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.
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.
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