KY/TN Throwdown and Caffeination Celebration: All About the Midsouth

By JUSTIN SHEPHERD
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

Ask most people to locate America’s hotbeds of coffee culture, and they’ll aim for the coasts: The average Joe will point to Seattle, while a slightly more informed consumer might mention Portland or New York. But in the past few years, there’s been something of a coffee surge in the Midsouth, and two of the cities most responsible for it are Nashville and Louisville.

Better known for music and bourbon, respectively, the largest cities in Tennessee and Kentucky have undergone a coffee renaissance in the last decade: Nashville cafes like Barista Parlor grace national œbest of  lists on a weekly basis, while Louisville baristas rack up appearances in Brewers Cup, Latte Art, and America’s Best Espresso finals. But despite their seemingly close proximity ”you can drive from one to the other in just about 3 hours ”coffee connections between the two cities have been relatively few.

A directory guides entrants through the various areas of the Caffeination Celebration.
A directory guides entrants through the various areas of the Caffeination Celebration. Photo by Loren Gifford.

Three years ago, in an attempt to foster coffee community between two cities I love, the KY/TN Latte Art Throwdown & Caffeination Celebration was born. Part spectacle, part sampling, and part social event, the KY/TN Throwdown brings together baristas from both cities (along with those from smaller towns throughout our area)  for a night of competition and camaraderie ”and it all benefits an amazing cause.

Drew Pomeroy (left) of Sunergos Coffee and Moriah Claud of Frothy Monkey share the brew bar during the Caffeination Celebration.
Drew Pomeroy (left) of Sunergos Coffee and Moriah Claud of Frothy Monkey share the brew bar during the Caffeination Celebration. Photo by Loren Gifford.

At the œneutral site  of Spencer’s Coffee in Bowling Green, Ky. (more or less geographically centered between Louisville and Nashville) not too long ago, we hosted the biggest KY/TN Throwdown yet. Forty-eight baristas from Kentucky and Tennessee ”and one from the Big Apple ”competed in a prize-packed latte art throwdown; throughout the evening, these lattes were auctioned off for charity. The public was also invited to take part, and our 85-seat cafe was packed from start to finish. Raffle tickets were available, with chances for prizes from all the involved cafes as well as Bowling Green area businesses. Southern Tier‘s acclaimed Mokah coffee stout was flowing, along with coffee tastings from Sunergos Coffee and Quills Coffee of Louisville, as well as Frothy Monkey Coffee and Bongo Java Roasting of Nashville.

Spencer's Coffee owner Justin Shepherd explains the rules of the KY/TN Latte Art Throwdown to competitors and the crowd.
Spencer’s Coffee owner Justin Shepherd explains the rules of the KY/TN Latte Art Throwdown to competitors and the crowd. Photo by Loren Gifford.
Ben Ezell (left) of Spencer's Coffee and Lee Sill of Barista Parlor react during judging of their semifinal round.
Ben Ezell (left) of Spencer’s Coffee and Lee Sill of Barista Parlor react during judging of their semifinal round. Photo by Loren Gifford.

All the money raised through the event went to the Center for Courageous Kids, a one-of-a-kind donor-supported camp in Scottsville, Ky., for kids with developmental delays and disabilities on a year-round basis. CCK offers accommodations for both children and families, with swimming, bowling, horseback riding, art and music classes and much more, all at no cost to the visitors. My own sons are on the autism spectrum, and we have experienced firsthand the amazing work CCK does for these kids and their families.

A total of 48 baristas competed in the 3rd Annual KY/TN Latte Art Throwdown.
A total of 48 baristas competed in the 3rd Annual KY/TN Latte Art Throwdown. Photo by Loren Gifford.
Chris Deferio (left) and Kenny Smith, both of Sunergos Coffee, share a laugh after their semifinal round. Kenny was the eventual winner, with Chris taking third place.
Chris Deferio (left) and Kenny Smith, both of Sunergos Coffee, share a laugh after their semifinal round. Kenny was the eventual winner, with Chris taking third place. Photo by Loren Gifford.

Baristas paid a $10 entry fee, and each received a bag of Sunergos Coffee’s America’s Best Espresso grand champion beans, a triple-sorted Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. Despite a bevy of talent on both sides of the state line, Kentucky swept the results this year. The eventual winner, Sunergos Coffee’s Kenny Smith, walked away with a prize package anchored by Todd Carmichael’s limited-edition Dragon Brewer; Spencer’s own Ben Ezell claimed second and went home with a copper V60 Dripper & Buono Kettle combo courtesy of Prima Coffee; and Chris Deferio (himself a multiple winner of the Coffee Fest  Latte Art Competition and creator of the America’s Best Coffeehouse competition) grabbed a Baratza Encore grinder after coming out of latte-art retirement to take third. All three also received subscriptions to Barista Magazine, gift packages from Mistobox, and more. All the prizes were donated to help support fundraising efforts for CCK.

Ari Zadai (left) and Kathleen Hartsfield, both baristas at Barista Parlor, were among a bevy of baristas represented from Louisville, Nashville and beyond.
Ari Zadai (left) and Kathleen Hartsfield, both baristas at Barista Parlor, were among a bevy of baristas represented from Louisville, Nashville and beyond. Photo by Loren Gifford.

Special thanks to sponsors La Colombe, Prima Coffee, Baratza, Saint Anthony Industries, Barista Magazine, Mistobox, and Sunergos Coffee for making the event a success, as well as shout-outs to all the baristas and owners and customers who packed the house. We hope to see you next year!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin Shepherd is owner/operator/aficionado of Spencer
‘s Coffee, and the creator of the KY/TN Latte Art Throwdown. For tips on creating your own charitable coffee event, or to volunteer as a sponsor for next year‘s event, email justin@spencerscoffee.com.  And be sure to check out Justin’s  blog on coffee brewing, retail and education at  medium.com/irregular-coffee.

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