Latte Art (literally the “art of caffellatte”) is a decoration technique which is used on cappuccinos and espressos with foamed milk, by creating figures and shapes on its surface. This type of workmanship is increasingly appreciated by customers in that, besides being aesthetically pleasing, it denotes the great expertise and ability of the person creating it. In fact, more and more Italian baristas are interested in investing in professional training to learn the techniques and secrets of perfect Latte Art.
To create perfect Latte Art you don’t only need great manual dexterity, you also need the right tools, knowledge of all the fundamental steps and lots of experience. Let’s discover where this technique comes from and how to make the perfect one.
Latte Art: some background
Apparently, Latte Art was invented by an Italian, Pierangelo Merlo, a Veronese barista who, towards the end of the 1970s, started experimenting with this decorating technique to make his cappuccinos aesthetically appealing. However it was David Schomer, a barista from Seattle, who put Latte Art on the map: in the mid-eighties, the heart shape on his cappuccinos became a distinctive sign of the café Espresso Vivace. Since then, the repertoire of figures possible to create has continued to grow, with the introduction of rosettes, tulips, swans, geometric designs and much more.
In Italy, the first person to talk about Latte Art professionally was Luigi Lupi, until a few years ago the only authoritative reference person for this technique; however, today, specialist training courses have become widespread, allowing professionals working in the industry and amateur enthusiasts alike to get to know everything necessary to create Latte Art.
The technique for creating the perfect Latte Art
To carry out this technique to perfection, you must have the right tools available and understand the few but fundamental steps of the procedure.
Which materials to use
● cold whole milk from the fridge (maximum temperature 39°F)
● espresso coffee of creamy consistency
● milk jug with spout in stainless steel (capacity 1.7 fl oz/2.5fl oz for cappuccino and capacity 1.1 fl oz/1.7 fl oz for the macchiato)
● espresso machine with steaming arm
● thermometer (optional)
Latte Art – method and techniques
There are two fundamental steps to the procedure: the foaming of the milk and the real decoration.
● For the foaming of the milk: fill the milk jug with the milk (rigorously cold) up to half full and no more, so as not to risk overflowing. Position the steaming arm (clean and unclogged) to about half a centimeter below the surface of the milk in an oblique position to the milk jug, remembering to keep one hand on the handle and the other on the side to be able to check the temperature. Open the steam of the steaming arm to the maximum and stay as still as possible: the milk, in moving, will create a vortex effect and will increase in volume, until it reaches the optimum temperature of 60°C (140°F). At this point you will have a creamy and smooth foamed milk.
● For the decoration: for a perfect Latte Art it is fundamental to be able to manage the distribution of the foamed milk. Start by pouring the milk slowly so that it makes a hole in the ‘cream’ of the espresso, without leaving any white traces on the surface. Then, still very delicately, move the spout of the milk jug towards the surface of the drink and, moving the jug, create harmonious patterns with contrasting colors.
What kind of designs can be created?
Once you have learned the procedure, you can really indulge your creativity and produce all varieties of decorations. There are two main decoration techniques, based on the tools used:
● Pouring: consists of the basic technique, carried out using exclusively the milk jug. With this technique it is possible to create the most simple shapes such as the heart, the rosette and the tulip. With a little practice, even more complex designs are possible. This mini instruction video shows you how to create a cute little bear:
● Etching: for creating more elaborate figures, besides using free pouring by hand, it is possible to make use of certain instruments. These consist of tips and nibs to dip into the milk so that it is possible to create more subtle and precise lines.
There is also a third technique which has been introduced recently, called cappuccino 3D, which involves the creation of raised figures on the surface; obviously, besides a firmer consistency of foamed milk, you will need a certain manual dexterity.
The procedure for creating perfect Latte Art might seem simple but, actually, without the help of a professional, it will be very difficult to learn. You can attend specialist training courses, such as those offered by the school of the Espresso Laboratory, which, since 2001, has been promoting high-quality coffee culture all over the world. Training, practice and imagination will prove to be the winning ingredients for perfectly made Latte Art.