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Fort Wayne coffee shops host series of latte art competitions

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Ella Abbott
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WBOI News
A barista from Tall Rabbit, Chloe, pours steamed milk into a shot of espresso, creating latte art at the top with the milk on Thursday. Chloe came in third overall in the barista competition.

Tall Rabbit hosted the event this month, which allowed baristas from around the area to show off their latte art and compete for top prize.

Last month, Utopian Coffee hosted the first competition of the series, which is the brainchild of Jonathon Sepulveda, director of coffee and sales for Utopian Coffee.

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Ella Abbott
/
WBOI News
A barista from Tall Rabbit, Alex, pulled shots of espresso for competitors throughout the night. Utopian Coffee, which Tall Rabbit also serves, supplied the coffee beans for the evening.

Originally from California, Sepulveda moved to Fort Wayne four months ago and said he saw a lot of coffee culture here, but not much coffee community.

“We’re not doing something down here," he said. "We don’t have this whole vibe, subculture, barista culture happening. But you’ve got coffee kids down here that actually care about the product, they’re passionate about making coffee, they’re passionate about that customer experience.”

Sepulveda has run similar events in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego for nearly 20 years.

He said, just like any other form of art, latte art deserves to be seen and evaluated by peers.

“These baristas are putting this crazy sweet latte art on your drink that’s communicating a perfectly pulled shot, perfectly executed beverage, great temperature, great texture," he said. "So, they’re showing their craftsmanship when they put that latte art on your drink.”

They’ve started out with a 16-person bracket for these events, but as the culture grows and more people participate, Sepulveda says they can expand that.

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Ella Abbott
/
WBOI News
Tony Hudson, owner of Blue Jacket Inc. and Tall Rabbit, fistbumps his competition before they beginning pouring their milk on Thursday, January 5, 2023. Hudson was bought into the competition and cheered on the competitors throughout the evening.

During the competitions, baristas compete two at a time, with someone from the host location pulling the espresso shots for them. Competitors have to steam the milk perfectly and pour the art. Some of the rounds are a free-for-all to show whatever design you’re best at, others Sepulveda – who MCs the event – might call out a specific shape; a rose, a heart, a rosette.

At the end of the night, the winner takes home some cash and prizes, typically donated by local retailers.

On Thursday, that honor went to Samantha Harvey.

Harvey is a barista at Conjure Coffee, who’s been working in the coffee industry for about two and a half years. She heard about the competition through Instagram.

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Ella Abbott
/
WBOI News
Jonathon Sepulveda congratulates Samantha Harvey after announcing her as the winning of the barista competition on Thursday, January 5, 2023.

“A couple of my coworkers and some friends who are also in the industry said ‘hey there’s gonna be a Throwdown event, you should go and compete, you’re really good at latte art’ so," she said. "I skipped the first one, I was really anxious about it, and then decided to come tonight anyway.”

Harvey proved her skill throughout the night with consistent showings of her art before being declared the winner. She says she feels…

“Elated. Surprised. Also, the extra money in my pocket is nice.”

Sepulveda calls these events Fort Wayne Thursday Night Throwdown and different coffee shops throughout the area host them, while Utopian Coffee supplies the beans.

The next event will be at Mocha Lounge on Dupont next month. Anyone from the community, no matter their level of experience, can compete with a buy-in of $10.

Sepulveda has created an Instagram account for keeping up with where the competitions will be located; @FW_TNT.

Ella Abbott is a multimedia reporter for 89.1 WBOI. She is a strong believer in the ways audio storytelling can engage an audience and create a sensory experience.