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Cafe Virtuoso Thursday Night Throwdown Recap!

America's Finest City glows in the cool evening marine layer while the competition heats up at Cafe Virtuoso.

America's Finest City glows in the cool evening marine layer while the competition heats up at Cafe Virtuoso.

Written by Pablo Lara, SDCN Staff Writer | Photos by Jared Armijo-Wardle

Throughout the season the exponential growth and unity of the San Diego coffee community has been evident. Our last Thursday Night Throwdown, hosted by Cafe Virtuoso, confirms it.  In fact, this event surpassed our immediate region; attendants included baristas from Chico, Redlands, Idyllwild, Los Angeles, Riverside and Tijuana.  

  Andy Newbom , former owner of Barefoot Coffee Roasters turned craft beverage Marketeer, steps up to judge.

 Andy Newbom, former owner of Barefoot Coffee Roasters turned craft beverage Marketeer, steps up to judge.

Cafe Virtuoso, our gracious host, welcomed guests with cortados, music, craft beer, flowers, art and great food. The cortado station, with its prominent 3 group head Synesso, tirelessly cranked out petite delectables made with Virtuoso's Espresso Blend and Strauss half and half. And we must all agree that out of all the handsome fellas of the night, Virtuoso's baby yellow Diedrich turned the most heads. Yes, he was quite the sight.

The constant buzz of greetings, introductions, conversations and laughs appeared to be synchronized by the raw house and subtle disco beats DJ Egowar played throughout the night.  

The total number of competitors amounted to 44, creating a purse of $640! The usual $5 buy-in was tripled by Empire Specialty Coffee Consulting. Such a large prize generated the necessary fervor for a regal throwdown. The format of the throwdown consisted of the heart-rosetta-tulip and the final free pour. Virtuoso's La Marzocco Strada saw herself surrounded by talented baristas and an exhilarated crowd.

Reminiscing of last year's throwdown at Virtuoso were judges Shad Baiz, of Solutions Espresso Service and John Rippo, publisher and editor of The Espresso. Also judging was Andy Newbom, former owner of Barefoot Coffee. Their lively spirit and good humor kept participants smiling and serene.

The food coordinated for the event by Sushi On A Roll and Hungry Chef, gave event goers plenty of tempting options. Between fresh and delicious sushi rolls and mouthwatering pork belly sliders (the meat was seasoned with a rub made with Virtuoso's Yirgacheffe), I found myself pulled into the dark side of gluttony as I decided to order both! My thirst was quenched by the chocolatey Cold Brew Red Ale, a collaboration between BNS Brewery and Cafe Virtuoso.

Departing from last year's layout, Sushi On A Roll hosted local artists and the Brew Bar in their courtyard space. A large screen projecting the competition inside allowed attendants to catch some fresh air, a great brew, and appreciate local art without missing a pour.

Having the unique opportunity to show on a metal wall, the artists brought their own light fixtures and magnetic mounts to enhance the ordinarily blank wall.

Virtuoso's own Mary Jhun showcased beautiful paintings of feminine silhouettes with natural motifs, and Sarah Girdzius hung mixed media pieces of neutral drawings over photography, representing the many talents in Virtuoso's staff. Carleton Starr, a friend of the Coffee Network showed his well-known high-contrast graphic paintings with punches of bold imagery. Finally, patron of local cafés, Marcel Reyes, shared unforgettably detailed, mythologically-inspired, vivid watercolor and ink drawings as the illustration identity Flow With Foxes.

Each artist dominated in their distinct mediums, and had bold flavors - just like the excellent local roasters who catered the Brew Bar. Lindsey and Jacob of Bird Rock served the rare Yemen Haraaz Red Maragaha, and David, founder of James Coffee served pour overs of a rich Honduras El Canal.

On the Brew Bar, David Kennedy of  James Coffee Co.  talks coffee with an SDTNT guest while Lindsey of  Bird Rock Coffee Roasters  prepares to pour over a "berry" complex and pleasantly layered Yemen.

On the Brew Bar, David Kennedy of James Coffee Co. talks coffee with an SDTNT guest while Lindsey of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters prepares to pour over a "berry" complex and pleasantly layered Yemen.

The first three rounds tested competitors on the mastery of micro foam. Countless detailed hearts, fine rosettas and layered tulips graced the screens.

With the final 8 came the free pours and the layered tulip dominated this last round. Alex of Elixir, rocking a burlap tie, beat Evan of Augies. His double-reversed tulip surpassed Evan's 5 layered tulip. Joshua, who recently opened Ladies and Gentleman Coffee Roasters, poured a 4 layered tulip in a shot glass. Matt from Augies poured a 6 layered tulip, but Joshua's pour won for complexity.

Lindsay of Elixir competed against Rodrigo of Das Cortez. The winning tulip poured by Rodrigo had a high encompassing outer layer, but the contrast achieved by Lindsay did not fall far behind. In a very memorable fashion, Marco of Elixir covered his pour until Joaquin, of Paradigm Coffee and Tea, turned in his seven layered tulip. Once unveiled the judges realized both competitors presented a seven layered tulip. Marco's detailed heart on his tulip gained the preference of the judges. This was Joaquin's first SDTNT and he was pleasantly surprised at the large audience still present at the final round.

