Louisville’s craft coffee lovers have a pretty incredible weekend coming up Sept. 29-30. Quills Coffee is bringing the Specialty Coffee Association to town to hold our city’s first foray into the international coffee competition scene.
The Kentuckiana Preliminaries are a qualifier for regional, national and international competitions.
Despite having several award-winning shops in town, our coffee scene hasn’t been able to host one of these events until now. Insider talked with the folks at Quills Coffee as well as Heine Brothers Coffee to find out why this is so cool, why coffee competitions are important, and what spectators can expect.
Joe Dininger is lead trainer at Heine Bros. Coffee, and he says competition makes for better coffee.
“If we weren’t competing against other people directly, then I don’t think it would drive as much innovation, so I think just having these competitions helps us as an industry to move forward and be creative with what we’re doing,” he says.
Take latte art for example. While the coffee fest competition doesn’t officially include latte art, there will be an informal throwdown Friday night, and the art that gets produced on each latte is just an expression of the care a barista takes.
“Latte art is important to me because it shows that a barista has taken the time to craft your beverage properly, and they are executing well-done design on the top, saying, ‘Hey listen, I made this for you, I think it’s special,’” says Dininger.
The official events are split into espresso drinks and manual brewing, and Dininger is competing in the latter.
But these brewers face an extra step of difficulty. Cimara Dunn, the director of education at Quills, talks about that special challenge.
“Because it’s a compulsory coffee, the baristas don’t actually know very much information about the coffee,” she explains. “They taste it the day of competition and they build a presentation around it. In the bigger competitions, people bring their coffee, so they’ve had a lot of time to learn about the farming practices and the varieties.”
That’s right, the competitors aren’t just judged on how good the coffee tastes, they have to explain how they are brewing the coffee, why they chose that method, the coffee’s tasting notes and a variety of other things.
“The barista competition has a technical score as well, measuring cleanliness, waste, technique,” says Dunn.
Each one of those sub categories presents a challenge. “Waste,” for example, refers to the amount of milk and ground espresso that doesn’t get used. Baristas have to eye ball the perfect amount of milk to use in making a cappuccino, and the correct amount varies from beverage to beverage, from cup to cup.
It can even change depending on the humidity or barometric pressure. If you don’t have enough milk, points off. If you use too much milk and waste some, points off.
It’s high-stakes stuff, and Louisvillians can see the action for free at Quills’ new location in NuLu. That spot is part of what brought this competition to town. Its spacious layout makes it ideal for a competition and all the extra equipment that will come with it.
“We have a lot of equipment being loaned to us,” says Dunn. “We are basically turning our roastery into the competition space, getting various espresso machines and grinders, hot water towers and everything set up.”
If all this coffee goodness isn’t a reason to come check out the action, the Friday Latte Art Throwdown also is a fundraiser for hurricane relief.
“We are participating in this event that’s nationwide, called Night of a Thousand Pours,” Dunn says. “It’s a call to action from Sprudge media where they’re partnering with all these companies to do a latte art competition, or a percentage of sales for cafes and other companies, to raise money for hurricane relief organizations.”
The Kentuckiana Preliminaries run Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29-30, and are free to attend. Quills’ NuLu location is at 802 E. Main St.