Rebecka Sipe creates latte art at Camber’s Thursday Night Throwdown on July 25, 2019. // Photo by Christa Yaranon
The summer sun set off a warm glow on the vibrant hub of businesses along West Holly Street. Passing by the entrance of Camber’s flagship cafe, one would notice the buzz of conversations between local baristas and coffee lovers. This day marked Camber’s two-year anniversary, celebrated with a latte art throwdown on July 25.
Approximately 50 people gathered into Camber’s space to either watch or compete in a “Thursday Night Throwdown.” The party and fundraiser featured talented baristas from all over the state to engage in a friendly coffee tournament that showcased different skill levels of latte art.
The event marked the second Thursday Night Throwdown that Camber has hosted, but this time the business planned to donate proceeds to Grounds for Health, a nonprofit organization that fights to end cervical cancer in coffee producing countries, according to Camber’s coffee director and lead barista Gloria Baldwin.
“What we’re doing differently this time is we’re going to be giving all proceeds from the competitor’s buy-in’s which are $10 per competitor, along with a $500 total donation on top of that,” Baldwin said.
The $500 donation was provided through one of Camber’s sponsors, Oatly, a Swedish oat drink company who also provides the cafe’s oat milk, according to Baldwin.
“Grounds for Health is one of those organizations that is just doing something really radical and really productive for the world and it’s an organization that also came out of the coffee industry,” Baldwin said. “Its mission is very specific in helping producers, women and countries that don’t have as great access to treatments, which is something that’s inspiring to us.”
Camber employee Christian Lawrence explained that since the company sources from these countries, they want to be able to help in any way they can.
“We get coffee from parts of the world that don’t always have good medical opportunities and a lot of the people that harvest coffee, tea and chocolate are basically not adequately paid and usually don’t have access to sufficient medical facilities for their health,” Lawrence said. “So anything we can do to support the people that live in those areas and pay them fairly is what we wanted to focus on.”
The fundraiser kicked off around 5 p.m. and drew 16 local baristas from specialty coffee industries to compete. Rounds were designed in tournament brackets and featured two baristas at a time that would go up against each other.
For each round, both competitors poured two lattes and whoever had the best design on their latte moved to the next round. Judging was based on the quality and clarity of the design, according to Baldwin, who also participated as a judge.
Baldwin noted that attention to detail and creativity were vital factors in judging.
“One of the critiques that we look for is how white the design looks against the darker coffee-colored area and how centered the design is,” Baldwin said. “It’s not necessarily on how difficult it is to make, but it’s more about showing that technique and skill rather than the pizzazz.”
A total of 14 rounds were completed in the competition. The final results awarded first place to Alex Sciarrotta from Narrative Coffee, second place to Sergei Kutrovski from Makeworth Market and third place to Andy Millard from Camber.
One feature that Camber hoped to foster at the event was the community aspect.
“Seeing everyone from this industry get together and get really hyped about baristas showing off their skills is something that I was so excited about,” Baldwin said. “As a barista, you’re just making lattes and drinks all day long and the customer might think your latte is pretty, but this is much more than that. This is a way for everyone in the community and baristas that have been in the business for a long time to share appreciation for each other and our passion for coffee.”
Runner-up and local coffee manager at Makeworth Market Sergei Kutrovski echoed similar statements of wanting to cultivate and connect with others in the industry.
“I think as a competitor, my favorite thing about events like this is the fact that we get to gather not only the coffee community, but we get to gather the people around Bellingham and even outside of Bellingham,” Kutrovski said. “It’s to basically bring others together and educate people in the craft. As a barista and coffee manager, I see value in that. It brings that education but it also allows the community to see just how important this is for us.”
For Lawrence, watching the event unfold and seeing connections formed were reasons the turnout was successful.
“Bellingham’s specialty coffee community has grown a lot in the last two years and we are just trying to share resources and our excitement for this craft. We definitely want to have more of these events because they’re well-received, so we’re really looking forward to that.”
Balwin explained that hosting these events are mainly out of compassion and to show gratitude to supporters.
“We didn’t just want this to be a coffee event. First and foremost, we wanted to focus on giving back to a good cause and giving back to our community,” Baldwin said.
Camber is located at 221 W Holly St. and is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week.