Written by Pablo Lara, SDCN Staff Writer | Photos by Jared Armijo-Wardle
This Thursday Night Throwdown season - the second for the San Diego Coffee Network - brought the city a battalion of stellar tulips, hearts and rosettas. Its culmination took place at Bird Rock's Little Italy Coffee Bar, a bright and welcoming space that exudes the San Diego identity. The wooden floors are reminiscent of surf boards, the vibrant turquoise details including its two Synessos remind us of the Ocean and the wide retractable windows allowed the breeze to embrace our skin. Pictures of Bolivian landscapes graced the walls, including an astonishing image of El Camino de La Muerte that incites our inner vertigo. The space quickly filled itself with a community of joyous individuals who have found in coffee a certain passion beyond indulgence.
Globetrotting Chuck Patton was present and cordially received the handshakes of many, congratulating his retail expansion. Industry veterans shared space with newcomers and customers conversed with their favorite baristas. All interactions fueled by delicious coffee and the most important food staple created by humankind: cheese. Marci and Aaron Flores, owners of The Cheese Store of San Diego, an upcoming cheese boutique adjacent to Bird Rock's coffee bar, provided a selection of mild to strong high-quality cheeses for the crowd to savor. We savored unique combinations such as the espresso and lavender rubbed cows milk cheese from Utah called Barely Buzzed. Also served were the Tea Hive, cheese cured in black tea and the creamy but strong Delice de Bourgogne. The gorgeous couple also received commends as they are close to inaugurating their brick and mortar storefront. They have built a loving clientele throughout the years at the Little Italy Mercato.
The Brewbar's goal to revitalize morning shift baristas and delight palates was achieved. The ample side counters provided sufficient space for Brew Bar hosts: Cafe Virtuoso, Bird Rock and James Coffee to share and showcase delectable coffees and sustain conversations with the crowd. David James Kennedy, founder of James Coffee, told me that this was his favorite part of the business: presenting and discussing his coffees in an event setting.
David chose to brew his White Owl blend with a Chemex, resulting in a bright cup with raspberry fruity notes and a delicate chocolate finish. Bird Rock delighted us with their rare Yemen Haraaz, another bright brew with warm flavors of clove, strawberry sweetness and wine like acidity. Cafe Virtuoso's wooden V60 brewbar delivered a lemony Yirgacheffee and a black-honey processed Costa Rica Alma Negra from Las Lajas Estate, a rich cup with hints of mandarine and chocolate. Enjoying this amazing flight of coffees with professionals such as Kayd Whalen, senior vice-president of Inter-American San Diego, makes for a pretty memorable experience.
A total of 48 participants amounted a bracket pool of $240, this total was quadrupled by our awesome season sponsor: Empire Specialty Coffee Consulting. The winner of this round took home $800 and change. With the closing of Round 4, the top 8 competitors of the season battled it out for the grand title of Season Two Champion. Among the top prizes were a Baratza Virtuoso and Encore grinder, a futuristic Acaia Pearl Scale, a Hunter Cold Brew Coffee/Tea Maker by Espresso Parts and a Reg Barber Custom SDCN Tamp.
The judging was headed by Inter-American cool gals Dana Andrews and Fernanda Hernandez, the third judge was Mike Helms, volunteer coordinator for the San Diego Coffee Network and Roaster/Barista for Dark Horse. This session followed an order of heart/rosetta/tulip rounds ending with free pours. The Champions Bracket was all free pour. The intrepid judging trio sure had a difficult task as the gorgeous pours displayed intricacy and passion. The initial anxiousness of the competitors subsides after the first round, and the simplicity of pouring a heart cannot be underestimated. Aside from the technicality of knowing how to pour latter art, competitors are to utilize a foreign machine, different cups (this time tulip shaped) and accommodate to these variables in the first round.
