Preparing for Coffee Fest Portland’s Latte Art Competition

Sixty-four competitors representing America, Japan, Korea, Australia and China, two Nuova Simonelli Espresso Machines and Grinders, locally sourced coffee and milk and three minutes per head-to-head round…welcome to Coffee Fest’s World Latte Art Championship Open.

This is a competition that not only tests the art that can be freely poured [no drawing with hand tools!] into a double shot of espresso utilizing contrast, color infusion, degree of difficulty and symmetry, but this competition tests a barista’s nerves and speed as well. With zero practice before each round, many competing baristas succumb to shaky hands, spilled drinks and loss of time before getting a drink to the judges. This is a competition of strategy and bullet proof nerves to get to the podium in first, second or third place.

This will be my seventh entry into the competition. I have done fairly well in the past and extremely poorly as well. My goal for this competition [aside from winning] is to infuse a style that’s not only fast and effective, but also speaks to a pouring discipline that has allowed me to win several local latte art competitions as well as the annual SCAA latte art competition.

Since nerves, adrenaline and overall excitement have dramatic effects on me, my practice regiment includes using several different types of coffee in terms of origin, roast level and age. With only three minutes to effectively pour milk into a cup of coffee, a lot can go wrong…so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared! I’ve also been timing myself from start to finish and working at shortening my prep time. If I mess up for the first pour, a fast pouring time gives me a larger window of opportunity to try again. My fastest time from start to finish is 43 seconds (I bet that’s faster than a super automatic espresso machine). Muscle memory is a major part of this competition as well…so since my acceptance to the Portland competition, I have only poured the above pictured latte art during practice and while working at Not Just Coffee on weekends.

The Portland competition seems to bring to best of the best in the latte art world, so it was an honor to even get in. With all the prep that goes into three minutes per round on stage, I don’t plan on losing so quickly.

For more from Steven on latte art competitions, read this blog post.