It was one to remember, for sure. If you didn’t know you showed up for a Thursday Night Throwdown at Big Bear Cafe, you could have easily thought you walked into the coolest party in town. DJ rockin’ the room – check. Craft beer and spiked cider – check. Hot dogs – double check. Good looking guys and gals mixing it up – check. Only there was more, like the giant projector screen where, just a window away, a similar scene was transpiring at Spruce Street Espresso in Philadelphia. The mood was set.
If you’re not familiar with the TNT format, just know it’s pretty straightforward. It’s a community celebration and skills exhibition cleverly disguised as a tournament-style, winner-take-all competition. Competitors face off and pour the best latte art they can muster, and a panel of judges decide who advances until a only the champion remains. For this particular TNT, DC competitors would pour against Philly’s starting in the quarterfinal round. Got it?
At Big Bear, 32 baristas faced off and each pour was judged by David Fritzler (Tryst and Open City), Trevor Corlett (MadCap Coffee) and Naruki Hirari, a shop regular. Per usual, the heats were good spirited and displayed an impressive talent level from DC baristas. As the night progressed, the eventual four who would face their Philly counterparts remained: Laura Westman (Big Bear), Liz Fredden (Chinatown Coffee), Tim Brisnerhan (Filter) and Dan McCombie (formerly of Mid City Caffe).
And here’s where it gets interesting – starting with the quarterfinals, only one pour is made at each shop. The judges then compared the pour with that of the other city. Dan and Tim both advanced past the first intercity round, but each was then topped by their Philly rival, for a Philly-on-Philly final match that elicited a few grumbles from the DC crowd. In the end it was Brian Gelletly of Ultimo Coffee that won the night, and somewhere in the streets of Philadelphia a cheesesteak was hoisted in triumphant fashion.
Despite the sting of defeat, there were some great take aways from that night at Big Bear. The TNT scene was bigger and more widely infused with all members of the community than I’ve seen. It was a great mix of coffee pros and locals, all having a good time and enjoying the competition. Much credit goes to Big Bear, the host shop, as well as Judith Mandel and the other TNT organizers. There were a lot of moving pieces to this event, and it went off without a hitch. The live streaming was a big hit, and there’s talk we could see more of this, even at DC-only TNTs. Oh, and the hot dogs.
And mark you calendar, cause the November Thursday Night Throwdown is set for Chinatown Coffee Co. on November 11 – and there might be a theme.