The beauty of the latte and the bitterness of beer

By JESSE WU | March 8, 2018

COURTESY OF JESSE WU Vent Coffee Roasters, a local small batch roastery, hosted the event.

After a long week of midterms, homework and studying, I needed a break. What better place to have it than at the Union Craft Brewing for Vent Coffee Roasters’ Latte Art Throwdown?

Okay, that title was kind of a lot.

In preparation for Coffee Fest Baltimore (March 16-18), Vent Coffee Roasters hosted a friendly latte art competition between local craft coffee shops. Competitors included baristas from Vent and Vagrant, with some familiar names like Charles Village’s own Bird in Hand and Federal Hill’s 3 Bean. 

Wilde Thyme food truck was parked outside, serving up delicious lamb meatball pitas. It took us a while to find the inconspicuous entrance to this massive brick building that claimed to be Union Craft Brewing on Google Maps, but once we were inside, the place was packed. 

The taproom was open for business as usual, but part of the warehouse space was cleared out to make room for a latte tournament. There was a mix of coffee enthusiasts like myself, journalists like myself and well-trained baristas. Unfortunately, I’m not even close to a well-trained barista.

Anyway, the tournament itself consisted of a 16 slot bracket with single elimination. There was a $5 buy-in for competitors. Third place would be decided by a matchup between the losers of the semifinal round. 

The competition was judged by a panel of three local personalities: Alysha, a local food & lifestyle blogger and author of “discovercharmcity,” Michelle, one of the head roasters for Thread Coffee, and Isaiah, a reviewer for Yelp Baltimore. 

During each round, the baristas poured their lattes and placed them on the table for the judges to get ROASTED (hehe). The judges proceeded to turn around and deliberate. 

The lattes were handed out to the crowd after every round. My boy and I managed to snag one, and it was beautiful — at least until we ruined it by consumption.

Third place got two tickets to Coffee Fest (valued at $120), two mugs (one from Espresso Parts and another from Vent) and a free bag of beans. Second place got all the third place prizes plus a money pot. First place got all the third place prizes plus a bottle of Baltamaro, a coffee amaro liqueur, courtesy of the Baltimore Whiskey Company.

During the final round, competitors had to pour into a tall and narrow Union Craft Brewing glass instead of a traditional wide and short coffee cup. Now that’s a tall order (I’m really the funniest human being on Earth), but Vagrant barista Josh’s artwork impressed everyone.

The winners were as follows: In first place, Josh from Vagrant Coffee; second, Kaya from Vent Coffee Roasters; and third was Kirsty, an independent contender. 

Who would’ve thought that coffee and beer would go together so well? With both espresso machines and beer on tap, the answer comes in the form of the Baltimore Brew Club.

“We were really happy with the turnout,” Rachel, an organizer of the event, said. Rachel works for the Baltimore Brew Club, which helps connect local non-profits, breweries and coffee roasters through events and partnerships. 

“It’s supposed to be a fun, casual event, because even though we’re all operating businesses, it’s important to have a community,” Rachel said. 

She also authors the local blogFleet Street Write-up.”

Vent and Union are both members of the Club, which includes other familiar local names like Heavy Seas Beer and Baltimore Whiskey Company.

Not only was this event a great place for businesses to gather for some friendly competition and beer, but it was also a great opportunity for posers like me to get in the game. The diversity of the crowd made me feel that anyone could belong.

The Charm City coffee community is full of vibrant individuals, and I’m glad that I was able to join it for this event. Some serious coffee shops around here have training programs for baristas so that they can spend the time and the energy perfecting their craft.

I recognized some familiar faces in the crowd, including Will, a barista for 3 Bean Coffee, a shop in Federal Hill that recently debuted two roasts: Triton and Triumph. These are their first two coffees, and they held a release party a few weeks ago that I attended. Will competed in the tournament representing the shop.

I didn’t try any beer — because underage drinking is illegal and therefore immoral and therefore never happens and never will — but I did try Vent’s Maiden Voyage Blend in drip coffee form, and it was delicious. The logical conclusion I drew was to leave with a bag to brew with my press at home.

The experience was 10/10, and I will definitely be on the lookout for things like this in the future.

Well, it’s time to go back to life as a pre-med university student. See you all next week!

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