Latte art competition brings out true believers in spite of hellish heat

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I’m standing outside Central Coffee Co., smoking a cigarette I don’t want. I don’t even really smoke, save the very unusual social cigarette. This seemed worthy of such an exception. I've just bummed it off a cute barista to have an excuse to talk to her.

It doesn’t take long before she reveals herself as the Evangelical type, with a boyfriend to boot. Product of a religious upbringing such that I am, I instantly go half deaf, stomp out my unwanted cigarette and wait for a chance to change the subject.

And here Tom Waits had lead me to believe that you don't meet nice girls in coffee shops.

Finally, in between her telling me how interesting it is to watch people “struggle” (emphasis mine) with “homosexuality” (emphasis hers) due to, say, an absent father figure, or how infinite regression proves the undeniable existence of a one God universe, she finally hit on something that rang true: “Charlotte has a close, and growing, coffee community. Really, we all just like hanging out and talking.”

The “close” may be more on display on this particular night than the “growing.” Many may have thought the event on June 23 is canceled, as Central Coffee’s AC is malfunctioning. They’ve been closed all day and have only opened for the latte art competition, a recurring event that has been taking place in Charlotte every few months or so for more than three years now.

Still, the faithful – bad pun intended – have shown up in spite of the heat to watch baristas display their artistic ability using only steamed milk atop an espresso.

The competitors are judged on four categories: Use of space, balance and symmetry, color infusion and definition and overall impression.

The designs are impressive. Still, I have no idea why one guy’s heart is better than another’s. I may not know exactly what’s going on with this whole “color infusion” thing, but it’s still enjoyable to watch it unfold while sipping on a free beer – Central Coffee doesn’t have a liquor license, meaning they can’t sell beer but they can give it away on special occasions such as these.

And as my new Jesus-loving barista friend pointed out, there’s a lot of hanging out and talking. This is the second latte art competition I’ve gone to and both times I noticed how friendly everyone was, how eager they are to introduce themselves. They may be a close-knit group, but they are certainly welcoming to outsiders, even if said outsider doesn't know their balance from their symmetry and disengages at religious or relationship talk.

While these events don't always take place at Central Coffee, it provided the ideal venue for an event based on community and getting to know like-minded individuals. It’s a cozy, intimate space best suited to small groups.

The Charlotte Coffee Community holds semi-regular events all around the city. You can connect with them on Facebook to stay in the loop.


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