In which our intrepid co-founder Zachary Carlsen attends the CoffeeBar SF Rib Rack-Up And Latte Art Hootenanny, with photos and notes jotted live.

There’s a pimp chalice filled with money atop the La Marzocco Strada MP, and this can only mean one thing: there’s a latte art throwdown afoot. No fewer than 24 baristas wait backstage, drinking PBRs and eating tapas. Another 100 more shuffle on the top floor of CoffeeBar SF, stuffing themselves with BBQ ribs. The DJ is playing Slick Rick. This is all happening.

Can a Rip Van Wafel fit on the plastic PBR cups? The answer is maybe.

CoffeeBar SF’s Potrero Hill location proves to be a very accommodating venue for such a melee, far more so than say, Dolores Park Cafe, where a similar version of this event occurred last year. It’s much cooler in here, and considerably larger than Dolores Park cafe, so the space allows the audience to watch from multiple angles and heights, while an eight foot tall mega-screen projects the pours.

Where are the competitors? In an elevator. Your 24 baristas are Josh, Cody, Veronica, Max, Eric, Dustin, Alex, Tommy, Justin T., Jennifer, Chris, William, Patrick, Dennis, Selina, Sam R., Leslie, Shane, Sam, Devorah, Justin, Harold, Demart, and Tom. Only one can be crowned champion. The others must sacrifice their bodies, dollars, and eternal souls at the altar of competition, with no remuneration.

The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. The snark of “journalism.” Our cosmic stars have aligned over this place, at this time, in these very moments of battle. Who will be left standing? Who will rise above? Where’s my ribs?

Overheard backstage:

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“This is a really organized event. Is that because of Sprudge?” [Editors note: No.]

“These sandwich bites are toasted! It’s the little touches.”

“I think I’m going to do a double tulip with a wiggle bottom.”

The competition is set to start at 7:00PM PST as this guy with a wicked pony tail finishes up stocking the competitors bar. There are at least eight cases of Rip Van Wafels on and around the La Marzocco. Let there be no piece of real estate unadorned by Wafels.

The master of ceremonies is Mr. Richard Sandlin of Fair Trade USA. “Let’s make some NOOOOOOOOISE. We have 24 of the sickest baristas in the Bay Area.” The baristas can choose their vessels – NotNeutral cups are heating on top of the Strada.

A designated CoffeeBar SF barista pulls shots of Mr. Espresso’s Neopolitan Espresso. She tastes shots between competitors and adjusts the grind as the room gets hotter. The barista arena is completely packed with baristas with digital cameras and iPhones, clamoring to take pictures of the pours. The first technical is called during the first head-to-head as someone named Cody is bumped by an eager bystander mid-rosetta.

There is definitely tie-dye in the house.

Alex Powar wins the first heat. A drunk barista yells out “Alex has the Powar!” Over half of the lattes go out to the audience. It’s 9PM. Only five gallons of milk total were used during tonight’s throw-down, and much of that was consumed by folks in attendance. Waste not! Chug-a-lug!

Regina (Ritual Coffee), Phillip Ma (Ma’velous Coffee), and Nathan Weiss (Contraband Coffee) judge the pours. Our opening salvo of competitors is whittled down to a final three, which include: Leslie from Bellano Coffee in San Jose and Justin n’ Alex from Four Barrel Coffee. Leslie pours a beautiful tulip in a gibby glass. Justin pours a triple-bottomed rosetta in a latte cup. Alex plays it clean with a simple triple tulip in a cappuccino cup.

Mr. Powar wins the pimp cup full of cash! It’s 10:30PM and no one knows who won the BBQ Rib throwdown, but we nominate Brenda at the Gators booth. Her mac and cheese was other-worldly.

There are rumors of San Francisco Bay Area Thursday Night Throwdowns circling the room. Baristas are stoked. You feel this kind of buzz and excitement in cities like New York and Philadelphia and it warms my heart to experience it here in SF. It’s a wonderful time to be a barista in the Bay.

Coverage and excessive rib consumption made possible by Mr. Espresso.

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