One of the most pleasing things about visiting a coffee shop is being served a cappuccino with an attractive design on its surface. These decorative patterns, made with foamed milk on top of an espresso, are known as latte art and, although they do not guarantee a better flavor, they are a sure sign of a barista’s attention to detail and desire to serve their customers a visually appealing drink.
We’re going to show you the four basic steps to bring latte art to life, so that you can discover the techniques behind the eye catching decorations on your coffee or, if you prefer, so that you can try your hand at this increasingly popular art form.
Make an espresso with high-quality beans. It is important to have a good espresso machine to guarantee a drink that showcases the aromatic attributes of the coffee and produces a stable layer of crema on which the emulsified milk, used to make the latte art design, can rest.
The espresso is obtained by forcing a pressurized jet of hot water through a layer of seven grams of finely ground coffee for 25 seconds, yielding 30ml of concentrated coffee.
Cold whole milk produces a better cream, which is made up of microfoam and serves as the base for the patterns. These tiny bubbles are covered by milk proteins that hold the structure of the microfoam. The colder the milk is, the more soluble the air is with the milk, and so the easier it is to form lots of small bubbles and obtain a smooth surface.
How to emulsify the milk:
1. Fill a jug halfway with milk.
2. Purge the steam wand to get rid of any condensed water.
3. Position the wand one millimeter above the milk and one centimeter away from the side of the jug.
4. Turn the steam wand on fully to aerate the milk and cause a vortex.
5. Monitor the temperature so that it does not exceed 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't have a thermometer, use your hand to gauge how hot the milk is: turn off the steam wand just before it scalds you.
6. Remove the milk jug, purge and clean the steamer with a cloth.
7. Swirl the jug in a circular motion to mix the microfoam in with the liquid.
8. Pour the milk over the espresso until the cup is full.
To make latte art there are two techniques: free pouring and etching. The pouring technique involves pouring the emulsified milk directly from the jug into the cup containing the espresso. Using your wrist to gently tilt the cup one way and another while the milk is being poured into the coffee allows you to create patterns with the milk flow.
Controlling the flow of milk into the cup is key. It is recommended to start pouring from a height of five centimeters and slowly raise the cup until the spout is almost touching the coffee. Start with a moderate speed and increase the flow when the cup is half full. The drawings are made at the end of the pour, when the cup is almost full, with the spout of the jug just above the liquid level.
In the etching technique, the milk is poured first and various tools are then used to draw on its surface. Chocolate syrups, toothpicks, stencils or knives are all popular tools used to make more detailed designs.
To make a pattern, the cup must be held either by its handle or cradled in the palm of your hand, in such a way that the drawing faces the customer with the handle of the cup to their right. Some of the most classic designs are hearts, rosettas and swans.
Here we will show you how to make a heart:
1. Pour the steamed milk into the center of the espresso from a height of about two centimeters.
2. Lower the milk jug until it almost touches the coffee.
3. Keep pouring the milk until it forms a large circle.
4. Raise the jug and, at the same time, move forward to cut through the circle.
5. Continue pouring with a thin flow of milk to draw the tip of the heart.