Latte Art Information

Intro.

I know how difficult it can be to learn latte art – especially if you’ve no one to demonstrate it to you. My trainees can observe my pours every day, so it comes quicker for them, if they apply themselves, but it still takes a long time for them to achieve a high level of ability with freepour latte art.

Even now, I’m still refining my own free-pour technique. When I began teaching myself latte art, I found that reading articles on the subject, and watching videos of pours on the Internet was very helpful, and below are a couple if you need a few pointers …But be warned: latte art can be seriously addictive! Good luck!

…There’s more, in-depth, info and musings at the bottom of the page too! 

Flavour and Substance.

I’m always saying to my baristas “Don’t focus on the latte art – it’s the least important thing!” In fact, I don’t encourage anything more than simple, classic presentation (circles), until we’re a few weeks (even months) into training and practice. We focus on the shots, and the milk first and foremost …and when that’s good, we can develop the freepour designs.

Cappuccinos, flat whites, macchiatos, etc, are all potentially delicious drinks. Their flavour and texture, rather than their appearance, is the most crucial element. The skill, quality and consistency of the espresso preparation and milk microfoaming is absolutely paramount. The best freepour latte art shouldn’t just be a decorative or cosmetic finish to a drink; it should be an indicator of quality in the cup, and convey the barista’s overall skill, and their passion for great coffee.

Unfortunately however, it is actually possible to freepour quite good latte art with mediocre milk and awful espresso. Therefore, we should always concentrate on flavour and texturing before the presentation. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re making great coffee just because your drinks have a pretty pattern on top – we shouldn’t allow the pouring and presentation to overtake the substance. I feel latte art is only really of value when this philosophy is adhered to.

Then, latte art can become the flourish that visually signifies a great drink. When all the elements of the drink are perfect, and working together, a great freepoured design can transform an already delicious drink into something truly magical!

A Few Videos

For latte art heaven, whether you’re a pro or just starting, there’s always the fabulous Rate My Rosetta for pictures of latte art.

Here are a couple of my own rosetta pours at the plan on our old machine way back in July 2009. The first is better. I’m afraid the videos are pretty poor – and there are better ones out there, but the rosettas are reasonable, so I can live with it:

6oz cups. ‘Formula6’ double shots. 500ml Motta

My latte art has since come a long way from that demonstrated in these videos, and perhaps sometime I’ll upload a video some of my current work…

There are some instances where it’s preferable to retain the crema colour around the edge, as illustrated in my pours above, but other styles can be great too.

Below is another example; this one’s amazing – textbook technique and symmetry, with beautiful,  ‘open’ leaves!

(Kyle Glanville of Intelligentsia Coffee)

These are just a couple of videos. There are countless others out there, along with written descriptions and advice on all the techniques involved – just explore!

Microfoam.

Great freepour latte art relies on proper ‘microfoam’. Learning what this is, and how to create it, is crucial.

microfam 2

microfoam

Here are some examples of two sets of semi skimmed milk I mirofoamed in a Motta pitcher (many years ago!). The close-up picture has picked-up a couple of tiny bubbles, and the photo doesn’t really show the glossiness and consistency very well – but I can confirm that these milks were near-perfect, very smooth, microfoamed emulsions!

Against a picture of bad or even good-but-not-great milk, the difference would be clearer. And when you know what real microfoam is like, the visual and tactile differences are distinct, and make a world of difference.

Spot the Difference.

Latte art is beautiful, great fun, and really satisfying when it goes well, but learning to pour really great latte art is a challenging endeavour! My quest for perfection has led me to continually refine my skills, but as I’ve improved, I’ve consequently become increasingly critical of my designs. I can pour nice rosettas nearly every time now, but I’m rarely 100% happy with them; every little segment of a rosetta, as well as its overall contrast, crispness, definition and symmetry, can affect its final worthiness, and the better you get, the more honed to these aesthetic highlights and defects you become! There are of course other free-pour designs, but for me, a great, single rosetta is the most beautiful and the most challenging to really perfect. Great hearts, for instance, are relatively easy, and multi-rosettas, whilst technically very difficult, never really achieve the same sublime aesthetic perfection that a single is capable of; they usually have defects due to the nature of the pour that are overlooked or forgiven because of the wow factor of the multiple design. All this may all sound overly analytical to some, but when you get bitten by the latte art bug, the subtle differences between poor, average and great designs becomes much more distinct!

How Valuable is Latte Art?

