Latte for Your Life: Latte Art Challenge Match 2020

On January 25, 30 baristas gathered from across Japan to compete in the Latte Art Challenge Match, organized by Cue Coffee Create (spearheaded by local coffee house Progress’ barista Yuji Tanaka) and judged by Takahiro Andō (Connect Coffee), winner of the 2014 UCC Coffee Masters Latte Art Division and runner-up in the Coffee Fest Latte Art World Championship Open Tokyo 2014. [日本語]

This is the second iteration of the competition, the first taking place last year at Progress where over 60 spectators stood packed wall-to-wall while more watched the livestream online. This year, the bar has been raised with a bigger venue, ii Office Hiroshima (home to past year’s Hiroshima Coffee Festival) in Higashi Senda Park, more competitors, and hands-on coffee workshops, including the chance for spectators to try their hand at latte art. In addition, an overhead view of the baristas as they worked was projected onto a large screen, giving spectators a perfect  bird’s eye view of the techniques, while each barista picked their own music to pour to.

Open to professional and independent baristas alike, 21 of the competitors came from outside of Hiroshima, some from as far away as Osaka and Aichi, to show their talents. From Hiroshima, nine baristas from some of Hiroshima’s best coffee houses (including Akam Coffee Works, Obscura Coffee Roasters, Mio Bar, Cafe Luster, Prank Coffee & Cocktail, and of course, Progress).

The match was held in a sudden death tournament style: baristas were divided into four blocks, and the brackets were decided randomly through a lottery drawing. Winners move on to the next round until only four remain, with the top four judged at once to decide the ultimate champion.

Lattes were judged on four main criteria:

Aesthetic beauty/balance/symmetry: is the design symmetrical and well-balanced?

Definition/color infusion: how crisp are the lines, clarity of color contrast (brown/white), is there a patina shine to the latte, etc

Creativity/difficulty: is the design creative/non-standard and is it successfully and clearly executed?

Overall appeal (appeal as a product to be presented to a customer): is this a latte which a customer would want to drink (is the cup clean of any foam on the rim/handle, etc)

Baristas were not awarded point scores, merely judged on whether they did or did not fulfill the criteria: those who fulfilled the most criteria, win.

The pressure was palpable as the first matches began. Not only are the baristas working with a machine that isn’t their own (an older make of the famed Italian La Marzocco espresso machine) and unfamiliar espresso beans (dark roasted to ensure beautiful contrast and color), they’re also working under the watchful eyes of coffee enthusiasts, fellow barista coworkers, and of course, judge Andō.

One of the biggest draws of latte art competitions around the world is watching baristas, who generally work out of sight or behind a counter, take center stage as they craft intricate designs. Despite some shaky hands and jitters, each competitor produced a cup which, to me, was nothing short of magic. Pools of perfectly steamed milk nudge one another to gently create clearly defined layers of hairline white and brown concentric rings topped with tiny tulips, roses atop crisscrossed feathers, swans mid-flight, flowers in bloom.

By the end of round one, the remaining baristas had a better grasp of the machine and the espresso, making corrections and adjustments to produce even more advanced designs. Deliberations by Andō look markedly longer, and often the deciding factor came down to splitting hairs on overall appeal and who had the clearest execution. Independent baristas held their own against the professionals (eg those employed at coffee houses), and in the end, it would come down to three independent baristas and one professional to battle it out for the win.

Of the final four, it was Rui Kondō, a young independent barista from Fukuoka, who took home the grand prize and all the glory (interestingly enough, last year’s title was also awarded to a barista from Fukuoka). With Hiroshima baristas yet to take the title, next year’s Latte Art Challenge Match indeed poses a challenge to hometown baristas to hone their skills in the year to come and finally bring first prize to Hiroshima.

First: Rui Kondō (Independent, Fukuoka)
Second: Shuichi Yamamoto (Independent, Osaka)
Third: Kenta Murai (FUK COFFEE, Fukuoka)
Fourth: Ryōta Yamaguchi (Independent, Fukuoka)

The Latte Art Challenge Match 2020 may be over, but you can still find incredible artisanal lattes across Hiroshima City by baristas who continue to hone their caffeine craft:

Progress Life Style Coffee
Address: Shintenchi 1-15, Naka-ku, Hiroshima City
Hours: 1:00 pm to 12:00 am (L.O. 11:00 pm)
Closed: Tuesdays

Akam Coffee Works

Address: Kokutaiji 1-9-7, Naka-ku, Hiroshima City
Hours: 11:00 am to 8:30 pm (L.O. 8:00 pm)
Closed: Sundays

Obscura Coffee Roasters
Address: 3-28 Fukuro-machi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima City
Hours: 9:00 am to 8:00 pm
Closed: Every 3rd Wednesday of the month

Mio Bar

Address: Nobori-cho 5-14, Naka-ku, Hiroshima City
Hours: 11:30 am to 11:00 pm
Closed: Sundays

Cafe Luster

Address: 1-6-8 Ushita-waseda, Higashi-ku, Hiroshima City
Hours: 10:00 am  to 6:00 pm
Closed: Monday (Tuesday, if Monday falls on a national holiday)

Prank Coffee & Cocktail
Address: Shinkai Bldg 2F, Nagarekawa-cho 3-13, Naka-ku, Hiroshima City
Hours: 2:00 pm to 3:00 am (5:00 am on weekends)
Closed: Check Instagram

Still can’t get enough coffee? Never fear, the second annual Hiroshima Coffee Festival will be held on April 18 and 19 at Clip Hiroshima in Higashi Senda Park! Details are still yet to be announced, so stay tuned to Cue Coffee Create and Progress Life Style Coffee!

Hiroshima Food Snob

Freelance writer, translator, local TV talent, and full-time food snob in Hiroshima