The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Local baristas compete in latte art-throwdown

On Oct. 22, Daydrink’s new Bowery Street cafe hosted Barista Mania, a latte art competition, to bring together both baristas and local coffee enthusiasts. Arts Reporter Lily Czechowicz brewed in the contest first-hand.
Grace Smith
Barista Kara Thai pours milk into a coffee at Daydrink’s new location on Bowery Street in Iowa City on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. Daydrink on Bowery Street, which also has a location on the Pedestrian Mall, opened its doors on Thursday to eager coffee and tea drinkers.

Though nearly dark outside, the Iowa City coffee shop Daydrink was packed, and money was on the line.

Daydrink hosted “Barista Mania,” the cafe’s first barista throwdown on Sunday in its new 518 Bowery St. location. The rules were simple: A $20 buy-in, single elimination, names drawn at random, and dice would determine the winner’s pool.

It had been well over a year since I had touched an espresso machine, but I’ve worked as a barista for years. Naturally, I shelled out my $20 and signed up to compete.

The cafe was filled with baristas and coffee enthusiasts from cities across Iowa including Iowa City, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Marion. Some attendees even made the trek from Chicago.

When they called my name for round one, I felt a flush of excitement and terror. My competition, Molly Kirby, a barista at Tru Coffee, said she had only recently learned latte art. I was instantly relieved. At the very least, we were evenly matched.

I stood at the machine and stared at the steam valve. It was not what I was used to. Water was filtered through the espresso grounds manually, and I had only ever used automatic machines.

While steaming, my milk quickly spilled out of my pitcher because it was narrower than the pitchers I was used to.

Out of my depth, my hands shook as I poured milk into the espresso shot. It didn’t have enough foam, and I worried the thin stream of milk would leave me with no design at all.

Thankfully, I managed to pour a hazy, stacked tulip. Kirby’s design was similar, but her contrast was much cleaner: It drew a sharp line between coffee and milk.

To my surprise, however, the judges deemed my art the winner. Although Molly’s ratio had better contrast, my design was more difficult and more symmetrical. With that, I advanced to the next round.

As the round continued, I was amazed to see so many intricate and skilled pours. Baristas stacked their tulips to the very edge of the cup and their rosettes flowed effortlessly.

I was put at ease when I saw more beginner-friendly hearts being poured by newer baristas. Even better, it seemed like nerves shook everyone’s hands in the first round.

While my cautious side suggested I withdraw to end on a high note, my competitive side begged to continue. I had broken even with the $20 cash prize from the first round. I did not have the skills to compete against any other baristas there, but I knew I could at least improve on my first attempt.

Round two rolled around, and I was pitted against Courtney Davidhizar, the lead bartender of The Green House, who had been pouring out crisp, complex, and symmetrical designs all night.

“I’ll go easy on you,” I teased.

“I’ll go easy on you,” Davidhizar retorted, though her “easy” would still blow me out of the water.

I added less milk to the pitcher, turned the steam valve in the right direction, and remembered to manually stop the espresso pull.

With steady hands, I managed to stack a cleaner tulip than the one that beat Kirby.

RELATED: Daydrink coffee shop opens second location in historic building on East Bowery Street

I proudly placed my cup on the judging counter next to Davidhizar’s, but upon seeing her design, I was discouraged by her sharp contrast and symmetrical design. It was complex and beautiful. I did not win, but Davidhizar was very kind.

Whether it’s someone’s first competition or they’re a seasoned pro, barista throwdowns are a great way to bring baristas together.

“When you’re a barista, you don’t see other baristas unless you work with them, so it’s like a fun way for shops to compare skills and get to know each other,” said one Barista Mania judge, Kelsey Conrad.

For Daydrink co-owner Connor Moellenbeck, the cafe’s second location allows it to host engaging events like this, enriching and connecting both the local and state-wide coffee-loving community.

“It’s just [about] community in all honesty,” Moellenbeck said. “I’m super excited for what’s to come after this.”

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About the Contributors
Lily Czechowicz
Lily Czechowicz, Arts Reporter
Lily Czechowicz is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa from which she earned a degree in English & Creative Writing.
Grace Smith
Grace Smith, Senior photojournalist and filmmaker
Grace Smith is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic Arts. In her four years at The Daily Iowan, she has held the roles of photo editor, managing summer editor, and visual storyteller. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Grace has held an internship at The Denver Post and pursued freelance assignments for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.