Latte art: when your coffee becomes unique
The last episode of my coffee posts is dedicated to Latte art.
My dear coffee lovers, now that you are familiar with the real espresso made in Italy, and you found out all the secret of a real Italian cappuccino, (with a special trick to make a prefect cappuccino foam without a machine, wow!), you will probably enjoy to get to the next level and find out more about Latte art.
Latte art is a style of art, consisting of pouring steamed milk into a shot of espresso that creates a pattern or design on the surface of the resulting latte. It can also be created or embellished by simply “drawing” in the top layer of foam. Latte art is particularly difficult to create consistently, due to the demanding conditions required of both the espresso shot and milk. This, in turn, is limited by the experience of the barista and quality of the espresso machine. The pour itself, then, becomes the last challenge for the latte artist.
Before the milk is added, the espresso shot must have a creamy brown surface, an emulsion known as crema. As the white foam from the milk rises to meet the red/brown surface of the shot, a contrast is created and the design emerges. As the milk is poured, the foam separates from the liquid and rises to the top. If the milk and espresso shot are “just right,” and the pitcher is moved during the pour, the foam will rise to create a pattern on the surface. Alternatively, a pattern may be etched with a stick after the milk has been poured, rather than during the pour.
The two most common forms of poured latte art are a heart shape and the “rosetta”, also known as “fern” which resembles a type of flower or fern. For free pouring, the cup is either kept level or tilted in one direction. As the milk is poured straight into the cup, the foam begins to surface on one side (due to the tilt). The barista then moves the pitcher from side to side as they level the cup, or simply wiggle the spout back and forth, and finishes by making a quick strike through the previously poured pattern. This “strike” creates the stem portion of the flower design, and bends the poured zig-zag into a flower shape.
Etched patterns range from simple geometric shapes to complicated drawings, such as crosshatched patterns, animals, and flowers, and are generally performed with a coffee stirrer of some sort. Etched latte art typically has a shorter lifespan than free poured latte art as the foam dissolves into the latte more quickly.
Some controversy exists within the coffee community as to whether or not there is excessive focus on latte art amongst baristas. The argument is that too much focus on the superficial appearance of a drink leads some to ignore more important issues, such as taste. However, it also true that in order to make a good design, both the espresso ant the milk foam have to be made following the right technique, which ensure a good coffee quality.
Latte art is 100% a barista’s skill: it’s created pouring the milk in a certain way without any machine or tool support. It’s all in the barista’s hand and wrist. This is why it takes a lot of practice, there are courses that focus on these techniques, as well as competitions that highlight different aspects of this art, like presentation, time, taste, and even cleanliness of the coffee machine.