What do you call a sad espresso?
If you were at the SDCN Season One kickoff event at Caffe Calabria on Tuesday, you probably saw that gem of a joke scroll across the screens in between rounds. Lame puns aside, the special Tuesday edition of the SDTNT was hit. The last of three regional throwdowns in a short six-day span drew a huge crowd and 32 of the best local and regional baristas. I made it to all three, so before the SDTNT recap, a quick look at the events leading up to Tuesday:
The OCTNT at Cafecito Organico in Costa Mesa was a great night of taco and espresso fueled competition. The space was tiny and filled to the brim with coffee people and yet there was still a full taco bar tucked into the corner. The competition consisted of 44 baristas, all free pouring into different sized cups each round. Local barista Dylan M. came up with us and advanced a round before being bumped in the Gibraltar round in a split decision. I advanced a round further than him, only to completely botch the 10 oz. latte round. The funniest picture of the night was my face after looking at the finished pour. Let’s just say I wasn’t impressed. Evan from Augie’s Coffeehouse in Redlands went on to win.
Although I was disappointed on how the OCTNT turned out, I sought redemption in the form of Augie’s five-year anniversary party. The culmination of a day of activities was the latte art throwdown, which featured a Baratza Vario-W as the top prize. Dylan and I rolled up again, just making it in time for the first pour. It was a similar setup to the OCTNT, but with a twist: we rolled dice to pick the pour and the cup size. The competition was tough, with beautiful pour after beautiful pour. Dylan and I both advance to the Elite Eight, and after knocking out Andrew, the OCTNT coordinator, and Austin, the head roaster for Augie’s (for the second time that week!), I made it to the final pour.
Kirk from Augie’s and I rolled the dice and it was decided: 6 oz. rosettas for the grinder. It was a long two minutes as we waited for the judges, but it was worth the wait. They picked mine, and I walked with a ton of prizes. A big thanks to Augie’s for an awesome party. They’ve been making great coffee for five years and show no signs of stopping. Keep it up, guys.
And now, to the main event. Caffe Calabria (the shop where I work, full disclosure) turned out to be a perfect spot for the kickoff event. We had local favorite Salsa Fiesta serving street tacos on the back patio, the brew bar was set up in back serving coffees from Mostra, Dark Horse, West Bean, Café Virtuoso and Coffee and Tea Collective plus Calabria espresso drinks, and the throwdown was happening in the main café. The pours (and lame coffee jokes) streamed live on the cafe's many mounted TVs, so no matter where you were, you could see and hear what was happening.
We watched as 32 became 16 and 16 became 8. Beautiful hearts and rosettas all the way around. Even a few surprises along the way, like host favorite RF Jr. (Max from Caffe Calabria, tennis fan and third place finisher at the Virtuoso TNT in December) being eliminated in round two.
The tulip round gave us our final four: Anton Dimov, Caffe Calabria vs. James Davalos, Kean Coffee; and Andrew Gomez, Cafecito Organico vs. Josh Bonner, Independent. In the first pour, Anton showed why he is called the "Swanton," pouring a beautiful swan to advance to the final pour. Andrew and Josh went macchiato cups, and Josh advanced to face Swanton.
After all that we had seen that night, after all those pours, these two supremely talented baristas did not disappoint. Anton went with the double-winged swan, a very difficult pour to execute well, and he nailed it. Josh countered with an equally difficult pour: a four-tiered tulip in a shot glass. Yes, you read that right. A shot glass. The judges deliberated on what was probably the toughest decision of the night. In the end, a split decision crowned Josh Bonner the winner of the opening round of Season One. Anton finished as the runner up for the second TNT in a row, another great showing for one of San Diego’s best. James defeated Andrew to take third.
The next SDTNT will take place February 20th at Solutions Espresso. Be sure to look out for Josh Bonner’s barista feature, debuting later today.