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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!

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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!

 

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Setting the Stage for Round Two! Standings are Out!

If you couldn't make it to last month's SDTNT at Coffee & Tea Collective, you missed out. I don't mean to rub it in, but what a show. Daniel "What Will He Pour Into Next?" Holcomb, C&T's owner with a knack for flair, wowed the crowd with innovative and difficult pours all night, outlasting some very talented baristas on the way to winning the event. It marked the second time a C&T barista won on their home machine, making them a perfect 2-0 when hosting an SDTNT.

Pablo Lara, the SDCN's volunteer staff writer and barista at Cafe Virtuoso, captured that night beautifully in his recap, which you can read here. Even if you were there, give it a read. That was only the first of four SDTNTs this season, which has baristas competing not only for that night's purse and prizes, but points (review them here) counting towards the overall season standings. At the season finale in October, the top eight baristas will compete after the final SDTNT for grand prizes, including an engraved SDCN tamp.

So, without further ado, I present the first standings of Season Two:

1st. Daniel Holcomb, Coffee &Tea Collective: 60 points

2nd. Alex McDaniel, Elixir: 55 points

3rd. Adrianna Urioustegui, Cafe Moto: 35 points*

4th. TJ Titus, Higher Grounds: 30 points*

5th. Three tied with 20 points: Marco Briseno, Elixir; Lindsey Salinas, Zumbar; and Miguel Torre, Das Cortez.

8th. Three tied with 15 points: Stephen Freese, C&T Collective; Kayla Noyce, Cafe Moto; and Sam Hong, Copa Vida.

11th: 12 tied with 10 points

23rd. 22 tied with 5 points

*I didn't record who won the third place pour-off. If I got it wrong, please let me know and I will correct it.

Please email matt@sdcoffeenetwork.com if there are any errors. 

The completed bracket. 

The completed bracket. 

 

Good luck to all those who are going to compete tonight at Lofty! Remember, Brian Pitman of EMPIRE is doubling the purse tonight, so bring your A game! See you there!

 

 

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