by January 17, 2012 at 11:00 am 2,543 0

"Borderstan", Ian Cunningham, Flickr, pnzr242, Thursday Night Throwdown

Thursday Night Throwdown at Flying Fish Coffee & Tea in Mount Pleasant last week. (Ian Cunningham)

From Alejandra Owens. You can find her at her food blog, One Bite At A Time. Alejandra also writes for City Eats DC, a Food Network site, where you can book dinner reservations. Email her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @frijolita.

Photos by Ian Cunningham; find him on Flickr at pnzr242 and follow him on Twitter @pnzr242.

Your barista has a dirty little secret. (Starbucks baristas excluded.) Or at least mine did. Until he told me all about it. DC, see, has a seedy, espresso ground littered underbelly.

It’s a little like fight club. Only brighter. And not in a basement or abandoned warehouse. And there’s no… fighting. Okay, it’s not like fight club at all, but up until DC’s hipster barista contingent issued a public challenge to their counterparts in Philadelphia, the latte art fight club that is Thursday Night Throwdown had gone largely unheard of. (This month it was at Flying Fish Coffee & Tea in Mount Pleasant.)

By now we’ve all realized, DC’s coffee scene is growing up! And growing up quickly according to Jon Riethmaier, editor of “The DC coffee scene is really solid, and there’s a lot of evidence the foundation has been set for major growth in the immediate-to-near future,” says Riethmaier. “There are shops in DC that are neighborhood institutions. These shops have elevated DC’s coffee consciousness and deserve a lot of credit. There’s also newer ventures and soon-to-be-open shops that will continue to raise the bar. The future looks bright, for sure.”

And so Thursday Night Throwndown was born. The event originated as a community building effort and a way for baristas to socialize outside their chosen coffee house to meet new people. “It’s a chance to get together with other coffee people, catch up, see what’s going on in other cafes,” said Eric Barth, barista at Dolcezza Gelato in Dupont Circle.

The way it generally works is baristas from DC’s finest coffee shops — Dolcezza, Filter, Peregrine, Chinatown Coffee Company and the like — gather in a designated coffee shop where they’ll duke it out over latte art of all designs. Proper brackets are drawn up and baristas present their best ferns, hearts and pandas (not really, I haven’t seen a panda yet) to a panel of judges. The winner proceeds to the next round, and so on and so forth until one barista is crowned the queen/king of all baristas in DC.

Want to try your hand at artfully pouring frothy milk? It’s $5 to participate and check out the rules for participating over on their blog. Call your spot before 9 pm, limit 30 participants, winner takes all.

I’ve attended two TNT events myself now and I have to say, they’ve succeeded in creating a community social event for sure. Each time the venues have been packed to the hilt, with plenty of beer passed around and a jovial spirit in the air.

Though, I must say, unless you’re competing, are besties with your barista or cheering someone on, it’s definitely an in-the-club event. Spectator sport this is not… at least not yet. Unless you arrive early, nabbing a spot by the judge’s bar can be difficult until the competition proceeds to the third round of pouring. That’s how many people gather for the Throwdowns! It’s pretty much wall-to-wall baristas.

Want front row seats at the latte art action? Arrive early or come a little on the late side. You’ll want to nab a prime spot by or near the judges so you can check out everything first hand.

Let’s say you don’t get front row seats though. Mill around and start chatting people up about a brewing method or a particular roaster. As Riethmaier told me, “It’s a place to really nerd-out.”

At its finest moments, TNT is about a love of coffee and the people who bring it to you. “I’d been in school for 6 years,and liked the social aspect of coffee… customers and talking to people,” says Barth. “[As a barista] you can kind of effect people’s days, you can make it as good as possible while they’re doing something they would already do.”

If you want to learn more about DC’s coffee scene, should be your first stop. Riethmaier is an unabashed “advocate for the culinary pursuit of coffee” as he put it. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a group of folks who love the bean juice more than even the most fiendish coffee addict you know.

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