The final 4 had been selected, the music stopped and the audience was entranced. Josh eliminated Alex with a gorgeous tulip punctured by a detailed heart. Marco's 9 layered tulip defeated a crowned tulip by Rodrigo. For third place, Alex and Rodrigo faced each other. The elaborate ribboned heart Alex poured beat the 6 layered tulip by Rodrigo.

The final pour arrived. Marco and Joshua were extremely close to a pretty delightful prize. Never failing to rejoice the crowd, The Final Countdown played and both competitors took the moment to do push ups and squats. Joshua poured a 4 layered tulip circled by a ribboned design, a complex and creative style. Marco on the other hand presented the judges with an 8 layered tulip, perfectly constructed and with stunning contrast. Marco's impeccably executed tulip won him the grand prize!

The collaboration between individuals and businesses to put together this event showcases the power coffee has to bring people together and build community. We are grateful for the wonderful energy that flowed inside the gorgeous brick building. Thank you Cafe Virtuoso! See you for the Season Finale at the Bird Rock on October 23!

You can follow all the artists featured on Instagram: @maryjhundandan, @sarahgirdzius, @starrkydd, and @flowwithfoxes




Throwback Thursdays! SDTNT Recap at Lofty Coffee Co.

By Pablo Lara, SDCN Staff Writer | Photos by Jared Armijo-Wardle

A picturesque sunset in beautiful Encinitas was the backdrop for round two of this season's Thursday Night Throwdown. Lofty Coffee Co. hosted the event in their beautiful new roasting facility located next to Rhino Art at 97 N. Coast Hwy. 101 just across the street from their original cafe. The open space and pleasant summer weather lent itself to great conversations and a night filled with enjoyment. Lofty's hospitality shined in every detail.

The support of the local community was notable and diverse with a large showing of new faces, baristas and other industry professionals. Tremendous support also came from Empire Specialty Coffee Consulting, who matched the buy-in, doubling the purse from $200 to $400 for the evening's victor.

The Brew Bar featuring Blacksmith Coffee Roasters and Bird Rock Coffee Roasters greeted the crowds as wave after wave arrived to check out the latte art competition. The new guys in Encinitas served up iced and hot Chemex pour overs with their two Guatemalas, a Los Carrillos and Los Santos. Bird Rock offered two deliciously bright coffees, a washed Yirgacheffe and a natural Panama from the Eliada Estate.

Photo provided by Empire S.C.C.

Photo provided by Empire S.C.C.

Lofty's custom brew bar designed by Empire, with its 4ft Hario Kyoto and customized Modbar, had spectators buzzing. Baristas arrived and were eager to check out the machinery for the upcoming battle. Competitors were free to choose cup size from a selection of Motta pitchers in four sizes.

As the night rolled in, the 40 participants were ready to pour. The judging seats were taken by Rigo Hernandez of Cafe Virtuoso, Sheridan Owings of InterAmerican, and Clancy Cramer of Copa Vida. The competition was initiated with tulips, by Susie of Elixir and Jacob of Bird Rock. A five layered tulip by Jacob demonstrated his ability, later winning him third place. Three screens showing the pours allowed the spectators to walk around and not miss a thing.

Hungry event-goers feasted on delectable pizzas by Fire Mountain Pizza. This local catering company, based in Oceanside, centers on fresh and local products carefully baked in their portable wood-fired oven. Their gluten free pizza was nothing short of amazing!

Culture Brewing Co. offered a tasting of their Russian Imperial Stout infused with cold brew on tap from Lofty, definitely not gluten free.

The final eight included Jake - independent, Jacob and Kelsey of Bird Rock, Alex and Marco of Elixir, Javier of Das Cortes, Austin of Augie's Coffee House in Redlands, and Lanny of Everyman Espresso in NYC. Jacob's six layer tulip, Austin's four layered tulip, Javier's detailed rosetta and Lanny's centered tulip attained them a spot in the final round.

Munching away through my pizza I ran into Nick, a coffee aficionado who frequents coffee shops all over town. He commented that its fun to see that it's not just a JOB for us baristas, and that we do this off the clock. Nick was definitely not the only artisan coffee enthusiast in the crowd enriching the community element at the Throwdowns.

The final round arrived and tasty miniature churros were passed around; thanks Lofty! Austins pour beat Jacob and Lanny's tulip/rosetta knocked Javier. Jacob and Javier battled for third place and the fine lines in Javier's tulip lost against Jacob's pour. Anticipation was palpable as The Final Countdown played, livening up the crowd. Danny presented the judges with a detailed tulip/rosetta while Austin poured a perfectly even tulip. Both pours were beautiful and the crowd anxious. Matt, our MC, counted to three and Austin's tulip won him first place! Not to mention the $400 prize.

And the winner is... Austin Graham Amento of Augie's Coffee House, Redlands, CA!

And the winner is... Austin Graham Amento of Augie's Coffee House, Redlands, CA!

We congratulate Austin and also thank him for supporting our community by driving to San Diego to attend our event (He might as well take the prize, drive down to Encenada and make it a weekend don't you think?). We also want to thank our friends from La Stazione, Das Cortez and L'Abbraccio for making the trip across the border from Tijuana. 

Every TNT enriches our community. We seek to provide a space for people to meet, establish relationships, create an incentive for baristas to perfect their latte art and provide a platform for the best. Thank you Lofty Coffee!

See you all at round three, September 18, at Cafe Virtuoso!