Written by Pablo Lara, SDCN Assistant Editor | Photos by Jared Armijo-Wardle
By 7 pm the San Diego winter had obscured the sky, but the magnetic power of coffee attracted the multitude to James Coffee Co illuminating the young night. With the New Year comes a new season of TNT’s, making this the third organized by the San Diego Coffee Network. A quick glance inside the event and one could easily tell that our community is unified and talent is emerging. An outstanding 61 Baristas entered the competition, making for a prolonged but certainly fun night.
The chic neighborhood of Little Italy houses a peculiar warehouse, one that’s quickly becoming San Diego’s ultimate man cave. We are talking about James Coffee, a handsome space consisting of white walls, dark steel, industrial ceilings and dark wood details. The newly re-vamped location proved to be a provocative enclosure for our industry gathering.
David Kennedy, Founder of James Coffee with his Brother and Father, decided to relocate the production facility to the warehouse where his coffee bar was located. Roasting and packaging are now visible and the coffee bar welcomes people as they arrive. The space is impressive, now offering a rich selection of business, all exuding aesthetic and trend. Grab a pour over and shop over at Ajax Shoppe, Turquoise, Specks and the coming soon Homesteez and Urban Shave.
Judging the pours were Sheridan Owings, Trader for InterAmerican Coffee; Rigo Hernandez, Sales Manager for Cafe Virtuoso and Shad Baiz, owner of Solutions Espresso Service. And by now this group has become familiar with the style of each returning competitor, especially of those who’s noteworthy pours have graced the judge’s table.
Let’s talk Brew Bar! Deligthing our palates for the night was an outstanding selection of pour-overs and cold-brews from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, Swell Café and James Coffee. Mark from Bird Rock brewed an earthy and sweet Tano Batak and a refreshing cold-brew made with their Panama La Esmeralda Leon Geisha, natural processed with hints of peach and jasmine. Sarah from James Coffee brewed a Kenya AA Plus Nguvu, with notes of sweet molasses, complex acidity and clove aromatics. Mari from Swell Café brewed a washed Custapec Chiapas, a sweet brew with hints of citrus and bakers chocolate. A stop at the Brew Bar can lead to great conversations, allowing you to learn about these local roasters.
The battle started with the heart pours, a simple yet underestimated pour. In this round we saw 61 different hearts, each shedding light on the particular styles of each participant. The winning hearts had even contrast and elaborated ripples, even the most similar pours were differentiated by the slightest embellishment.
It was time for the rosettas to take the stage. James Coffee’s espresso machine, a Linea by La Marzocco, became more familiar for the remaining latte artists. They were able to achieve detailed rosettas that harmonized with the simple yet sexy notNeutral black handless cups used at James Coffee.
All the teams and individuals that attended the event enriched the community. We were delighted to have in our crowd the team from Augie's Coffee Roasters, Joshua Bonner of Ladies and Gentlemen, Swell Cafe, the peeps from Dark Horse Coffee Roasters, the lovely ladies from Café Virtuoso, talented baristas from Caffe Calabria, the smiling faces of the Café Moto team, Lofty Coffee, baristas from Muir Woods Café, Peets, Young Hickory, the charming gals of InterAmerican, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, Coffee and Tea Collective and new establishments such as Heartwork Coffee Bar and Bean Bar. From Tijuana we had participants from the new Electric Coffee Roasters, the newly expanded Dinastia 12 and longtime supporters from Das Cortez.
The tulip round brought certain intensity to the game. Crafting contrasting and even layers under pressure commands focus. Excelling in this category and making it to the top eight were Austin of Augie's, James of ChocXO, Jacob of Bird Rock, Marco of Elixir, Max, Jonathan of Calabria, Savannah of Virtuoso and Mike of Lofty.
The Elite Eight, coined by Matthew Barahura, SDCN Founder and SDTNT M.C., would now be asked to demonstrate their free pour ability. For this round Jacob made a five-layered tulip and a six-layered tulip, saving him a spot in the top four. Austin poured three four-layered tulips, all with perfect hearts at their cusp. Jonathan crafted two rosettas and a three-layered tulip in a shot glass that unfortunately spilled. Max created a beautiful swan, reminiscent of a paisley. Jacob eliminated Marco’s five-layered tulip and Jonathan knocked out Savannah’s intricate heart pour.
In the end, Jacob of Bird Rock and Max found themselves in a dual for first. With the Final Countdown playing in the background and much concentration, both opponents enchanted the crowd with two elegant pours. Jacob made a perfectly structured seven-layered tulip and Max created a whimsical ribboned heart. In the final "Three-two-one!" call by the evening's M.C., Jacob White of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters took first place!
The night came to a close and Jacob was not the only one to take home a prize. The raffle winners took prizes donated by local business such as Bean Bar, The Cheese Store of San Diego, Ajax Shoppe and Specs. We thank all our collaborators ( especially Carli Mitchell for pulling shots all night), and our gracious hosts from James Coffee. We opened the third season of San Diego’s Thursday Night Throwdowns with great energy and a broadened community. Next time you are in Little Italy get a drink made by the champ, Jacob White, at the new Bird Rock on the corner of Kettner & Juniper. Our next TNT will be hosted by the Bean Bar in East Village, see you then!