The subsequent round of rosettas delighted the crowd. Koudlam's tune See You All pumped the competitors for the tulip round. Joshua Bonner, co-owner of Ladies and Gentlemen Coffee Roasters, delivered a very memorable 5 layer tulip with a perfectly shaped heart at its cusp. It is also adequate to mention that Joshua was the only participant from San Diego to compete at this years Brewers Cup in Palm Springs, along with opening a storefront in Sherman Heights. This has definitely been a set of admirable accomplishments for him.
In the final eight of Round 4 were Javier of Das Cortez, Dylan Michalek of James Coffee, Joshua of Ladies and Gentlemen, Alex McDaniel and Marco Briseno of Elixir Espresso Bar, Sam Hong of Copa Vida and Jacob White of Bird Rock. Javier's pour eliminated Dylan. Joshua poured a stunning rosetta with a high reaching outer layer, Marco delivered a 4 layer tulip in a mug. Joshua, King of the Rosetta, moved on. Joshua then went against Alex, both delivered intricate tulips. Bonner presented a 5 layer tulip in a cappuccino cup and Alex McDaniel a 4 layer tulip in a shot glass. This one proved to be difficult for the judges to deliver, but the perfect execution of Joshua's tulip got him in the final pour. Sam went against Marco and his 4 layer tulip was subdued by Marco's inverted tulips. Javier went up against Jacob next. This Barista Bravo made a ribboned heart, this difficult pour lost to Jacob's finely executed 5 layer tulip.
As fervent as the competition got, the amiable character of this event never ceased.. Josh went up against Marco and poured a ribboned tulip. Marco's layering of his tulip led him to overfill his cup. Competing for third-place were Marco and Javier, each with a warm team behind them. The Das Cortez and Elixir peeps observed their members with admiration. Javier delivered a fine rosetta and Marco a gorgeous swan attaining him the win for third-place.
The final two, Jacob and Joshua went up next. Although they were competing for a cash prize of $800+, the pair looked relaxed and lighthearted. Joshua, in a seemingly effortless fashion poured a 6 layer tulip, perfectly centered, superb outer layer and crowned with a heart. Jacob also turned in a 6 layer rosetta, equally as stunning with splendid contrast. Joshua's intricate tulip won, adding another achievement to his successful year.
Finalizing this night was the Champion's Bracket. The top 8 competitors of the season, nominated by their accumulated scores, kept pouring for the closing title of season winner. In this elite circle of baristas we had Adriana of Cafe Moto, Javier of Das Cortez, Alex of Elixir Espresso Bar, Marco(also of Elixir), Jacob of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, and Joshua of Ladies & Gentleman Coffee. Barrio Logan met Tijuana as Adriana poured a three layer tulip that was defeated by Javier with his 5 layers. The Elixir boys went up against each other and Alex' tulip surpassed Marco's. Joshua and Jacob met again, this time Jacob's 6 layered tulip won the judges. Javier and Alex executed alternative pours and Alex' ribboned heart took the lead. Joshua masterfully poured a flawless 8 layered tulip eliminating Javier.
This culminated in the season's final two, Alex McDaniel, a coffee veteran, and Jacob White, a talented developing professional. Playing in the background was the techno version of The Final Countdown, now a SDTNT tradition. Alex poured a rosetta and Jacob a 5 layer tulip, the contrast achieved by Jacob attained him the title of Season Two Champion. The Bird Rock team congregated and chanted cheerfully for his achievement. Jacob chose the hot pink Reg Barber Custom SDCN Tamp, an obvious choice to match the turquoise Synesso's, great eye Jacob!
The completion of this season is not only defined by the thrill of the competition, I can most certainly dictate that numerous relationships were created, baristas, roasters, sale's representatives, business owners, customers, partnering businesses and family members had the opportunity to meet after hours on four different occasions. Every host sought to create the perfect atmosphere for our congregation and their contributions merit our gratitude.
The San Diego Coffee Network has truly fostered a rapidly expanding community which protends a promising future for the county's coffee culture.