How to make latte art: What is barista art?

Latte art, barista art, coffee art – append ‘art’ to anything vaguely to do with coffee design and it’s all one and the same thing. But let’s stick with latte art. That’s the phrase we all know. But what is it?

What is latte art?

One of the key differences between coffee made at home or in high street franchises and one made by an artisan or pro barista is that the latter will likely feature latte art. These impressive and sometimes intricate designs take your morning coffee to the next level, but how do baristas do it and why? And what does it look like?

Latte art is made by pouring steamed milk through espresso to create a pattern or design. The only limit is the creativity of the barista and there are some amazing examples of latte art out there including these insane examples by South Korean barista Lee Kang-bin.

Lee Kang-bin barista art

OK, we don’t want to run before we can walk. Quite frankly how on earth Lee does those amazing latte art ‘paintings’ is beyond me. And why would you even drink something like that? I’d like to frame it and hang it on the wall..

How to make latte at home

But, before trying to become the Picasso of the coffee world, let’s dial it down a notch and get back to basics for a moment or two.

A bit about latte art

In the late 1980s, a new craze took the USA by storm, latte art. To begin with, the designs were simple and things like a rosette and a heart were among the most popular. Over the years, and as the latte art craze has spread, more intricate designs have been created and there is even a World Championship for baristas to show off their skills.

Originally, latte art was created by skilfully pouring steamed milk through espresso creating a contrast between the two liquids and their colours.

coffee art pouring the milk

While this is still how things are done, there are some baristas who also incorporate things like chocolate sauce, food dye and even soy sauce. But I wouldn’t recommend trying the last two in your latte. Unless you’ve got some very weird taste buds.

Why is barista art so popular?

Following on from bartenders throwing their cocktail shakers around or creating shamrocks on pints of Guinness latte art appeared to be nothing more than the latest trend. But it hasn’t and doesn’t show any sign of going anywhere. Just do a quick search on any social media platform and you’ll see thousands of examples of latte art or coffee design by skilled baristas.

One of the reasons it’s so popular is it gives baristas a way to ‘sign’ their drinks. Many will have their signature art and if you’re being served by a renowned barista, you’ll enjoy their special mark.

What’s more, it gives baristas a way to show off their creativity and a platform for their skills. It’s also a big draw for any coffee shop or independent barista with coffee art fans travelling miles and paying a premium price for their specially ‘signed’ coffee.

As for the customers, the results make for the perfect Instagram shot. And let’s face it – if something isn’t Intstagramable it’s not worth doing. Or so I’m told.

Anyways, let’s move on to more practical things.

What equipment do you need for latte art?

Depending on the style of latte art you are going to be doing you will need either a milk jug with a pouring spout or a latte art pen. The former is used for doing free pour art while the latter is used for etching. You can see the two different types of latte art in the video below.

Free pouring takes a lot more practice and is the most technical form of latte art. It relies on pouring the milk from a specific height into the espresso combined with movements of the hand to create your masterpiece. On the other hand, etching relies on the use of a latte art pen and can produce some very intricate designs.

While the height and speed of the pour is essential, it is also important to make sure that you are using high protein milk. For example, whole milk will be much creamier and will produce clearer and more precise latte art than skimmed milk. It is widely accepted that before becoming a latte art master, you first need to master the art of making the perfect cup of coffee.

Let’s sum up

For 30 years, latte art has been a way for baristas to express their creativity and has given coffee lovers the chance to see some impressive art before indulging in their drink. There are two main techniques to creating barista art design but don’t neglect the importance of your coffee making skills either.

How to make latte art

Ok, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Or not. When it comes to explaining how to make latte art I wouldn’t presume to preach. I’m hopeless at it. My efforts just come out as a milky mess. This is very much a time to hand over to the experts. And there are plenty of them out there.

Here’s a couple of the best latte art tutorials I’ve found online. Enjoy them. Meanwhile I’m off to practise my coffee design skills.

Warning – these videos may contain third party ads.

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