More Than Rosettas: The LA TNT Bar Games Showcases Evolution in Industry Competitions

The LA TNT hosted their first bar flow competition ever this summer—and exclusively with oat milk.


All photos courtesy of Michael Cedeño of @theLAtnt

On June 28, Los Angeles TNT hosted Bar Games, its first––and unlikely its last––bar flow competition, at 10 Speed Coffee in Santa Monica, Calif. Ordinarily quiet in the evenings, the corner of Santa Monica and 20th Street pulsed with the sounds of music, cheers, and steam wands as teams of espresso-and-milk wizards went head-to-head.

10 Speed Coffee, a sponsor and host of Bar Games, saw a 
packed house throughout the evening.

Composed of three elimination rounds, Bar Games saw eight teams of up to four people fighting against the clock and nerves, attempting to complete a total of eight randomly selected espresso beverages before their rivals. In a twist, competitors could garner additional “technical points” along the way—bonuses that reduced their overall time if they met a unique blend of criteria that focused on technical proficiency, rhythm, and overall bar tidiness. Thus, a match could handily be won if a team’s time was reduced enough by bonuses, based on whether they purged their steam wand, maintained a tidy bar, or kept their milk waste to a minimum––all while using solely oat milk. 

Largely organized by LA TNT member and Good People Coffee Company Owner Chuck Herrera, the unique format was tested in advance of the event and was reminiscent of other bar flow competitions that have been trending across the coffee community as of late. Team dynamic and strategy varied amongst the entrants––some teams designated members to convey drinks to the judging table––with a noteworthy strategy exhibited by a two-person team from Alana’s Coffee Roasters.

Chuck Herrera, owner of Good People Coffee Company, introducing the competitors and describing the rules of engagement.

While there was certainly a competitive element, there was plenty of camaraderie and community at the evening’s competition, which not only welcomed industry people from the Los Angeles area, but was also open to the general public. “Win or lose, friends and family [are here] cheering for them,” said Chuck. The open doors and presence of pizza and beer testified to this emphasis, and even passersby could enjoy the lively event.

A competitor deep in the trenches.

As many industry folks know, the downside of bar competitions of any kind is milk waste, which, according to Chuck, LA TNT decided to address by bottling drinks made throughout the evening. These were sold, with the proceeds being sent to support Coffee at Large, a group of baristas who, according to their Instagram bio, “seek to shed light upon workplace injustice in specialty coffee.” (Read more about the group in this recent Barista Magazine Online article.)

In addition to supporting Coffee at Large, the move to bottle beverages made during the competition was inspired by Umeko Motoyoshi’s The @wastingcoffee Guide To Not Wasting Coffee.

The competition ran almost to midnight, with Team Andante of Andante Coffee Roasters maintaining a steady tempo throughout and walking away with the $600 grand prize. The festive air continued into the evening as sponsors and hosts gave prizes to the dispersing crowd and was accompanied with a sense––despite there being only one grand prize––that Team Andante was not the only winner that night.

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Jason Huffnagle is a freelance writer for Barista Magazine who has worked in coffee as a barista for six years. Having left his “adult job” in the U.S. Senate, the Alaska native spent several months traveling throughout Europe. You can read about his coffee-fueled travels and other exploits by following him @jasonhuffnagle on Twitter.

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