Based in Toronto and New York City

, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

Victory and Defeat on the Latte Art Championship 2014 Stage

Both Smith and Soeder opted for the tulip design.
I'm not a latte drinker myself, but I like to look at them. They have become so beautiful, with those swirly espresso-and-white patterns reminiscent of flowers, hearts, cute animals, snowflakes, runic symbols, what have you. So when I found out that New York was holding its own Latte Art Championship at CoffeeFest over the weekend, I had to stop by.

I wasn't there for the climactic moment, when apparent latte art genius Cabell Tice (even his name sounds artisanal!) of The Thinking Cup in Boston nabbed the title, reprising his win last year in Seattle. But I was there for a poignant moment on the second day of competition when the pool of 32 was whittled down to 16.  It came when Ryan Soeder of Intelligentsia Chicago went head-to-head against and edged out competitor Kenny Smith of Sunergos in Louisville, Kentucky.

By finishing first in the three-minute competition Soeder immediately had the edge in scoring. The judges also gave the advantage to him in two other scoring categories: color definition (how white is the white and how brown is the brown) and infusion (swirliness). Yet at least one judge felt Smith got the better marks in beauty and balance.

Smith, left, with former mentee Soeder. 
Immediately after their round, the two competitors stood and chatted. They were unusually friendly for competitors, it seemed to me, with Soeder complimenting Smith on his beautiful entry, and obviously feeling somewhat abashed at his win. It made sense when Soeder told me, "I learned latte art in Kenny's kitchen in Louisville." The two had dreamed of barista greatness, but "there was no one in the city to look up to," he added. "We had to look online, and we constantly egged each other on."

It happens in every pursuit, that moment when student surpasses master, and Smith was gracious in defeat. I hope that he was able to feel a sense of pride in having nurtured a talent that, at least on that day, outshone him. For every win, there is a defeat, though; Soeder got knocked out in the next round by Tokyo's Tsusaka Koike.

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