The Latte Art Throwdown Is March Madness for Coffee Lovers

32 local baristas will compete head-to-head on July 11 for the title of The 86 Coffee Bar & Concert Venue’s first-ever Latte Art Throwdown champion.
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Photograph Courtesy Chris Human

We’ve all had them: Beautiful mugs filled to the brim with lattes poured so intricately that their designs look more like pieces of art than Sunday morning pick-me-ups. This week, the area baristas behind these Instagrammable coffees will compete head-to-head to see who can pour the best cup in all of the Queen City.

Thirty-two local coffee makers will compete head-to-head on July 11 for the title of The 86 Coffee Bar & Concert Venue’s first-ever Latte Art Throwdown champion. Coffee enthusiasts and community members can watch competitors move through the bracket-style competition, free of charge. Large screens will display close-up video footage of each barista creating their own latte masterpiece. The drink will then be displayed in front of three judges who will determine who moves on to the next round (and yes, the lattes presented will be given away to spectators).

The 86 Coffee Bar & Concert Venue

Photograph Courtesy Chris Human

Chris Human, general manager of The 86, says he wants to create a fun night for baristas to come together and showcase their talents. When planning the throwdown, Human was focused on the community aspect of The 86’s four key values: Coffee, concerts, community, and creativity. “[The event is] basically creating community within the coffee industry in Cincinnati,” he says. “It feels kind of fragmented and I wouldn’t say [coffee shops] are competitors, but it feels fragmented. [This event] is just to get everybody together to have fun.”

The throwdown also focuses on Cincinnati’s broader community by doubling as a fundraiser for A Voice For The Innocent (AVFTI), a Cincinnati-based nonprofit dedicated to providing support for those who have been affected by sexual assault. Jamie Sivrais founded AVFTI in 2012 after previously sharing his childhood experience with sexual abuse and hearing similar stories from other people. “I just thought there should be an organization for those people where they know they can be believed, they know they can be heard, they know they can find resources and don’t even have to give their name,” he says.

After more than two decades of friendship between Sivrais and Human (and previous partnerships between the organizations), Sivrais says there was no hesitation to sponsor the event. “I really love how community minded [The 86 is],” he says. “I love any time we get to work with them because they always have such cool people in their community.”

Eric Boggs, vice president of AVFTI, will join Sarah Finney (co-owner of 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab) and Chuck Pfahler (founder of La Terza Coffee and Adesso Coffee) in judging the competition. Human says he wanted a diverse panel of judges for this event. Not only was he looking for both male and female coffee connoisseurs, but also someone who appreciates coffee from a non-barista perspective.

While some may see latte art as nothing more than a simple, fun decoration on top of their morning caffeine fix, Pfahler argues that it is an art form. More effort, precision, and patience goes into creating the perfect latte than you might think. He says it is important for baristas to pay attention to the flavor balance of the coffee, the texture of the milk, and pouring the milk with such intention that it mixes with the espresso in a visually appealing way.

“I think it’s important for us as a coffee community to come together, so any type of industry event is important,” Pfahler says. “I think it’s important for our customers to see that coffee isn’t a cheap commodity, but it’s a culinary discipline.”

Latte Art Throwdown, The 86 Coffee Bar & Concert Venue, July 11, 7–10 p.m.

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