Whether you’re competing in a latte art throwdown or judging one – hell, if you’re just watching one – you’ll benefit from having a basic understanding of what’s being assessed during the competition. For the seasoned competitor, consider the following a mere tune up; for the novice, here are the criteria by which your efforts will be measured; and, for the judge, you’ll be tasked with keen observation of the elements below.
First, let’s take a look at the judging process. A typical Thursday Night Throwdown format consists of a three-judge panel. This includes – typically – the previous month’s winner (Hey, is this you? Congratulations!!), along with two others, who may or may not be coffee professionals. The judges are asked to select one of two samples placed before them, and a two-thirds majority rules. (This goes on and on in tournament style until one champion remains.)
And by “latte art” we really mean any espresso-based drink adorned with a free-poured design (i.e., devoid of stenciling or etching). This could be a latte, or cappuccino or cortado, but for simplicity we’ll use the colloquial latte art. Commonly, the design takes the form of three classic elements – the heart, tulip and rosetta. Occasionally, some combination of elements comprise a different design (e.g., a wave heart or swan).
Let’s examine the five scoring components of latte art used in the Thursday Night Throwdown program:
Balance and Symmetry
- Are the dividing lines clean and even? Do they show no signs of hesitation?
- Do the individual elements work well and compliment one another?
Color and Definition
- Is there sufficient contrast between the whiteness of the foam and the darkness of the crema?
- Are areas of whiteness clearly separated from areas of brownness?
- Is the intention of the design obvious and clear?
- Is the milk appropriately and consistently textured? (i.e., it contains no bubbles, no foam “dollop” or no other irregularities.)
Use of Space
- Does the drink volume fill the cup adequately? (i.e., is it underfilled or overfilled?)
- Does the design crowd the cup or leave it feeling empty and unfinished?
- Is the drink presently professionally? (e.g., is it free of spill marks?)
- Does the design have aesthetic appeal?
- What is your subjective appreciation?
Author’s note: credit is due to the TNT programs that came before us. The images above have lost their attributes but have been passed along from one organization to the next. If you’re aware of the proper citation, please send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.