one of the event organizers and co-founder of the Barista Guild of Baton Rouge, said the event really helped to bring the local community of baristas and specialty coffee together. It was also affirming for people who wanted to make their careers in coffee, an industry that isn’t widely talked about.
“Specialty coffee as an industry is really serious. People stay in it for the rest of their lives,” McCollister said. “It can be a career. It’s so deep and wide.”
According to McCollister, latte art in particular has an interesting history in the coffee community, beginning in the late ‘90s and becoming very popular with third-wave coffee and specialty coffee. It was a way of showing the customer that the milk had been properly steamed, eventually evolving into an art form, with letters, hearts and swans becoming common.
“With latte art, we do something called free-pouring, which you just use the milk to make the design, there’s no extra tools or anything,” McCollister said. “You just pour milk into the cup and you create something. If you don’t steam your milk properly, you don’t get art.”
McCollister said even for people who spend all day making latte art, the competition is still exciting and often a source of pride. For specialty baristas who take their work seriously, winning the competition can be both gratifying and a way to gain recognition for their coffee shop.
At the end of the night, three baristas were declared the winners of the competition. In first place, it was Ian Lacour from Rêve in Lafayette, Nigel James of Spitfire Coffee in New Orleans in second place and McCollister in third place.
“It really is an adrenaline high,” McCollister said. “I know it sounds silly, but you get up there and you get hyped. You get really nervous, and it’s something you do every day, but you get up there, and it’s like suddenly you forget