Is Latte Etching Cheating?

August 24, 2016

When it comes to coffee and espresso, a lot of lines get drawn. One of those lines has to do with latte art.

Most people would agree that latte art formed by a free pour, where a skilled barista carefully introduces steamed milk into espresso to create the image, is the ideal crowning touch for a latte. Whole Latte Love blogger, Randy Orlando, even asserts in his blog, “What’s The Deal With Latte Art?” that the presence of a delicately formed Rosetta is an indication that a beverage is well made. I don’t disagree.

However, art can also be created using a method called “etching.” Dismissed by some latte art purists as a cop out, etching involves drawing an image into the latte with a thin, sharp instrument (sometimes, even a toothpick). Many etchers, as I call them, will add flavored sauce to the surface of the beverage, to give their latte art dimension.

As I mentioned, etching is considered by some to be, for lack of a better term, “cheating.” I don’t necessarily see it as such. While it may be easier to learn than the traditional free pour, etching does require a steady hand and a certain degree of dedication. I’ll admit it; I enjoy an etched latte, on occasion. And, I’m not the only one. In fact, etching is even rearing its head in some barista competitions. The Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE), for one, lets World Latte Art Championship contestants etch images onto their drinks in the “Designer Beverage” category. (The “Designer Beverage” portion of the competition allows the barista to make his or her drink of choice.) Is this an indication that the stigma surrounding etching is slowly dissipating?