14th December 2010

Some days are just better!

I have to admit I spent yesterday struggling to feel the love for the new blend in the grinder, and scratching my head – one of those days (why so many?!) when whatever moves I made, the espresso just would not taste good enough, to me, not even once. Quite the opposite even *shudder*. But then today, after thinking various possibilities over, first thing I make more changes …and wow the shots finally start landing on the money! Then the first customer’s an Aussie wanting a double ristretto piccolo latte (not something I’m overly familiar with, as such, by any means, but which is a pleasure all the same), and who then makes the effort (completely unprompted – ALWAYS the best way) to mention how much he enjoyed it, followed by a brief chat about coffee. Always great when you’re feeling the shots, and then others just pick up on it as well.

Musing a little about the importance, if any, of latte art recently. It’s something which, at it’s best, still holds a magical allure for me, and which is one of the many elements that excites me about artisan coffee. I don’t necessarily see it in the same way I used to. I know more now. I know that even freepour art can be made with pretty ropey (even awful) shots, and distinctly average, less than perfect milk. I know that even very nice pours don’t necessarily indicate the very best coffee, and that a coffee can of course be perfect without any latte art as such. When you talk with other baristas who are familiar with freepour, who see and practice it frequently because we are within the right circles, you often encounter the feeling that perhaps it’s not that special, and not indicative of quality in the way one perhaps thought at one point. It can indeed be almost meaningless, in fact. But I still think, on a more basic level, that good freepour intrinsically demonstrates a certain degree of quality of both flavour and texture. And, it shows there is a considerable amount experience, even passion, and practice on the part of the barista, some sound training, and an environment where the skills can emerge and flourish. It’s still too soon to dismiss its importance, in that regard, I think. But more than this, it struck me that, for me, my own latte art has gradually developed and become refined over my years as a barista, alongside the rest of my knowledge about how to make the best coffee I can, as often as I can. Good pours came quite early on, but there have been gradual improvements as I’ve learned more about the craft as a whole. Subtleties of touch and movement and knowledge and craftmanship that have emerged and evolved together, and which continue to progress (on a good day!) hand in hand. So for me, the very best latte art is still, and maybe always will be, a sign that all the elements, and the whole package, has at least the potential for being great, as well as looking beautiful to boot! Just like the other elements of quality; the beans, the roast, the shots, the knowledge, the skill, and the machinery, etc, there can be subtle levels of quality and ability (admittedly not easily discernible at times), from poor, through average, to good …and beyond.

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3 Responses to “14th December 2010”

  1. Chris Burns Says:

    Whenever I see latte art in a cafe I presume (rightly or wrongly) that I’m going to enjoy a coffee that has been made by a barista with an element of skill and passion in their art. Even a flat white in a Starbucks (can I use that name!?) is superior to their other milk based coffee drinks on texture alone, granted the coffee tastes a bit stale on the whole, but it is a more enjoyable drink as the milk has to be a certain texture to produce the flat white.

  2. thebeanvagrant Says:

    Seasons Greetings!
    It’s certainly a sound presumption, I think.
    In terms of milk texture, all the textures I use are I suppose within a fairly narrow band (with slight, yet distinct, variations of thickness ideally), and as such offer about the best the milk has to offer on a given day, and all hopefully share that most enjoyable zone of microfoam. I suppose some places save the this type of texture for the flat white, but I think all drinks deserve to have good texture..!

    • Chris Burns Says:

      I agree, it’s very rare in a ‘chain’ to get milk that has decent microfoam, rather very, very fluffy foam that feels almost dry in your mouth. I don’t think many people realise how smooth and velvety milk can (and should) be when steamed correctly. I guess the problem is that the majority of people are perfectly happy with the fluffy foam, but once you’ve had a well crafted flat white or cappuccino it’s really hard to go back to the ‘chain’ style of coffee.

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