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They’ll never fetch thousands of dollars or hang in the Louvre, but the cup-of-joe creations Kudu Coffee assistant manager Derrick Smith makes are still works of art—latte art that is.
In Charleston, Smith is the reigning latte art king, known amongst area baristas for his intricate designs of ferns, rosettas, hearts, and swans created in even the tiniest espresso cups. He’s so good, in fact, that he competed last fall at the Coffee Fest Latte Art Championship in New York City.
“They grade you on five points—difficulty, clarity, color infusion, symmetry, and overall impression,” says Smith. “You get to make two cups, then the judges decide.” While Smith didn’t come home with a trophy, he plans to compete again and gets practice daily finessing milk into detailed patterns for thirsty locals. And, realizing the booming coffee scene in Charleston, he started his own competitions two years ago. Each month, Kudu hosts Latte Art Throw Downs, where baristas go head to head to craft the perfect cuppa. “To enter, you have to pay $5. The winner takes all,” says Smith. Spectators are encouraged to grab a local beer and sip while cheering them on.
But while it’s all in good fun, Smith is serious about the flourish a dash of creativity makes in a drink. “Adding the design is not crucial, but it’s proof we take pride in what we do,” he says. “You know someone put thought into your drink, and it adds to the whole café experience.”
And, for those wanting fancy java to come to them, he’s launching a mobile espresso service, Wellborn Coffee Co. To see a Latte Art Throw Down, stop by Kudu on May 16 at 8 p.m.