Steve Lim, a 2015 Coffee Fest Latte Art World Champion, didn't always drink coffee. Lim admits to hating the smell of the Folger's coffee his parents brewed when he was growing up. But in 2009, Lim's views towards coffee changed.
"I'll never forget, I saw this guy and he had a hat on, a big burly beard and something like a butcher's apron that had a whole bunch of coffee ground stains on it," he says. Curious, he watched the barista pour the beverage, which he topped off with a lovely leaf design. "I realized there was a chemistry, balance and beauty to making drinks," says Lim, who currently works as senior process engineer for S&D Coffee and Tea and as a barista on the side.
Since 2011, Lim has been competing in latte art throwdowns and competitions and in 2015 he received a boost of recognition. Following his big win, he went on to judge for a latte art throwdown in Seoul, South Korea.
On Feb. 18, you can hear his critiques of local baristas and their creations during Summit Coffee's Latte Art Throwdown. Lim is one of three — others are Toby Foreman, S&D Coffee director of manufacturing and Brady Butler, Stockton Graham development associate — who will be judging. The longtime Davidson coffeeshop is opening the doors to its roasting warehouse, where there will also be tours of the facility, plus music, food trucks, beer and more.
Creative Loafing: What can folks competing in Summit's Latte Throwdown or even other future competitions expect, particularly in terms of rules?
Steven Lim: If it's based on the normal Coffee Fest-style or standard type of rules, there are three categories: contrast, symmetry and difficulty of pour. But people at local throwdowns sometimes change the rules to make it more fun. There have been times where there was a round where you have to use your non-dominant hand to pour or there was a round where you have to do things blindfolded.
Since I'm judging with others who have judged in serious competitions, we'll most likely stick to the standard rules and that's helpful because if you go to a competition like this, you're most likely going because you want to get better. When people win a coffee throwdown/competition that was under silly terms and then they think they can go World Coffee Fest, they're usually the ones loosing first. I've met tons of people who always win in coffee throwdowns, but that's different because the rules are usually different. It depends on the rules and whether it's based on being an excellent barista or because you can do something crazy.
What do you think is the most nerve-wrecking thing about competing in a coffee throwdown for the first time?
When you're making drinks on the clock you don't think about all the criteria. There are gigantic differences between when you're being watched or filmed pouring as opposed to when you are behind a machine and alone. On top of that, when most people start competing their hands are shaking.
What other upcoming coffee competitions will you be participating in?
There are two competitions coming up. I'll be going to Coffee Fest in March and it's in New York. The good thing about that competition is that aside from myself there are four other previous champions in it. Three are from Japan and one is from Atlanta,Ga. So in terms of a competition, everyone, all 64 competitors, are experienced.
I'll also be representing S&D in the America's Best Espresso Competition held at Coffee Fest. It's the Eastern regional competition and if we win, we get to compete again in the national competition next year.