If you ever order a latte in a coffeehouse, not only will you enjoy a delicious cup of coffee. More often, you will also get a pretty art design drawn on top of your beverage. It's one of the few great things about buying your coffee outside of home.
As easy as it may look, coffee art takes advanced skills and tremendous patience to perfect. Baristas undergo training in order to produce that heart or rosetta on your drink. In this article, we will dive into this world of coffee art and learn how to paint with milk and espresso.
What is Coffee Art?
Coffee art or latte art is a coffee preparation method wherein microfoam is poured into espresso to create a design or pattern on the surface of the beverage. It is quite difficult to achieve consistently due to various standards needed to be considered for both espresso and milk. Moreover, the quality of the espresso machine used and the pouring skill of the barista are also considered.
History of Latte Art
Following the introduction of the espresso and the constant development of microfoam in milk, latte art was said to have been developed in Italy. However, it was popularized by David Schomer in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1989, Schomer had developed the heart pattern. In 1992, he made the rosetta after recreating a technique based on a photo he encountered when he was in Cafe Mateki in Italy. Luigi Lupi of Italy met Schomer through the internet, where they swapped latte art videos. Eventually, he invented the tulip art in 2004.
Latte art continues to evolve as time progresses. More complex designs are being introduced by talented and skillful baristas all over the world. And this coffee masterpiece can also be found in beverages other than lattes–cappuccinos, matcha lattes, and even hot chocolates.
Elements of Coffee Art
Just like painting, many components are considered in order for you to create a masterful piece of work. With illustrative art, you have to make sure you have the correct brushes, canvas, and color palette. In coffee art, there are similar factors you have to take into account as well.
One of the most important components in making coffee art is the milk. The milk will serve as your paint, so you have to make sure it is steamed perfectly to have microfoam that creates a defined, bubble-free design. So, how do you ensure you have the correct milk consistency?
To create the perfect microfoam, it is recommended that you use cold milk for steaming. Chilling your milk will allow the protein molecules to be stable, resulting in less bubbly foam. Also, full-fat milk is usually preferred as it has a better consistency than other milk variants.
When steaming the milk, you have to aerate first, which literally means incorporating air into your milk. To do this, put the milk in the pitcher, raise the machine's steam wand, and set only the tip of the wand submerged in milk. After turning on the steam, you will encounter a whirlpool that will capture some air and incorporate that into the milk itself. Do this for about 5 seconds before plunging the wand deeper into the liquid to stir and emulsify.
Make sure the thermometer is turned on at all times for accuracy. When the milk reaches 140 F to 180 F, this is the time you turn off the wand. If you do not have a thermometer, tapping your palm against the pitcher until it is too hot to touch will indicate a sign of the same temperature achieved.
Remove the excess bubbles in the milk by tapping the pitcher on a flat surface like your counter. Swirl the milk a bit to incorporate the foam, and then finally, your milk becomes ready for pouring some coffee art.
If you have no espresso machine available, you can prepare the milk by using a microwave. However, it may not have the same consistency and microfoam.
When it comes to the espresso you should use, it completely depends on your taste. Each kind possesses a different flavor, so ensure that you've tried different ones to find what's best for you.
Espresso serves as the canvas of your coffee art, so it's really important that the shot of coffee is creamy and not too watery. It is best to always use shot glasses whenever queuing so that you can see if the crema, body, and heart of the espresso are visible. The existence of the three parts will indicate that your espresso is perfectly pulled and will give you a beautiful contrast on your coffee art.
The pitcher you're using will have a significant impact on the coffee art you want to produce–it's your paintbrush. Usually, baristas tend to use two pitchers when they make this. One pitcher for steaming and another one for pouring.
The steaming pitcher usually has a wider opening and bigger size so that it can carry more volume, e.g., you'll need to make two beverages. This will save time from steaming again and avoid the settling of foam from your first milk as you steam your second milk. Moreover, creating microfoam is easier to do with the wider space for the milk to be doing the whirlpool effect.
Pouring pitchers are usually smaller so that they are easier and more convenient to control. Usually, their spouts are much sharper as well, which can help create more defined designs for your coffee art. However, latte art is still possible with one pitcher. In which case, we would emphasize having the best pouring pitcher to perfect your art.
The cup you're using as a serving vessel can help you achieve perfect coffee art. The bigger the opening, the more space you will have for drawing your art. On the other hand, the smaller the gap, the more challenging it is to make a design since your space is limited. Even an element as simple as having a rounded bottom inside your cup will make a huge difference in pouring your art.
This final component really depends on the skill and control of the latte artist–the pouring. No barista has ever perfected latte art the first time they poured. So it is important that you keep practicing your pouring if you really aspire to be a pro when it comes to coffee art.
There are lots of considerations to make whenever you do your pouring. Below are some tips you can use during your practice:
Find Your Comfort.
The first thing you should consider is the way you're holding your cup. If your cup is made of ceramic, make sure you keep the cup in your hand in a way that you won't get inconvenienced once the hotness of the milk gets into the surface. Find the most comfortable position for you to make coffee art.
Lean Your Cup.
Hold the cup as if it's an extension of your arm. Tilt your cup before pouring so that you can control the flow of your milk more properly. In addition, make sure you pour close to the surface to help the milk slide through the surface of espresso. Pouring from too high will only allow your milk to sink below the coffee and end up having no pattern coming out at all.
Begin Slow, Finish Fast.
As you pour your milk onto the espresso, make sure you start slowly. This will help you have more control in creating the base of your art. Once that appears, you can pour a little quicker as you start making the design. Ensure you put your cup back in a parallel position to avoid the milk from overflowing.
Pour Consistent Streams.
Pour thick pencil-width milk streams just approximately 4 to 5 inches from the espresso's surface. Pouring thin streams will cause no foam to appear, thus no design. And too thick, your pattern will most likely end up just white foam on top of your drink–no contrast at all.
Don't Wiggle Too Much.
Wiggling your pitcher is an essential step in finishing your design. This will help make that heart, rosetta, or tulip get a more evident and defined shape. Focus on slowing down the wiggling for you to have more even striations in your drink. This will also give you more control over the speed and flow of the milk.
Practice shaking your wrist back and forth so that you can be more consistent on the wiggling. You can perhaps start by swaying water inside your pitcher in a rhythmic way.
Of course, prior to the pouring, you should always have a vision of what design you will be making. As you go through the process of doing this, pouring milk, wiggling the pitcher, and all that, you should end it the most accurate way possible. Generally, most coffee art ends with a slice through the middle of the design, so do this as meticulously as possible.
Every coffee lover experiences the excitement of a cup of coffee that has an incredible art design. Baristas go through extensive training for you to enjoy this.
Now with the tips shared above, you can be a coffee artist yourself, even if you just make your lattes at home. As we've said, it's a difficult process, but remember that practice always makes perfect!