An Oral History of the Thursday Night Throwdown

The Thursday Night Throwdown—or TNT—is one of the most time-honored barista-bonding traditions. In this two-part series, we recount the history of the TNT through its founders as they tell the oral history of the throwdown.


Throwdowns have become ubiquitous in the coffee community—they are the way baristas unwind and connect with their community. But where did these throwdowns come from? How did they become the raucous events they are? And why Thursdays? We asked some early influencers to tell their stories about the throwdown, and present to you their (mostly) unedited stories and memories.

Ben Helfen, Counter Culture Coffee: According to the Coffee Fest website, the first latte art championships they did was 2002! So crazy! I’d kill to see some photos of pours from that one …

Scott Lucey, Kickapoo Coffee: Wow, 2002 for Coffee Fest Latte Art Competitions. I too would like to find some photos from those competitions, MORE SO, I’d like to know who was competing in them and especially winning them! I bet Heather Perry or Chris Deferio or maybe Chris Davidson or maybe Billy Wilson would know more about that … Ellie Hudson and Amber Sather maybe, too. … What about Katie Carguilo? Or Nick Cho?

Scott Lucey (center) was able to wrangle up a few photos from a Barista Jam circa 2005, including the cover photo and this one. “I remember the participation was low and that competition was one of a handful of things going on,” Scott says.

Sarah Allen, Barista Magazine: The Coffee Fest Latte Art Competitions were going on before Barista Magazine existed! We started working with them in early 2006, as a sponsor and a judge. I think they were only a year old at that point though. 

Ben Helfen: Now that Sarah [Allen] mentions it, I remember M’lissa [Muckerman] mentioning the 2007 NBC (Nordic Barista Cup) throwdown. During Coffee Fest weekend of February of 2008 when we went to a party at the Washington D.C., Counter Culture training center, a throwdown broke out and I had never seen one before. I remember now M’lissa mentioning NBC from the previous year and the throwdown there and how much fun it was. That throwdown (combined with the latte art championships that weekend at Coffee Fest) inspired the Atlanta TNTs. We didn’t want the fun to end!

Nordic Barista Cup in Gothenburg in 2007, which many credit as the pivotal throwdown. In this photo from left: Chris Owens, then with Ritual Coffee Roasters; Anne Lunell from Koppi at the machine; James Hoffmann talking with Casper Engel Rasmussen from the Coffee Collective; and Scott Lucey cheering.

Sarah Allen: Regarding the origin of throwdowns: It was Scott Lucey who came up with it originally—it was back in 2007, I believe. I remember Scott having put together the concept before (I think because he was inspired by the fun and community built around latte art competitions we had at our U.S. Coffee Fest events, which did then and continue to happen three times per year around the country), and then he and I and a bunch of other Americans (including M’lissa Muckerman) were in Gothenburg, Sweden, for the Nordic Barista Cup. At the big party on the final night, Scott suggested we have a throwdown—the Europeans didn’t know what he was talking about, but everyone got into it, and it was enormously fun and popular—I think we kept going until 4 or 5 in the morning.

Judges Sarah Allen, Klaus Thomsen (2006 WBC Champ), and Andreas Hertzberg from Norway talk to Scott Lucey.

Scott Lucey: Part of me doesn’t want to or isn’t able to take credit for the creation of ‘throwdown’ madness … it’s too huge! People out there had to have been playing around with the idea just as I was. The least I can confidently say is that my little thing may have been the first with the specific title of ‘throwdown’ and to have been reported to Barista Magazine as such.

Anne Lunell of Koppi at the machine at the NBC throwdown in 2007.

I also just recalled that in the February 2007 issue of B Mag, I was featured for being a community builder, etc. .… and the title of my article was, “Throwing Down With Scott Lucey.” However I believe that phrase/title was used in a way that wasn’t really intending on the creation of a ‘genius title’ (which I’ll call it that now that it’s been such a long time for such a thing to have lasted, fit, and maintained its character, as a great name).

Justin Teisl at the machine, Casper from Coffee Collective looking on, and M’lissa Muckerman watching.

I’m also floored to remember my 2007 trip to Scandinavia to work the Nordic Barista Cup—baristas then in that part of the world didn’t pour latte art and were even averse to lattes or making such large-volume (anything more than six ounces = large) milk drinks. Many thought that so much milk ruined a great espresso and thus should not be celebrated with great latte art. So yeah, on the last night of the event I drunkenly took over the mic on a stage and scolded all of the baristas for neglecting the espresso equipment that was in the house, not getting used. As I put it, so much talent should be rubbing elbows and scoping techniques, and thus I proposed that a throwdown happen right then and there. It was pretty crazy but it happened.

2012 USBC Champ Katie Carguilo pouring at the Intelli ‘smackdown’ hosted during the 2007 SCAA in Long Beach.

Kyle Glanville, G&B Coffee: Yeah, so it was born from a tradition at the Intelli Chicago roastery. Friday afternoons at 4 p.m., folks would gather in the break room and plunk down $1, one pour, best pour wins. It was subjective and silly and the best part about it was that a lot of people whose job wasn’t directly related to coffee, like designers and production managers, would come in and throw down.

Coffee folks at the 2007 throwdown hosted at the Intelligentsia L.A. location in 2007 during SCAA.

Anyway, the SCAA was on Long Beach that year (2007) and we had been working on getting Intelli L.A. all set up. We knew people were buzzing about some of the stuff we were working on, so we decided to throw the most outrageous party we could conceive of. Tonx (Tony Konecny) booked a great DJ, a taco truck, enough alcohol to sustain a large music festival, Clovers all over the place, and school buses to bring people back and forth from Long Beach.

Steve Ford, now of Counter Culture, emceeing. A young Ryan Wilbur, now of La Marzocco, watches.

Throwdowns (or ‘smackdowns’ as Kyle and the Intelli crew referred to them internally) were happening all over the country and abroad as early as 2002, and started taking off and becoming notable in 2007. In the second installment of this series, we talk to the folks who brought the ‘Thursday’ to ‘Thursday Night Throwdown,’ and made them the ubiquitous event they are in all cities and coffee communities. 

About Ashley Rodriguez 413 Articles
Ashley is the Online Editor for Barista Magazine. She's based in Chicago. If you want to share a story or have a comment, you can reach her at