These days, there’s a lot of enthusiasm, at independent coffee houses surrounding latte art. A cherished tradition, latte art is a style of pouring steamed milk into a shot of espresso that creates a pattern or design on the surface of the resulting latte. One can also create latte art simply “drawing” in the top layer of foam, but some people would consider this “cheating.” A skilled barista can create really beautiful designs atop of a latte as it is poured. However, it takes weeks of training before a barista can become sufficiently experienced to make a latte perfect enough to create an environment suitable for latte art. Pouring latte art is particularly difficult to do consistently, due to the demanding conditions required of both the espresso shot and milk. The art, in turn, is limited by the experience of the barista and quality of the espresso machine. The pour, itself, is the the last challenge for the latte artist.
For the coffee consumers, the latte art is more than just decoration. It really is an indicator that you are getting a meticulously crafted beverage. The art will not appear unless the latte is perfectly made.
• The milk needs to be of good quality. • Milk temperature must be just right. • The espresso machine must be tuned properly. • Espresso must be tamped correctly. • The water must have the right temperature and pressure. • The espresso must be of a good quality and contain a rich layer of crema. • The milk, most importantly, must be steamed perfectly, to the right temperature and consistency.
The milk cannot be “foamy.” If it looks like bath bubbles, the milk is not steamed correctly, even for a cappuccino (cappuccino foam should be fluffier than latte foam, more like shaving cream, but still not resemble bath bubbles). To allow for the creation of latte art, the milk should look thick and velvety—almost like melted marshmellows. But, the work is well worth it, as the taste and texture of a perfect latte is amazing—incredibly addicting.
Milk being steamed. This milk would be considered too "foamy" for latte art.
Even if you don’t get a latte with art, look at the texture of the foam. Remember, “bath bubbles” are bad and “melted marshmellows” or “shaving cream” (for cappuccinos) are indicators of good quality. If you’re at the local coffee shop, examine your beverage closely. Would it pass the quality test? For coffee lovers brewing at home, remember that practice makes perfect; even the pros had to start somewhere.