* What: Chattanooga Coffee Throwdown.
* When: 2 p.m. Sunday, March 17.
* Where: Thrive Cafe, 191 River St.
* Admission: Free to watch.
* Phone: 423-800-0676.
* Website: chattanoogacoffeeclub.tumblr.com.
To devotees, coffee is as complex as wine and as difficult to master as music. It is the rare imbibable that approaches the level of art, a beverage that deserves to be served with reverence by experienced, knowledgeable hands.
And what better way to determine whose hands are the most experienced, the most knowledgeable, than with a battle royale?
On Sunday, homegrown and professional baristas from around the city will gather at Thrive Cafe for the finals of the inaugural Chattanooga Coffee Throwdown barista competition. The event will test eight to 10 baristas selected from a preliminary round last Sunday. These finalists will test their skills in three drink categories: brewed coffee, espresso drink and specialty drink.
The event is loosely based on the premier World Barista Championship, says organizer Andrew Bettis. Winners will be selected, he says, but the goal is to bolster Chattanooga's emerging coffee culture and teach people that coffee is more than a means of feeding a caffeine addiction.
"This will have an awesome impact on Chattanooga, if we approach it as providing a platform for baristas to show their skills and to showcase the coffees rather than deciding which is the best shop in Chattanooga," Bettis says.
"A good indicator that there is some sort of culture of caring about the quality of coffee is that
you have people who are interested in what goes into their drink, where it comes from and how it's prepared."
The event is being presented by the Chattanooga Coffee Club, a group of like-minded java lovers who appreciate a perfect froth on their espresso and prefer their crema just so.
A panel of four judges will evaluate each barista's work. Three judges will base 60 percent of the final score on tasting elements such as aroma and acidity, and a technical judge will evaluate proper preparation and presentation. The winner in each category will receive a $50 cash prize and brewing paraphernalia.
In the last several years, the city has seen a wave of coffee bar arrivals such as Mean Mug, Rembrandt's and The Camp House.
Chattanooga still trails far behind recognized coffee meccas such as Seattle and Portland, Ore., but events like the Throwdown could help raise public awareness of and respect for this emerging coffee culture, says Camp House barista Matt Busby.
"It's always really interesting to share what I know about coffee with other people," he says. "That's encouraged me to pour more time and effort into it."