Chat w/ Quills Latte Art Competitors Houston and Michael

Houston and Michael are off to Coffee Fest New York to compete in the Latte Art competition. Before they left, we asked them to share a bit about how they've been preparing and what they're anticipating. First Round- Michael goes up against fellow Kentuckian Justin Shepherd Friday morning at 9:20am. Houston battles Tsuyoshi Onishi at 10:10am.

{note: please click on names above to go to their respective Twitter accounts and virtually tag along during their momentous weekend}

Could you please explain in your own words what you'll be doing... What it looks like to compete? Is this your first competition? If not- where have you competed before?

Michael: The Latte Art World Championship Open is something like the NCAA tournament- only without the shoe deals and the press coverage. Baristas go head-to-head, pouring a design into espresso with steamed milk.  The better pour advances until there's only one barista left. The losers are thrown into the Rancor pit. 
Houston: We'll be heading to the big ol' city of New York to pour milk competitively. Yup, there's a cup with espresso in it. And a pitcher with milk. Whoever can make the prettiest combination of the two leaves with $2000 and a pointy trophy. I competed in last year's Coffee Fest Chicago but didn't do so hot. This year will be different! And of course we're always attending the monthly TNTs in the city. 

 
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What are you most excited about? Most nervous about? 

Michael: Besides seeing New York for the first time, I'm excited for the chance to meet some of the best baristas in the business. I'm nervous that I'll get up there and forget how to pour latte art entirely. There are at least a million things I could very easily screw up.           Houston:  Definitely equally excited about the competition and about exploring the city since I've never been. And as far as most nervous...Eh, I'll think about that later.

What have you been doing to prepare?

Michael: The best preparation for a competition like this is a busy shift on bar. When you've got ten drinks waiting to be made the pressure is on. The challenge is not to compromise or cut corners while working as efficiently as possible. I want each drink I make at Quills to look and taste great.  Really that's what these competitions are about: being better baristas to better serve our customers.                                                                                            Houston:  Pull shot, Steam milk, Pour, Scowl, Pull shot, Steam milk, Pour, Curse

How long does the competition last? Will you be traveling with/meeting any coffee biz friends there?

Michael: Louisville will be well represented in the Big Apple. Although only one is actually competing, five baristas from Sunergos will be at Coffee Fest and a couple of my other good friends were hired to help run media for the event. Several other Louisvillian expats will be there too. Ryan Soeder is a Louisville native and he won the whole thing a couple of years ago. Kenny Smith of Sunergos came in second in Chicago and I think this could be his year. If I was a betting man, (and if I could find a bookie that took bets on latte art competitions) I would wager that Houston is going to surprise a lot of people in this competition. He's been pouring some incredible stuff lately. Coffee Fest is from Friday to Sunday but my wife and I will be staying an extra day to check our some museums and restaurants.                           Houston: I'm taking a plane in, and staying in a hotel. "Roughing it" I believe is the term. Coming in on Thursday, heading out on Sunday. 

 
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What else do you look forward to learning/seeing/doing while there?

Michael: We're going to the opera with my wife's uncle, who lives in Queens. I've never been to the opera before but I'm hoping it's like my favorite Marx Brothers movie, A Night at the Opera. New York has a ton of great cafes and coffee shops. Everyman EspressoThird Rail Coffee, and Joe's Pro Shop are a priority. If I get over to Brooklyn I would love to check out Tobey's Estate. For restaurants Momofuko Ssåm Bar is a must and I also hope to make it to Mission Chinese Food.                                                                                           Houston: It's fun to see everyone's styles in the competition and to talk to everyone at the convention. And having free samples send back home to the shop. Three pounds of single origin Hawaiian chocolate was an exciting surprise last year. 

{Click on bracket below to see larger version}