So valuable! But it does depend on your perspective.

It seems to have become a fashionable thing recently amongst a few specialty coffee professionals to question, and even be dismissive of latte art. I understand some of the reasons for this, and will illustrate them, but I don’t agree with it and will explain why.

Some of it can be explained as a reasoned backlash against an almost over emphasis on latte art within specialty coffee. But unfortunately this idea can then also become no more than another bandwagon to jump on, just because it seems like a cool or clever thing to say.

When you start out as a barista, latte art often seems like THE challenge, and THE thing to get good at. I know it was like that for me in some ways, and that it’s like that for many new baristas. You see the milk texturing and the freepour as the most alluring and difficult aspect of what you do. And really good freepour latte art is challenging, and it IS a real skill, and it does indicate a pretty high level of experience and passion for coffee.

For this reason I never doubt its value, to an extent. Because even with training and ample demonstration, it can take weeks, even months, for people to achieve only mediocre latte art. And it takes months, even years, to achieve really great latte art (most never actually get that good). And even this can then always be improved even further.

And it’s valuable because the beauty of latte art can draw new baristas further into the craft. And also because its technical difficulty can indicate to them from the outset that there might be more to the craft than previously assumed.

But, that’s not the whole story.

The risk is, when a barista finally gets skilled enough to start pouring really good latte art, they might suddenly think they ‘know everything’. I see this happen a lot.

I was able to pour really nice latte art after my first year’s practice (that was quite a long time ago!). Self-trained, with no-one to demonstrate it to me. This kind of time-frame is quite common I think. Looking back, I know that even though I had already found out quite a lot about coffee and espresso at that point, relatively, I knew almost nothing about the finer points of espresso and coffee generally.

…Even now, I could say the same (albeit from a different, more advanced perspective).

But I realise that more fully now, in a way that I didn’t at the time. Fortunately however, I did research enough to realise how much more there was to the whole thing still to learn, and this, along with other experiences, drove me further, and still does.

If you get serious about coffee, as you learn and understand more, you come to realise that the espresso, and the coffee generally, are by far the more complex and challenging aspects of the craft. That’s the part of the craft that can take a lifetime to understand.

Whereas the milk and latte art becomes relatively easy and natural, once mastered.

And this is one reason why many top, professional, baristas sometimes have issues with even this skilled, freepour, latte art. I don’t think anyone would say it’s a bad thing, quite the opposite, but sometimes it’s given a healthy degree of scepticism, or indifference, by some.

This is not because they don’t know or appreciate how much skill goes into doing it well (very different to the way people who are unaware of the skill involved in latte art can be indifferent towards it), but because they know its importance is very much secondary in comparison to the even more valuable, subtle, and difficult aspects of the craft. And because, like me, they know that after YEARS of learning the craft, great latte art actually becomes quite ‘easy’, whereas the other aspects can remain ever elusive and challenging.

A lot of people can pour mediocre latte art (it’s something you can begin to pick up even if you only work with coffee for a few months, in a skilled cafe, with advanced training, and with experienced baristas to observe). It takes longer, and more skill, to pour really beautiful latte art. And most people don’t get that far. But even then, it doesn’t make you the World’s best barista. This is something you come to realise with experience, as you learn, and taste, more within coffee.

However, all that said, it does occur to me, more than ever before, that there is a certain subtle, intangible quality to the appearance of the very best freepour latte art. Not just the perfection of the designs from the point of view of the composition, arrangement and symmetry of the pattern, etc. More than that. The especially crisp sheen to the surface of the drink, combined with a soft, unctuous, elastic, creamy quality that visually indicates the best milk texture (which in turn allows for the best latte art). A certain colouring to the coffee-colours, and the way in which the espresso has mixed with the milk,  that indicates a particularly well extracted shot. And, a hard-to-define quality to the slick crispness of the delineation and the formation of the contrasting elements of the pattern. It is oh-so subtle, but if you know it, you know it, and less skilled freepour with slightly dodgy milk or espresso becomes more evident to the experienced eye, and this makes you appreciate latte art all the more! These visual clues indicate the quality of the whole drink.

These are some of the reasons why I still maintain that the very best freepour latte art is not only beautiful, but  truly indicative of overall quality. It’s not merely a decorative, cosmetic ‘trick’ or embellishment, as it is sometimes dismissed as. It really can have a symbiotic relationship to the technical and culinary subtleties that define a great coffee, as opposed to a merely reasonable or very good one.

