The Latte Art Throwdown

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What a night!

Lessons learned from last night’s latte art throwdown at Joe: The Art of Coffee, a fundraiser for Red Cross disaster relief in Myanmar and China:

(1) Baristas love a good throwdown;

(2) Baristas take a throwdown seriously–many of their hands were shaking as they poured!

(3) When MC-ing such an event, it is bad to interview a barista while she’s prepping her pour (sorry Emily from 9th Street Espresso);

(4) Being a barista grants access to a secret cult of baristas; I was surprised to see the baristas from some of my favorite New York coffee shops–Gorilla, 9th Street and, of course, Joe–all know each other and like each other;

(5) It’s good to have a giant screen so the crowd can see the lattes as they’re poured and hoot and holler for the good ones…

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Fundraiser at 13th Street Joe This Thursday

I’ll be MC-ing a fundraiser this Thursday, June 5th, at Joe: The Art of Coffee on 13th Street at 8 PM. Baristas will compete in a Latte Art Throwdown with guest judges Gabriella Gershenson from Time Out New York and Katie Carguilo from Counter Culture Coffee. All money will go to the American Red Cross to support efforts in Myanmar and China; free beer when you sponsor a barista ($10 suggested donation). Hope to see you there!

AGTV: Latte Art

I am proud to announce a new ambitious venture here at The Amateur Gourmet: maybe I’m crazy, maybe I’m naive, but I am making a pact–signed in blood–to produce for you, my loving audience, a weekly video to be released each Wednesday for what will become our very own Amateur Gourmet food channel–AGTV. Our first video finds us at Joe: The Art of Coffee where master barista Amanda teaches me how to make latte art. Thanks to Amanda, the people at Joe, Kirk for lending me his camera, Adam Kuban for holding the camera, Ricky for producing and Lisa for singing my theme song, Craig for teaching me Final Cut and Lucy, child of Josh and Katy, for being the official Amateur Gourmet Baby. Hope you enjoy!

Don’t Make A Mess-o of Your Espresso

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The man didn’t know what he was doing. I was at a Brooklyn coffee shop whose name is synonymous with donkey and I ordered an iced latte. The man (I’d call him a barista, but he clearly wasn’t) took a glass and filled it with ice. And then–this was the crucial error–he pulled two watery flavorless shots of espresso which he poured on top of the ice. The ice melted a lot. Then he topped the whole thing with a splash of milk. It was insipid.

The next day at my favorite coffee shop in America (including Seattle) I paid close attention to how the baristas at Joe make their iced lattes. Ice in the glass: check. Then they fill the glass almost to the top with milk. “Whoah,” you might think, “there’s so much milk. How can this taste like a latte?” The answer lies in the picture you see above: they pull a really strong shot. Not just a strong shot, an expert shot. It infuses the milk with magic coffee flavor and produces the best iced latte I can imagine. The secret is in the espresso.

Lucky us, one of Joe’s most prized baristas has a blog. Welcome to the world of Erin Meister and her blog Meet The Press Pot. I stole this post’s image from a post in which Meister writes: “To say an espresso is good is sort of like saying a girl on the street is pretty: Every good shot of espresso and every pretty girl may share this or that characteristic, but if you were to line them all up, one hopes one’s taste is varied enough that they would all be rather different piece by piece. Right?”

She concludes: “So how does one train one’s pupils to pull good espresso? By making them taste, taste, taste and taste again. This is a people-driven industry, and a taste-bud driven industry. And if there’s no way of standardizing ‘great’ espresso, the least we can do, I guess, is create great baristas. One hopes.”

Let’s hope the Meisters of the world outrun the donkeys. Or, at least, that more people learn how to pull a good shot of espresso. I know where I’m headed for my next iced latte!