If there was a sound to represent Seattle, it might have to be the espresso grinder. This weekend, there is a cacophony of coffee making music at the Seattle Convention Center, as java junkies gather for Coffee Fest, and the very competitive Latte Art Championship. Sixty-four baristas from all over the United States, Canada, Japan and China are competing for the title of Latte Art Champion.
"It's head-to-head competition and it's a bracket system similar to college basketball," says Matt Milletto, judge and Vice President of the American Barista and Coffee School in Portland. "There's going to be a Sweet 16 tomorrow followed by the final four who win."
He says they're looking for:
"Speed, so who ever gets there's up first. We're also looking for over-all aesthetic beauty, which is how balanced the pour is, how symmetrical. We're looking at color infusion, definition and creativity, difficulty."
I met competitor and three time champion, Christopher Nicely Abel Alameda, with his suspenders and tattoos and endearing New York accent, about 10 minutes before his turn to pour, and he was zenning out listening to music. So we met up again after he won his round.
"I've done the swan, I've done the double rosetta, I've done the triple rosetta, I've done all the crazy stuff. But what it boils down to, I really sincerely appreciate the classics. A good heart, a good tulip, a good rosetta."
A barista at LA's Handsome Coffee Roasters, Nicely got into latte art when he lived in Seattle.
Three time champion, Chris Nicely Abel Alameda
"When I started at Espresso Vivace, that's where I learned how to texture milk. That's the most important part. The pretty stuff comes afterward, but if your milk texture ain't right, you have no business being here."
Latte art may sound a bit foofy to some, but Houston, Texas barista James Duncan says it not only makes his job more creative and challenging, but customers love it.
"The new people come in and they go, 'Oh my gosh, it's so pretty!' Latte art, in my personal opinion, is like the stamp of approval on a drink. It's the one thing that you can master and it's always evolving. The pours get more intricate, the designs get more intense every year. So we all come out here just to make sure we're keeping up with everybody else."
James has competed in Seattle, Chicago and China.
"My personal one that I pull off a lot is a two winged phoenix. It looks like a bird in flight."
For these baristas, making lattes is not just a day job, it's a lifestyle.
"I'm proud to say that my lady actually has a tattoo of a particular pour that I made. It's on her left arm, it's a three part tulip, very crisp and clean."