The roar of coffee beans grinding, the swirling sound of steaming milk, the tap of packing espresso—these are the sounds of the Chattanooga coffee scene.
This Sunday, eight finalists will participate in the Chattanooga Coffee Club’s first-ever Chattanooga Coffee Throwdown, armed with only a pound of coffee, a gallon of milk and their skills behind the bar.
The St. Patrick’s Day competition is at 2 p.m. at Thrive Cafe, off of Coolidge Park on the North Shore.
The baristas in the small group hail from Pasha Coffee and Tea in St. Elmo, Bonlife Coffee in Cleveland and homes in the Chattanooga area, representing just how wide the range of coffee enthusiasts is in the Scenic City.
From professionals at one of the 13 downtown, Southside and North Shore coffee shops to the countless home brewers, this crowd is constantly looking for ways to make the morning cup of joe smoother, more aromatic, creamier, bolder and generally more delicious.
The eight finalists were chosen from 14 entries in the preliminary round on March 10.
“We wanted this to appeal to everyone,” said David Snyder, a barista at Thrive. “We’re trying to broaden everyone’s spectrum and bring out the talent in the city.”
Snyder co-organized the event with Andrew Bettis, a barista at Velo Roasters. They envisioned the Chattanooga Coffee Throwdown to forgo the rules and red tape of sanctioned events such as the World Barista Championship, which require steep entry fees and a by-the-book approach that can be exclusive.
The two chose to focus instead on fostering community and passion for coffee, especially local coffee.
Sunday’s competition is divided into three categories—brewed coffee, espresso drinks and specialty drinks. Baristas are free to participate in more than one category and will complete each drink back to back with five minutes for brewed coffee and seven minutes for both espresso and specialty creations.
“It’s pretty much an open table,” Bettis said of the specialty drink category. “It just has to have coffee of some sorts in the drink.”
Baristas are welcome to experiment with ingredients, technique and presentation to build their own unique recipe.
The Chattanooga Coffee Throwdown judges are area coffee aficionados and those with a worldly palate: Bettis, Velo owner Andrew Gage, Matt Busby and Aaron Rauch of The Camp House, and Emerson Burch of the 35.85 Guild.
The panel will evaluate contestants on a technical and sensory scale. Bettis explained that from the technical perspective, the judges have a checklist of the steps and individual techniques required to correctly make a cup of coffee or an espresso pour.
The sensory side takes into account the drink’s appearance, aroma, description, uniqueness and, above all, flavor—which is broken into elements of temperature, coffee, harmony, texture and aftertaste.
Snyder explained that thanks to the local and regional sponsors—Urnex, Espresso Parts, Prima Coffee Equipment, Counter Culture Coffee, Big River Brewery and Stone Cup, among others—there is plenty of swag to go around.
Each category will have both a winner and a runner-up.
Before and after the audience members take their seats to watch the competition, they will be treated to a full event styled like a coffee fair with raffle tickets, samples of local coffee and demonstrations.
“We’re just looking to get people to drink good coffee that’s been roasted here locally—or at a micro-roaster somewhere—and trying to get the general public to understand the whys, the hows and the whats of coffee,” Snyder said.
Tune in to @mmbehringer to see a Vine video of Joseph, a barista at Thrive Cafe, prepare an espresso drink.