Barista Magazine

APR-MAY 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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82 barista magazine "HEY BROTHER!" The voice on the other end of the phone was Jesse Harriott's, then a roaster at Louisville's, Ky.'s Sunergos Coffee; the year was 2011. "You should host a throwdown!" The notion seemed a bit far-fetched: Why would a small-time shop like mine in the relatively small town of Bowling Green, Ky., host a throw- down? At the time, we were the only specialty café for at least 60 miles— who would compete? My shop, Spencer's Coffee, wasn't very connected to the larger coffee community, and had just started delving into the world of latte art over the past year or so. What we did have, though, were connections to both Louisville, Ky., and Nashville, Tenn., two major cities with rapidly growing coffee communities. Maybe everyone could meet in the middle, at Spencer's, and form interstate bonds over pints and pours? Little did we know that over the next seven years, our now-annual throwdown would grow to attract baristas from all over the country, and raise upward of $10,000 for charity—all just by getting together and pouring milk into coffee. Over the past decade, there's been a well-documented explosion in specialty-coffee culture. Every major American city has at least a handful of decent independent coffee shops, and wherever there's a growing coffee community, there's bound to be the occasional latte art throwdown. For the uninitiated, a "throwdown" is what we special- ty-coffee nerds call a relatively informal competition, in which baristas from various shops face off to see who can pour the prettier drink. The moniker belies the all-in-good-fun nature of the contests, which are more about developing a local barista community than they are about winning swag for pretty pours. While anyone wanting to open a coffee shop can fi nd a wealth of information with a quick Google search—what equipment to buy, how to create good customer fl ow in the café, how to program and maintain a batch brewer to achieve optimal tastiness on a consistent basis—the ins and outs of hosting a successful throwdown continue to be a mys- tery, if not an afterthought. Maybe you've been to a shoddy throwdown. The competition por- tion didn't start on time, or the rules weren't clear, or the beer was too foamy. (Or, worse yet, no beer at all!) Onlookers stood crowded, with little to do besides stare at the backs of other people's heads, while the presumably beautiful lattes were impossible to see. And as the bracket was whittled down and the throwdown neared what should have been its dramatic climax, most of the onlookers had already departed because the whole thing was, well, just plain boring. Latte art throwdowns have a ton of potential for community build- ing, for charitable fundraising, and even for marketing your business or brand, but capitalizing on that potential can be tricky. When we hosted the fi rst Kentucky/Tennessee Latte Art Throwdown in 2011 (since rebranded to My Old Kentucky Throwdown), we didn't have a clue what we were getting into. We've made a ton of mistakes, but we've learned from them, and our event has gotten larger—and gone more smoothly each year. Our little throwdown now has a nationwide draw, boasting a 64-competitor bracket and prize packages that rival those of national competitions. More importantly, we've raised thou- sands of dollars for a number of charities, and created an annual time and place for the wider coffee community to connect and cavort. With that in mind, here are some of the essentials that can make your fi rst throwdown a success—or your next one a little less crappy. GETTING BUY-IN (and not just registrations) Attracting participants is an obvious need—without competitors, there's no competition. Equally important is getting physical "buy- in" from anyone who's going to help (and you'll defi nitely need help). That probably starts with your own café's team, but it can also include baristas from other area shops, and even regular customers who have the coffee bug. In our fi rst year, we had an everyday customer named Arthur fi ll the role of offi cial "shot-puller" (many throwdown orga- nizers designate someone to pull shots so that the only thing compet- itors have to concentrate on is pouring). Arthur got to learn a little about coffee, and we were able to focus on the trickier aspects of the evening. Spend a few minutes thinking through your event, and you'll realize a long list of needs: Someone to take registrations, someone to emcee, someone to wash cups, someone to play gofer. For every piece of your event, you'll need at least one or two volunteers, so make a list and check it twice. Of course, promoting your event well ahead of time will help you fi nd those volunteers. Which leads me to … PROMOTE EARLY AND OFTEN If you're hoping to attract baristas from other shops—and you defi nitely should—you'll need to make them aware of what's going on. Posters and Facebook event pages are great, but for maximum partic- ipation, consider calling other shops in your area and speaking to the managers well ahead of time. With a little luck, your event will become a great team-building opportunity for these folks, and interested parties will have plenty of time to request off work. Pre-registration has been a huge help to us over the years. Printing something as simple as "email to preregister" on your fl yer can help you gauge interest on the front end, and save a few steps on the night of the event. We've even taken registration fees (aka buy-ins) through PayPal, reducing the chance of no-shows and making the event itself that much simpler. While you're at it, make sure to let area media outlets know about the event. Chances are a local TV station would love to come fi lm for a few minutes: "Baristas nerd out" might be a trope, but it's one you can easily use to get some free publicity for your business. SEEK OUT SPONSORS EARLY Believe it or not, there are a ton of awesome companies out there that would love to sponsor your throwdown! (The fi ne folks at Pacifi c Foods are the headline sponsor of My Old Kentucky Throwdown, and have matched their generous donations of prize money with equal donations to charity.) From roasters to equipment manufacturers, to apparel companies, craft breweries, nearby local businesses, and this very magazine you're reading now, there are a lot of generous people who will be happy to help. First, you need to start soliciting sponsors as soon as you've hatched your idea. A lot of these companies will have a budget for this sort of thing, but they're also working months ahead of time. Emails are OK, but real telephone calls are best. Briefl y explain your event, a rough idea of attendance, and what the sponsor can expect in exchange for their generosity (name or logo featured on posters, social media promotion in advance and after the throwdown, shout- outs during the event, etc.), and you'll be surprised at the enthusiastic responses you'll receive. You've got to hold up your end of the bargain, though, and commit to following up with the sponsors after the event: Send pictures and a brief wrap-up, at a minimum, but also highlight any media exposure you may have received from your local news outlet, coffee blogs, or even Barista Magazine. CONSIDER YOUR COMMUNITY Building camaraderie and relationships among area cafés is a worthy enough goal, but don't stop there: An event like this is a great way to

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