TNT Louisville: Latte Art and the Legacy of the River City

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I once read about a group of bicycle messengers in New York City who held weekly bike races at a local velodrome. I was struck by the fact that these men and women work long, grueling hours riding a bike all day, only to ride bikes for fun in their spare time. They clearly have a passion for what they do that few people share. But if anyone shares a passion for their job, it’s baristas at craft coffee shops.

One thing the craft coffee world at large knows about the bluegrass state is that Louisville, KY kicks serious ass at latte art. The river city has produced fervent zeal for the sport, spawning national latte art competition champions and competitors alike over the last several years. Most notably is Ryan Soeder (currently in Boston serving as Customer Representative for Counter Culture Coffee) who claimed victory in the 2011 Chicago Coffee Fest Latte Art World Championship Open. Sunergos Barista Kenny Smith placed 2nd in 2012, and a marked number of rising artists joined the ranks traveling as far as Seattle, Chicago, New York, and San Diego for a chance at coffee geekdom glory.

On the last Thursday of the month in cities all across the United States baristas gather for Thursday Night Throwdown (TNT), which sounds like a professional wrestling event but is actually a head-to-head, single elimination latte art competition. These baristas pony up an entrance fee and pour their hearts out to find out who has the most skills in town. The winner gets bragging rights, accolades on Twitter, and a pile of cash.

The existence of a regular, organized TNT signals a quantum leap in Louisville’s craft coffee scene.

Michael and I competed in Louisville’s August TNT, hosted by Sunergos Coffee at their original Preston St. location. The existence of a regular, organized TNT signals a quantum leap in Louisville’s craft coffee scene. Events like this make the Compass proud to be based in Louisville. Baristas from all over the commonwealth showed up, representing at least 4 companies (Sunergos, Quills, Argo Sons, Coffea). The competition was fierce, and close pours had the judges making some tough decisions. Michael and I had hoped we would square off eventually, but even though we both advanced, a Coffee Compass final wasn’t in the cards. In the end Danny Loeschen of Sunergos took the whole thing. Houston Miller of Quills Coffee, a former TNT winner, came in second, and John Letoto of Quills took third.

The Compass’s official photographer Brian Moats was on hand to take photos (it only felt natural after he shot Rosettas for Relief back in early 2011), and Louisville’s Courier Journal even sent a reporter to cover the event. September’s TNT will be at Quills Coffee, Cardinal BLVD and is likely to increase the competition even further.

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Update: Louisville thursday night throwdowns now have their own twitter account: @TNT_Louisville

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