As you may have noticed, Coffee Shops are becoming more and more popular in big cities. These establishments make us travel through a simple cup of coffee. One day we’re off to Japan with a matcha tea, the next we’re off to Africa with the famous Sidamo from Ethiopia… But that’s not all… In these coffee shops, there is a unique art that only the most passionate and experienced baristas master… This art fascinates us, amazes us and delights our pupils even more than our taste buds! It is obviously Latte Art (also called coffee art)!

But what is Latte Art?

It appeared a little more than 20 years ago in Seattle, in the United States, and is a rather technical process that consists in sublimating a simple cup. The barista, also known as the coffee maestro, paints a unique and ephemeral picture for each of his customers. From a simple espresso, the barista creates his work, as a painter would with a blank canvas.

His secret weapon? The milk foam, which has to be perfect. The barista sometimes draws a heart, sometimes a rosette, sometimes a swan… at the request of the customer. This creation is a real skill, which amazes many people.

Latte Art

Not everyone can make beautiful cup designs! It requires a lot of patience, work and high standards. However, mastering the gestures is not the only training required. Above all, the barista must master the two raw materials, coffee and milk, to perfection!

Two conditions for a successful Latte Art

Latte Art is only possible under two conditions: a successful espresso and a perfectly controlled milk foam.

The espresso

The starting point for a good espresso is the coffee itself. It is important to choose the type and origin of your coffee carefully. Some blends are more conducive to a nice crema (cream on top of the espresso) which is essential for successful coffee art. Secondly, the roast can also influence the consistency and persistence of the crema. Ideally, the coffee should be dark (highly roasted), freshly and finely ground. The crema should be light brown, relatively thick and last for several minutes after extraction.

You can find the different types of coffee, explained in our article: The different type of coffee

The milk foam

The second most important element for the barista to master is the milk foam. Once again, it takes considerable skill and knowledge to achieve the perfection necessary to obtain a beautiful, smooth milk foam.
To make a good milk foam, you need the right milk!
To put it simply, the ideal milk foam is made up of thousands of tiny air bubbles. These air bubbles must be compressed and bound together by the fat in the milk. These fats are more viscous at low temperatures. Hence the need to use the freshest milk possible.
The barista uses his steam nozzle, integrated into his professional machine, to heat and emulsify his milk. Controlling the temperature is therefore essential. The barista must be able to control the temperature with a thermometer or simply by touch.

The meeting of the espresso and the milk foam

Once these two elements have been mastered, the final step is to pour the milk foam into the espresso to create the desired design.
The experience of the barista will once again make the difference. It’s a complex technique that requires practice. A lot of practice.

In principle, it is enough to follow two simple rules:
– The further the pitcher is from the cup, the more the milk will mix with the espresso
– The closer the pitcher is to the espresso, the more the milk foam will stay on the surface.
The barista starts by mixing the milk with the espresso. Then, halfway through the cup, he brings the pitcher as close to the coffee as possible to start making the desired shapes. From there on, it’s all a question of technique and habit.

Two latte art techniques

Free pouring

This is the most classic technique, which consists of creating designs by pouring milk foam over the espresso. This is called “free pouring”. Free pouring requires a great deal of patience and practice, and it can take months or even years to achieve perfect results with complex designs.

There are thousands of possibilities. Each cup is unique. Here are some examples:

Latte Art - designs

Etching

As with free pouring, the basis is a good espresso and perfectly frothed milk. The difference? The design is not formed directly by pouring the milk, but only after the milk foam is in the cup. The barista uses a stylus to “draw” while mixing espresso and milk foam. Etching can be done directly on the milk foam, but also by starting with a topping. It is possible to use, for example, chocolate coulis and then, with the help of the stylus, to make a decoration like this one:

Latte Art - bearLatte Art - Flower

The stylus is therefore the essential tool for any barista practising etching!

Some baristas go even further and make even more impressive decorations, in 3D, as you can see here: 

Latte Art - 3D dogLatte Art - 3D rabbit

Moreover, this art has become international and brings baristas from all over the world to confront each other during official coffee competitions. The most famous and important of these is the World Barista Championship. It promotes excellence in coffee.

What about you? Have you ever tried Latte Art?

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