The logic of this is very simple, and can be explained further (for the pedantic!).

The very best, most perfectly executed freepour latte art demonstrates advanced levels of precision, dexterity, attention to detail, experience and craftsmanship from the barista. It represents the ability, and the desire, to manipulate the materials with a heightened level of control.

A barista that pours like this is simply more likely to also extend these more highly developed skills into all aspects of their coffee preparation; I believe they’re more likely to recognise the signs of, and be able to produce, the best shots of espresso, and steam particularly superb microfoam – and do all this more consistently too.

And they’re just more likely to really care and be exacting about all the components – not just the latte art.

Whereas an average or less skilled barista will pour average, less skilled latte art. It’s that simple. Less accomplished latte art is usually a pretty clear indication that a barista is less experienced and skilled – and crucially this will apply to the components they’re preparing for the drink, and their overall coffee knowledge too.

But, this logic is not always absolute, and does only extend so far. There certainly can be situations where a barista focusses on latte art, and can eventually execute it brilliantly, but can still be severely lacking in the other more complex areas that involved in the preparation of the component parts (the coffee in particular), and be lacking in wider overall coffee and brewing knowledge.

You can have a situation where a barista can pour great latte art, but doesn’t actually drink, enjoy, or understand the flavours of espresso, or even coffee generally. Where they aren’t aware of anything to do with extraction. Where dialling-in and calibration is always done for them (or not at all!), and they don’t know how to dial in or let alone fine tune espresso. Where they cannot recognise the visual clues of a potentially great pour and shot and differentiate as opposed to a poor one. Where they don’t understand or care about origins, varietals, or processing. Where they know and care nothing about other brew methods, etc, etc.
And this is the caveat…

But when latte art is truly exceptional, it is simply far more probable that the barista’s overall craftsmanship is also excellent, and likewise probable that average latte art will indicate average overall ability, and either a lack of experience and/or dedication to the craft as a whole.

And this is it’s value.

This is why it’s a beacon to look for and rejoice in …if you know what to look for, and can recognise the visual differences between good and great!

Personally, I’m always attempting to (literally!) pour all my experience into every drink I make, and I can see the overall quality reflected in and confirmed by the subtle details of the appearance of the latte that I produce (much as crema also gives me valuable visual indicators of the potential quality and success of the espresso).

For me, the latte art is an extension and representation of my craftsmanship, integrity, and ability as a whole, and it’s inseparable from this. But it does depend on the individual barista.

In conclusion, for me, great freepour is a magical thing, and I believe it is hugely valuable, because of the high level of skill, and quality, that it does indeed demonstrate …to an extent.

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20 Responses to “Latte Art Information”

  1. Chiman Says:

    You are so right about the addiction of latte art. I’ve only been pouring latte art for 2 months and I can now pour a decent rosetta but the better I got, the more critical I am about my pour. I am extremely critical about my own pour whereas most of my workmate are easily satisfied with a half hearted heart-pour or a rosetta that resembles a child’s doodle.

  2. Chiman Says:

    I’ve seen your rosettas on ‘Rate My Rosetta’. How long did it take for you to perfect your rosetta? And how do you practice? I try to do it at work but it’s difficult when it gets busy. Also do you tip the cup when you pour? I’m still trying to perfect my pour and it’s hard to do the two things at the same time when you are trying do a decent rosetta. Do you think I should concentrate on my pour before moving on to tipping the cup and pouring at the same time? Thanks

    • thebeanvagrant Says:

      I’ve been pouring latte art for about 4 years now, and am still perfecting it – it’s a gradual process – getting a feel for what works, and trying to repeat what you’ve done well a pour goes especially well.
      If you can find someone to show you, it’ll come quicker. If not – watch good videos on the web, and then try out what you’ve seen. Just keep practicing, and aiming for better contrast, definition, intricacy, symmetry, form, etc. Making sure your milk is really perfectly textured will also help – the art will almost begin to pour itself with great milk.
      I do tip the cup – generally about halfway through my pour – when I want to get the tip of the pitcher really close to the surface of the coffee – this is where the white will begin to flow onto the surface, and the rosetta will begin to form. Pour higher through the crema at first, then tilt the cup and get close with the pitcher, then wiggle and pull gradually back, and cut through at the very end for the stem. A lot to do in a short space of time – but keep at it, and it’ll get more natural.
      Cheers 🙂

