For the last few weeks, @wastingcoffee on Instagram (started by Umeko Motoyoshi) has posted photo after photo of beautiful - but cringeworthingly wasteful - cups of coffee: action shots of flying cappuccino streams, latte art mid-dump, drip coffee face showers, and even a shattering Chemex. Through the photos and tongue-in-cheek captions, Umeko has sparked conversation about the incongruence of such pictures in an industry that usually prides itself on sustainability and value throughout every step of the coffee chain.
Click on the @wastingcoffee Stories or Highlights, and you’ll see copies of direct messages that Umeko has received from dozens of baristas and shop owners, openly confessing to similar acts of waste as seen in the photos. The conversations almost always take a hopeful turn, as those same coffee professionals suggest how they and others can do better - giving ideas for better practices in dialing in espresso, reusing old brewed coffee, and what to do with the innumerous drinks made just to photograph the latte art on top.
Part of the conversation is around latte art throwdowns. The Thursday Night Throwdown concept was pioneered in Atlanta in 2008 by Ben Helfen (a weekend Taproom barista when we opened five years ago!) and spread worldwide, and now seems like a staple in the specialty coffee community.
We’ve hosted many TNTs at Taproom, and every time we’ve dumped perfectly drinkable cappuccinos down the drain. A few do get consumed, but as the competitions are always in the evening, most people don’t want the caffeine closer to bedtime. In a 24-person single-elimination latte art tournament, we’re using at least 24 double shots of espresso and two gallons of milk. The drinks are made to the same specifications as the cappuccinos sold to customers off the menu, yet these particular cups are crafted, looked at for a few seconds, pointed to, and then poured out without ever touching someone’s lips.
So can we do better? Yes. Focusing just on latte art competitions, there are lots of ideas for what to do differently so that all that high-quality, not-so-cheap specialty coffee and organic milk doesn’t end up immediately poured out in the sink. It’s easy to offer those cappuccinos for a dollar each, simply give them away to be drunk, or use decaf espresso shots so that people will want to drink them.
In this spirit, we’re hosting a latte art competition with a twist. We’ve decided to do a Hot Chocolate Latte Art Throwdown. Here’s some of our thought process and planning:
Hot chocolates instead of cappuccinos, to bring the coffee waste down to ZERO. More people would be willing to drink hot chocolate instead of coffee drinks in the evening.
Adjust the usual event time to earlier, so that more families/kids could attend (and more hot cocoa would be consumed).
Offer the hot chocolates for free. It doesn’t make sense for us to charge someone for rescuing a beverage that would have just been thrown away.
Encourage attendees to bring their own mugs if they want a hot chocolate. We usually run out of ceramic cappuccino cups during the competition, and transferring completed drinks to paper cups for consumption just contributes to another type of avoidable waste.
Use milk pitchers that have fill lines to reduce milk waste during steaming - We’ll be using Slow Pour pitchers.
You can still have latte art in hot chocolates without the espresso - there’s very little difference in barista technique and in the final appearance of the drinks.
So please join us for this event, and bring a mug to enjoy one of the hot chocolates that get made. It’s Wednesday, April 17th at Taproom. Competitor signups will open at 6pm, and pouring will start at 6:30pm.
Coincidentally, Earth Day happens to be the following Monday, April 22nd. I realize, of course, that there are a lot of things our small company could change or start doing to promote sustainability and taking care of God’s creation. This event is admittedly a tiny step in raising awareness and accomplishing a (fairly negligible) practical difference, but it is still a part of a larger ongoing conversation and effort to be more environmentally and fiscally conscientious.
If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions concerning our heart/reasoning behind this, please let me know!