The new season of TNT (Thursday Night Throwdown) kicks off tonight at Cafe Grumpy, so we sat down with two of the organizers—Maciej Kasperowicz, Director of Coffee for Gregorys, and Bailey Rayne Arnold, their Director of Education—to learn more about what goes into a throwdown, why coffee peeps love to drink beer and spill milk together, and why you might like to join in the festivities.
What is a TNT?
MK: It’s a Thursday Night Throwdown, and it’s a magical night during which baristas get together, pour a bunch of latte art, and occasionally win prizes. More importantly (though some of our more competitive competitors might disagree), it’s an easy way to get a bunch of people from a local, specialty coffee community together to hang out, make friends, build relationships and the sense of community that helps make working in this industry so much fun.
BA: According to Google, a “throwdown” is “a performance by or competition between rappers, breakdancers, etc.” (I guess we fall under “etc.”) Another definition refers to a display or contribution of something; to throw down skills/expertise/knowledge, or funds for something. Spinning this in a direction that would be useful in this case, I’d say a TNT is a performance by baristas (and other coffee professionals alike) in which they face off against one another, displaying their expertly honed techniques of pouring textured and heated milk into espresso. 32 people enter, and 1 person leaves. (In the future maybe we should incorporate Thunderdome into the acronym, though I’m sure Maciej would have some technical reason to disagree.)
Who are the judges, and how are they selected?
MK: The judges are usually picked from previous winners, members of our organizing committee, representatives of sponsors and/or hosts, and people we pick out of the crowd who we know will do a good job. We don’t have a screening process, though we do have some basic criteria all the judges should follow at some point.
BA: We attempt to have a three-person judging panel: One judge a representative from whatever venue the TNT is held at, the previous month’s champion, and someone else (could be an organizer, could be a sponsor, could just be a random buddy who can’t tell a rosetta from a swan). The judges don’t necessarily need to meet any qualifications (except probably, like, just don’t be a jerk), but we try to make clear the judging criteria to each person, make sure there will be both men and women on the panel, and there won’t be two judges representing the same company/coffee shop.
Why is it important for coffee folks to spend time together drinking beer and spilling milk?
BA: It’s really important to have a multitude of platforms upon which to share information and experiences and joys and struggles and knowledge in our industry, and the more diverse (and FUN) those platforms, the better! There will always be cuppings, tastings, conferences, and trade shows—and there should always be throwdowns as well. Coffee people are the most fun people!
MK: I feel as we make efforts to grow into a more mature, successful industry, the idea that we’re all supportive of each other—and we get along, share information and get drunk together—sounds a little wide-eyed and naive, but I also think it’s as important as ever. That’s not to say that there isn’t competition in specialty coffee, and that’s not to say that everyone likes (or even should like) each other, but that spirit of community is, for me, a big factor in why I like working in coffee, and I think regular get-togethers help foster that.
Maciej, is it true you keep stats? Is there some inside betting ring involved?
MK: So yeah, at the beginning of the season I try to keep all the brackets and sign-up sheets, and develop some basic stats (total wins, winning percentage, wins per throwdown).
BA: There’s definitely an inside betting ring, but all of the profits go to Coffee Kids. (JK, we’re honest organizers!)
How much money did the community raise for Coffee Kids last season?
MK: $1,619 for Coffee Kids, $585 for the Monkey and the Elephant in Philly and $1,265 for Project ALS (that last one largely due to the Herculean efforts of Sam Penix). Sooooooo many awesome sponsors and people helped us.
What’s your favorite pour?
MK: I tend to be most impressed by rosettas cuz, while I can pour a decent tulip, I am truly awful at rosettas. But a nicely rounded tulip in a tiny cup always makes me happy, too.
BA: The elusive, perfect rosetta, where the base comes back around to the top of the cup, there’s a heart on top, and spaces between the leaves. F*ck all this drunken tulip sh*t! Rosettas forever!
BA: Uhhh, tattoos? We freakin raffled off tattoos. That was pretty rad.
The TNT season kicks off again tonight, Tuesday, with a very special Tuesday night pre-Halloween Throwdown at the Cafe Grumpy roastery, 199 Diamond Street, Brooklyn.