  3. Chiman Says:

    Thank you so much for your quick reply! Thought you won’t have time to answer as you have so much going on at the moment. I really want to perfect my pour and my heart is pretty good but the rosetta is still a hit and miss. It’s difficult to practice when you have drink orders to deal with. I do go into work hours before my shift to pratice, so that I can concentrate and take notes of what I’ve done right and what needs improving. Milk texturing is such an art! It requires full attention and if you turned away just for one second and the milk is ruined.
    My workmates is always teasing me for being over critical. I guess us with design background are alot more obsessed and perfectionist! I get really upset whenever someone served up a ‘squiggle’.
    There are a few latte art courses available. Do you think it worth it to take part? They are not cheap either.

    Cheers

  4. thebeanvagrant Says:

    …Yeah – rather a lot going on (!) – but always happy to respond.
    Probably the best way to practice is whilst you’re making those orders, in day-to-day work – gradually the rosettas, etc, will improve if you keep pushing them further. Putting in extra time as well is dedication that’ll help too though!
    Sadly not everyone shares a passion for trying to make great coffee and latte art …and you might be waiting a long time for many people to respect what you do with coffee! But if you enjoy it, don’t worry about that. The best reward is generally when the customers love the flavour, texture, and appearance of beautiful coffee served with freepour latte art.
    It’s also good if the cafe itself can help to nurture and support your learning – it’s good for business at the end of the day …but not everywhere does.
    Latte art courses might be good (London School of Coffee for example) if you want to learn quickly, but not they’re not necessarily essential …Maybe try to get to some ‘coffee events’ like the UKBC semifinals this weekend too – a good place to find out a bit more about coffee, and meet like-minded people 🙂

  5. Chiman Says:

    You are right! There’s nothing more satisfying than customers recognising your effort! I was looking through the UKBC website. How do I get in? Do I need to buy a ticket?
    I think I’ll try London School of Coffee. I am practising very hard but I think it will help alot with someone there telling me what I am doing wrong. Since there’s no one at work who can give expert advice.
    I have been pouring latte art sideway.(instead of swinging from left to right, I am doing back and forth) Is it easier to do it your way? Does it somehow flow better?
    Cheers

  6. thebeanvagrant Says:

    Hope you got there …or at least managed to watch the live stream online!
    Training will definitely help things progress quicker if you need them to.
    It’s all down to what you find works best for the best latte art – some pro’s pour close up, mid air, side-to-side – others will pour on the counter back ‘n forth …either way you just need to gradually work on the shape and intricacy, etc, of the designs, whilst remembering the texture and the espresso especially!
    🙂

  7. thebeanvagrant Says:

    (i.e: ‘sideways’ or ‘left to right’ can both be fine)

  8. Chi Says:

    Thank you so much for your advice. I did not go to the UKBC but did catch some of the streamings on-line. I am still trying to find the most comfortable pouring style. I am practicing as much as I can and I won’t give up!
    PS : Do you know any good coffee shop in London that is hiring?

  9. thebeanvagrant Says:

    Great! And no probs.
    Don’t know of anywhere right now …I’d suggest putting a post/enquiry on the Too Much Coffee forum …or just finding somewhere you like and popping in.
    Cheers,
    Trevor

  10. Chiman Says:

    I am still trying to get a job in a proper coffee shop. It’s really hard. Do you think it’s worth taking up course such as the VRQ City and Guilds Barista Qualification at the London School of Coffee?

    Just a short update with my latte art pour. I am getting better at it. I’ve watched your clips several times and noticed you pour straight into the centre of the cup from the beginning unlike alot of the clips I watched on-line, most people start their pour by pouring a few rounds near the edge of the cup and I was told that helps to settle the milk and stop it from swirling but I find that results in quite a lot of marbling at the end and the contrast is not as good but when I tried pouring straight into the centre like you did, the milk ended up swirling around the cup like when you do a hanging tulip or the waving heart. What is your secret?

  11. thebeanvagrant Says:

    I would think they’re undoubtedly one of the best places to go for a course – and training from them will be reccognised by anyone who knows their stuff! So it might help with the job hunt, as well as probably being quite inspirational.

