Independent Coffee: Latte Art Throwdown

Team Baltzersen’s were present for the inaugural North Star Micro Roaster’s Latte Art Throwdown on Wednesday this week. Baristas from independent coffee shops all over Yorkshire gathered for a bit of friendly competition to determine who could pour the best patterns in coffee.

North Star’s roaster is on the outskirts of Leeds City Centre in a slightly scruffy industrial estate. They have made a great effort to tidy the interior and smarten it up with some chunky wooden tables, the obligatory coffee sacks on the wall and a few other touches. It’s quite a big space that suited the event.

The independent coffee scene locally is friendly on the surface but can at times be quite bitchy.  Most of the businesses are relatively young, us included although whether we’d be considered part of the independent coffee scene is up for debate!  I think there is a significant level of insecurity in these economic times – most of the businesses are probably having to work hard to make a financial return on the effort expended.  Add to this the fact that there is actually only a small number of speciality coffee shops in the area and the baristas that work them are in high demand.  A trained barista who moves from one speciality coffee shop to a rival in town can be equated to a footballer crossing from say Liverpool to Everton.  It creates bad feeling within a small niche group and makes everyone a bit cagey.

As we entered the roastery the early arrivals were huddled in their respective groups. Imagine the fight scene from Anchorman. Especially pertinent when you consider the fixed wheel bikes so loved within hipster/barista circles that appear at the start of said scene. It was kind of uncomfortable to have so many people from rival shops in the same room with no group having any claim to owning the space. It didn’t come down to a brawl in the end though.

Imagine this, but in Leeds and with more hipsters.

The coffee machine to be used was a La Marzocco Linea. This machine immediately struck fear into the hearts of Kaya and Ben (my fellow Baltzersen’s baristas) – knobs. The linear has knobs rather than the levers to control the steam wand used to texture the milk. It sounds like a minor issue but it’s one more thing to think about when you are trying to concentrate on the milk, plus what happens if you turn it the wrong direction? I’ll tell you – you ruin your milk in front of literally 10s of people.

Ben was drawn in the first pour off and despite some slightly ropey milk and a few nerves he managed to beat his opponent from Froth’n’Fodder in Leeds. Kaya was in action in the next match and in his own words ‘choked’ and was defeated by Scott from Mrs Athas. I was soon involved myself, but swiftly beaten in a close match that split the judges but left Matt from Mrs Athas victorious. It was a bit of a disappointing end but there was still hope as there were spots for the two best losing pours in the next round.

Independent coffee shop Baltzersen's Ben Loebell texturing milk at North Star Roast Latte Art Throwdown

Ben is first up

Independent coffee shop Baltzersen's Ben Loebell's first round coffee

Ben’s first pour on the left

In between rounds there was a brief pause during which people could stuff their faces with a bit of food. This was in the form of Bread from the Leeds Bread Co-op, chutney from Made by Jim, awesome brownies from Noisette Bakehouse and meat and cheese platter that we supplied.

Ben was first up once again but had to pour a rosetta pattern – not his favourite and he crashed out. I received a (quite undeserved) place in the second round at the expense of one of the baristas from La Bottega Milanese, but quickly returned the favour to them by messing up my milk (too thin) and allowing the owner of LBM Alex to progress.

Rosetta latte art at Baltzersen's independent coffee shop

This is the kind of thing we needed to pour – we were nowhere near!

And that was that for our participation in our first ever competition. We all enjoyed the challenge and think if we get another chance to give it a go we could give a better account of ourselves.

Congratulations to Oakley from Crema Espresso in Bridlington for the win – he was a class above on the night.

Naturally I would recommend you check out any of the websites for the independent coffee shops and food suppliers I have linked to above.

If you want to read more:

Hayden, Ruth and the Bean and Bud team also wrote a small piece about the evening.

For a more visual piece you can also check this blog from A Tale of Two Sittings.

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