The rules are fairly simple. There's one designated barista who pulls shots for two contestants at a time who jump in and steam milk once he gets out of the way. They steam away, pour their latte art, and present their offerings to three waiting judges, who confer and pick out the winner of that round. The whole night is a system of elimination until the winner is determined.
For those of you who are a little unfamiliar with the latte art rage these days, here are a few pictures to catch you up:
Although popular here, latte art is particularly the craze in Japan where customers will allow coffee to get cold just so their baristas can actually create sculptures in their coffee with the milk foam.
I personally like the idea of an underground, dank sort of competition with chiaroscuro lighting and where fallen competitors are ushered off to a mysteriously ominous side room to be done away with. TNTNW's aren't quite that -- with free booze and food to go around while a general sort of camaraderie develops among the familiar faces that inevitably participate at each gathering. There's nothing wrong with sipping a bit of whiskey while watching the best of what Seattle has to offer in the coffee department. Lattes are quickly disposed of, or offered to the crowd after they're judged.
The biggest downfall for competitors at Latte Art contests is usually the nerves. You'll see hands trembling as people struggle to create their usual art under the scrutiny of fellow baristas that are peering over and around the espresso machine to watch their handiwork. Mostly though, TNTNW's foster a sense of fun. There's a dj that booms music that are often throwbacks like the theme to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When there's a particularly good piece of latte art that comes out, there's often a big "ohhhhhh" that goes around as if the barista just dished the best "yo mama" line to have been heard.
We all like coffee, and we like being around people we can coffee speak with. The coffee bean region is your class distinction for Dungeons and Dragons. Choice of pourover is your preferred weapon. Baristas can bring their own pitchers to the contest so they can work with what they're familiar with. One barista cusses as he messes up his latte art and casts a shifty side eye to his competition to see if a worse mistakes was made. When it's clear that he's not going to win, he takes a sip from his latte before presenting it to the judges rather than besmirch his reputation.
I actually think this would make the best sort of Street Fighter video game. Character designs would include a burly PNWer with a bushy beard and flannel shirt. Every Hadouken he gives would shoot out a fireball made of boiling drip coffee. In a Zangief-like maneuver, he can put you in a chokehold and forcefeed you steamed milk. The Mortal Kombat "friendship" finish him move would be that he dazzles you with a latte heart.
If anyone's interested in developing this on a platform, let me know.