Short Answer: Coffee art, also known as latte art, is a method of preparing coffee that involves pouring microfoam over a shot of espresso, resulting in a beautiful design or pattern on the surface of the drink. It can also be made or enhanced by simply “drawing” on top of the foam layer.
If you enjoy milk in your coffee, you’ve probably seen a unique type of latte art – the captivating patterns created with steamed milk on top of your espresso drink.
Have you ever wondered how you could make that beautiful latte art in your own kitchen?
A flawless steamed-milk leaf or flower standing on top of your drink may appear complex, but once you understand the science behind it, you’ll realize it only takes a few seconds of the entire coffee-making process. And it always elevates a simple cup of coffee to something special.
Keep reading if you want to learn how to make latte art and learn a skill that will last you a lifetime.
Who started latte art?
Although coffee and milk have been consumed together for centuries in Europe, history has it that David Schomer was the one who sparked the US latte art craze in the mid-1980s.
An Italian named Luigi Lupi, on the other hand, was seen doing the same thing around the same time. Whoever started the latte art first, Schomer became an expert on it. He even authored a book about it – describing how he came up with the idea of putting distinctive patterns on people’s drinks.
What do you need to make coffee art?
All you need to create latte art designs are:
- A cup
- A pitcher/jug
- Espresso machine
- A toothpick or a latte art tool
And let’s not forget about the main ingredients: coffee and milk.
How do you make latte art?
There are 3 basic phases of creating latte art:
Phase 1: Making the perfect foam
First, place the pitcher in the refrigerator or freezer for 30 minutes before using it. Pour enough cold milk into your steam pitcher to make 1 cup at a temperature of 1˚C or 34˚F.
Place the steam rod at the bottom of the pitcher, switch on the steam, and gradually raise the wand until it’s near the tip of the milk.
Lower the pitcher as the milk rises, keeping the steam wand about 1 cm away from the milk’s tip. Don’t add too much milk or allow large bubbles to form. This is required for velvety, smooth-textured milk.
Allow the milk to heat up to 37˚C or 100˚F before inserting the steam wand deep into the milk, preferably on 1 side of the pitcher so that the pitcher can rotate counterclockwise.
Let the milk reach a temperature of 37˚C or 100˚F before placing the steam wand deep into the milk, preferably on 1 side of the pitcher so that you can rotate the pitcher counterclockwise.
Lightly swirl the milk counter-clockwise while keeping the steam wand near the pitcher’s base.
Maintain the motion until the milk reaches a temperature of 65°C to 68°C (150°F to 155°F), but don’t allow the foamed milk to reach 71°C (160°F).
Turn off the steam and take the wand and thermometer out of the milk. Wipe them down with a damp towel.
Allow the milk to settle for a few seconds to achieve a more velvety texture before quickly stirring it. If you see any bubbles, tap the pitcher on the counter for 20 – 30 seconds before swirling again.
Make sure to:
- Take note of your steamer’s tendencies and make any adjustments. Some steamers heat the milk so quickly that you must remove it from the steamer around 10˚F before the limit to avoid overheating.
- Instead of large bubbles, aim for small, light bubbles known as microfoam. The idea is to achieve a light and soft foam.
Phase 2. Pulling the Espresso
As soon as your milk has foamed, begin running the shots. Each espresso shot should contain between 7-8 grams of ground espresso.
Tamp down the portafilter with a pressure of 30 – 40 lbs. For extra freshness, use a burr grinder, which allows you to adjust the fineness of your espresso grinds.
Pull the espresso shots. The ideal shot has a typical coffee flavor with a hint of cream.
If you want to learn more about the differences between espresso and regular brewed coffee, you can read my post right here.
Here are some tips for pulling an ideal shot:
- Pulling the shot during 21-24 seconds is ideal since espresso has a sweet flavor when pulled close to 24 seconds.
- The force with which you tamp down the espresso grounds directly affects the length of the extraction.
- Use just enough force to allow the espresso to extract slowly and evenly. If you don’t use adequate tamping pressure, the espresso will extract too quickly.
- Pour your espresso shots into a wide-mouthed container.
- Make sure to add milk to the shot not more than 10 seconds after you’ve poured it into a container.
Phase 3. Pouring the Milk and Espresso Art
When pouring steamed milk, you must be mindful of the position, height, and flow. Follow these pointers:
- Pour from a slightly higher height until the cup is approximately half full, then lower the pour till it’s almost to the crema, letting the foam to emerge.
- Pour slowly and steadily while moving from high to low.
- It’s important to pour at a steady rate while holding the cup at an angle. Pouring too slow will cause the foam to be left behind while pouring too fast will break the crema apart.
- Once your cup is nearly half full, begin pouring to the back of your container or cup, delicately moving your wrist from side to side.
Making latte art can be confusing when it’s your first time doing it but watching this video helps in making things clearer.
This table summarizes the dos and don’ts in making latte art.
|Milk texture should look like melted ice cream||The bubbly texture of the milk|
|Use whole milk||Use skim or light milk|
|Evening out the crema||Not setting up the crema|
|Start pouring straight away||Wait too long to start pouring|
|Pour at a steady speed||Pour too fast or too slow|
|Hold the jug straight||Hold the jug at a wacky angle|
Can I make latte art using regular milk?
The answer is a resounding NO!
According to baristas, there are 2 key ingredients for producing a great cup of a latte: a fresh espresso shot having a good amount of crema and adequately textured steamed milk.
The reason why you can’t simply add regular milk to your coffee to make a latte has something to do with both science and physics.
To make the microfoam that appears at the top of your cup, baristas add steam to milk and then rapidly heat it. This scientific process, known as denaturing, modifies the physical properties of milk.
When milk is heated, the sugars and fat in it break down into simpler, smaller sugar particles, making the milk sweeter.
After making your textured steamed milk, go right ahead and pour it into your cup of espresso, which requires a little physics. Baristas pour the steamed milk in a way that allows the milk to flow first, followed by the foam which they use to create their desired design.
To sum it all up
Every coffee lover has had the pleasure of being offered a cup of coffee topped with amazing latte art design, especially in the morning when it helps lift your mood to start the day.
A lot of people believe that latte art is impossible to make at home since it appears so spectacular and complicated. However, the procedure is not as difficult as it appears.
By following the simplified tips I mentioned in this article, you can surely learn latte art and who knows, you can soon rival your favorite barista with continuous practice.
So, let your creativity go wild and display your artistic abilities on top of your cup with latte art. I’m sure you’ll love coffee even more now that you’re also having fun making it.