    …Hmmm – tricky stuff this latte art! Glad you’re making progress – practice is what it’s all about, and eventually you’ll be pouring great …without really knowing quite how!
    In the pours in the videos above, I’m using quite ‘thick’ milk – kind of cappuccino texture – which will partly help to keep pours under control, and stop them swirling around the cup too much.
    Sounds like you might be using milk with less air in – more latte/Flat White texture – which can be harder to control …but which can also create finer intricacy.
    Sometimes I start in the centre, sometimes a little nearer towards ‘my side’ of the cup, because I like to retain the crema around the edge. But initially, it might be easier to pour right towards the ‘furthest side’ of the cup, until you have a real feel for it…
    Much of the contrast can be about the height of the pitcher – pour higher until you want the white to start appearing on the surface for your design – then get the pitcher real close to the surface very quickly, and then start the ‘wiggle’ for a rosetta.
    Cheerio
    Trevor

  12. Chiman Says:

    What do you think of the hanging tulip or the wave heart? I find it lacks symmetry! Though I’ve seen clips on youtube in which baristas did a pretty good job with the pour and created some pretty symmetrical shapes. I’ve been reading up on dosing, distribution and tamping. How do you gauge that you are applying 30 pounds pressure without using a clicker tamper? Is it worth to invest in a clicker tamper to train my arm muscle? Also what do you think of the Stockfleth’s move? I’ve been using the NSEW methond and it works fine.

    Thanks

    • thebeanvagrant Says:

      I’m a bit of a rosetta addict – I just think they’re the most beautiful, and the most challenging design to do really well. Tulips, hearts, wave pours, etc, look great too, and are also tricky to do well …but are easier, more forgiving, and not as satisfying for me as a nice rosetta. That said, I’ve been pouring a few tulips and wave pours recently – just for a change, and to show folks at the cafe some other designs – they see nice rosettas all the time, and find the other stuff more exciting …just because it’s new!
      For tamping weight at 30lbs, you could press on a bathroom scale to get an idea of it. It’s worth investing in a good tamper, but clicker tampers I think are a bit of a gimmick, and restrictive. 30lbs is a good weight, but some people prefer to tamp lighter, or harder, than that – and a normal tamper allows you to choose.
      I actually vary my tamping weight a little, depending on what I feel/guess the individual shot needs to get it right, under given conditions. Some people might think this is bad practice, because it is inconsistent …I’ve come to accept this shot-to-shot intuition as necessary though, after years of using stepped grinders!
      It’s usually very important to redistribute your grounds so that they are even in the basket prior to tamping. I used something a bit like the Stockfleth’s move until recently, but now I use an Anfim doser, and it doses so well that I don’t level the grounds with my finger at all at the moment.
      The NSEW method should indeed work fine too (…if it’s good enough for Schomer!), but I quite like the circular motion of Stockfleth-type grooming …because, afterall, the basket’s circular as well.

  13. Chiman Says:

    I think you are right about the shots. A good barista should be able to judge and adjust the pressure being applied under different conditions. I’ve seen a clip of an automatic doser on Youtube. It’s amazing! Comes with a funnel for the portafilter. All that person did was dose, no touching of coffee grounds and just a gentle tamp! I better start saving up!

  14. Trevor Says:

    …Sounds like that might possibly have been the legendary Mazzer Rober E!

  15. Chiman Says:

    How big is the cup you used in your clip here? I’ve watched some clips of the Australian Barista Champion Scottie Callaghan. He’s amazing! Seven rosettas in one cup! I can’t even do a double!
    My search for a new job hasn’t been good. So far, I’ve only had three interviews and I didn’t get a single offer. I am beginning to think that maybe this is not for me. What am I supposed to do if they do give me a chance. Surely, everyone has to start somewhere. I am sure they all started from scratch and got better as they learned. How is it fare when all they invite you in for a trial and all you can do is to clear dished!

    Cheers!

  16. Trevor Says:

    That’s a 6oz cup – about 175ml. It’s quite small, and learning in bigger cups initially can be easier.
    Yeah – those multiple roettas are pretty nuts – I can’t do more than two or three – and even then they look rubbish!
    It’s true we all have to start somewhere, and it sounds unfortunate that you have not found somewhere to begin. Some places might start you off with more menial tasks until they know you’re reliable or something, before training you up on the espresso side of things… but some places might just take you for a ride… I started off at the very bottom, in the most non-artisan places, and even now my setting is not without it drawbacks, and is something I’ve had to forge gradually. The life of the barista is not exactly glamorous – but if you love making espresso, it’s pretty good! Good luck
    🙂

  17. The coffee inspector Says:

    This is really satisfying, you are a true artist who appreciates life and latte!

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