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San Diego Unites Again: Thursday Night Throwdown at James Coffee

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 Night's Bracket Consisting of 61 Participants!

The Night's Bracket Consisting of 61 Participants!


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.

James Coffee's Façade, With it's Signature Owl Welcoming the Crowd.

James Coffee's Façade, With it's Signature Owl Welcoming the Crowd.


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.

David Kennedy (Wearing Baseball Cap), Co-owner of James Coffee. Dylan Barista at James Coffee.

David Kennedy (Wearing Baseball Cap), Co-owner of James Coffee. Dylan Barista at James Coffee.

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.

From left to right: Rigo Hernandez, Sheridan Owings and Shad Baiz. 

From left to right: Rigo Hernandez, Sheridan Owings and Shad Baiz. 

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. 

Jacob of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters and James Coffee's Linea  La Marzocco .

Jacob of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters and James Coffee's Linea La Marzocco.

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! 

Jacob White Winner of Round One of Season Three SDTNT!

Jacob White Winner of Round One of Season Three SDTNT!



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!