They’re meant to bring a moment of joy before being slurped out of existence.
So not everyone who’s gazed at the frothy flowers and hearts floating atop their morning latte realizes there exists a band of baristas who’ve turned tipping foam into a form of art.
Sixty-four of these craftsmen gathered to compete in the Latte Art World Championship on Sunday at Navy Pier. The competition coincided with Coffee Fest Chicago, a coffee and tea trade show.
Explaining the origin of the art, Ryan Soeder, 32, a barista who trained employees at Intelligentsia coffee shops around Chicago before recently moving back to his home state of Kentucky, compared it to plating food.
“You wouldn’t go to a fancy restaurant and have them just like throw food on your plate. How it looks matters,” he said.
The contest takes place three times a year — one for each coast, and the Midwest event. More than half of the competitors Sunday came from outside the United States.
It’s structured like the NCAA basketball tournament. Participants’ names filled a giant bracket posted near the latte machines.
A digital clock ticked down from three minutes as baristas at adjacent work stations hustled to create something that would wow a panel of three judges.
Points were awarded for esthetic beauty and balance, color, definition, degree of difficulty and speed.
Steady, deliberate techno beats filled the air as Matthew Bolchi of Detroit faced off against previous champion Daisuke Tanaka of Japan.
An announcer dissected each pour to the delight of the 100 or so attendees staring at images of the pours projected onto a flatscreen television.
One judge bent his score sheet over his head and, in agony, spun a 360 on his feet before making up his mind.
Bolchi, 29, eked out a win to advance to the elite eight. The contestants hugged. Tanaka, the loss too fresh, declined to chat.
“It was a really, really tight round,” said Bolchi, 29, who began serving coffee eight years ago after dropping out of college.
“A lot people here pour really complicated tulips. I’m a rosetta guy, so I went with that. It’s what I do best. So I’m just going to see how far I can go.”
Bolchi’s run ended in the round of eight.
Lance Hedrick won with a tulip design. He is from Dr. Bean’s Coffee and Tea in Memphis Tennessee.
SO STOKED! I placed first in the @coffeefestshow latte art world championship! The round shown was in the top 8 against the VERY talented @nssivying . She is phenomenal. It was because of this victory that propelled me forward. Thank you all! I look forward to Portland! – (And to @cabellcoffee for the chats near the end that helped a lot 🤘) – – #latte #latteart #latteartist #coffee #coffeefest #coffeefest2017 #coffeefestchicago #coffeefestchi2017 #chicago #espresso #coffeeshop #coffeehouse #coffeeholic #caffeine #barista #chicagocoffee #coffeestop #specialtycoffee #art