More and more professional baristas are learning the fine skill of latte art. This practice lets the baristas make patterns on top of the latte using the foamed milk. It is done by allowing most of the milk to break though the espresso’s crema and fill the cup underneath the crema film. It is an art that takes a little bit of time and a lot of practice, but learning to apply these techniques to your coffee shop’s latte drinks will impress customers and keep them coming back for more.
It’s All About the Rhythm
When pouring the stretched milk into a latte, the side-to-side rhythm of the pitcher is incredibly important. Too fast and your designs will come out looking stumpy. Too slow and you will run out of space in the cup. When first learning to pour, set up a metronome to keep you in a steady rhythm while pouring.
Getting the Milk Perfect for Art
When making latte art, one of the key components is the milk. You want to make sure that your milk has been properly prepared for making designs atop the latte. The milk foam used for latte art has a slightly different texture than the milk foam that you see atop a cappuccino. It must be made of small, evenly sized bubbles and should have a velvety-looking texture. It should also have a slight sheen to it. The method of getting this texture in the milk is often referred to as “stretching” the milk, rather than steaming or foaming.
Tips for Stretching Milk:
- Always start with cold milk when foaming the milk in the steam wand. This will not work properly if you use milk that is at room temperature.
- After foaming, swirl the foamed milk around in the pitcher for a few seconds.
- If you are still seeing large bubbles, pound the bottom of the pitcher on the counter several times and then swirl vigorously for 20-30 seconds.
Pouring the Stretched Milk
The act of pouring the stretched milk is what determines how well the design comes out on the top of the drink. The real work begins when the cup is about three-quarters of the way full with both the espresso and milk.
- There are several separate actions that should be occurring simultaneously when pouring the milk:
- The milk needs to be poured at a steady, even rate.
- The pitcher must be moved from side to side.
- To keep the milk flowing, the pitcher must slowly be tipped downward.
- The pitcher should be moved across the cup so that the design will cover the entire surface of the cup.
Making the Designs
While there are many designs that can be made using stretched milk, there are several that are the most common and the best for novice latte artists to practice making before they start making lions, flowers and other complex feats of design. Use these instructions to make the three most common designs: the rosetta, the heart and the apple.
Rosetta: This is the most common design, and the best pattern to practice making since it requires the pourer to have a very steady pace and a good sense of how to move the pitcher for a perfect pattern.
- Pour the milk into the center of the cup until the milk starts to show through the crema.
- Begin moving the pitcher side to side while slowly moving it towards the edge of the cup, creating zigzags that have a little space in between them.
- When you reach the edge of the cup, pause for a second.
- Using the last of the milk, move the pitcher towards the opposite edge of the cup, resulting in the milk cutting through the center of the design.
The heart is a sweet way to show your latte drinkers a little love. The design is simple but affords room for many different variations.
- Pour the milk into the center of the cup until the milk begins to pool in the center.
- Start moving the milk pitcher from side to side in a more vigorous motion than was done for the rosetta.
- Move the pitcher towards the edge of the cup more slowly, for zigzagging milk that is fairly close together.
- When you reach the edge of the cup, move the pitcher to the opposite edge of the cup, effectively cutting the zigzag pattern in half and creating a heart.
Since it is a fairly simple design, the apple is not used as a decoration quite as much as the rosetta or heart. Nevertheless, it is still a fun pattern to make on top of a latte.
- Pour the milk into the center of the espresso and hold it there until the milk starts to pool.
- Hold the pitcher in the same place until three-quarters of the cup is topped with the foamy milk.
- Pull the pitcher to the edge of the cup rather quickly to create the “stem” and move it back to the center.
Using Etching on Top of Latte Art
Etching refers to using a pin or slender stick to create patterns in the latte foam. It requires less pouring skill than pouring the foam to make patterns. The etching can be done in the foam or it can be done to chocolate syrup that is topping the latte. It can also be used in conjunction with latte art tomake some truly spectacular designs.
For Example: Use the latte art technique above to create a latte foam heart, then, using a toothpick, “draw” an arrow through the heart (really, you are moving the foam out of the way of the espresso) and write a few “X”s and “O”s in the heart. Voila! A latte fit for any Valentine’s Day caffeine fix.
When you learn to control milk foam coming from the pitcher and combine it with a toothpick and a steady hand, you can create a wide variety of designs, going as far as creating animals. Throw in a creative mind and you can wind up with hundreds of designs to make for your customers.