Oh yes, there’s nothing more popular than Latte Art among baristas and cafe lovers. It’s nothing more than steamed milk poured into a cup of espresso. But with some imagination and inspiration, you can turn the whole process into a work of art. Also, you get to share and enjoy the end product with everyone.
Latte Art induces smiles and creates some kind of spark among each individual, be it a hope of inspiration, a delightful memory for the day or a positive reflection of the world around us. I had never thought much about Latte Art until I started handling an espresso machine. That completely changed my view on this amazing and artsy espresso beverage.
It took me two solid weeks to get to the level where I could create a heart with relative ease. I’ve understood the major components of creating a beautiful latte art through the learning phase and would like to share what I’ve learnt with you all.
Basically, you need to know the three major aspects in order to make beautiful latte art.
Let’s take a look at them.
1. Pulling a good Espresso Shot
It all starts here. The heart and soul of any espresso drink. If you don’t pull a good espresso shot, you really won’t be able to make a delicious and aesthetic latte art. This all begins with the espresso roast. From the fundamental aspects such as the quality of the bean, level of roast and freshness of the roast. To the technical aspects such as the grind levels, even layering, proper tamping and finally the proper extraction.
The foundation of an espresso drink is the espresso and once the fundamental and technical aspects are well-rehearsed and well-implemented, you can really expect to create a most pleasing and beautiful latte art.
Another important thing I’ve noticed is the fleeting time of an extracted espresso shot. To be honest, I think there’s only about a 10~15 second(perhaps more) life span of a freshly pulled espresso shot. After that, the espresso reacts with the air and then starts to go bad. Also, it’s difficult to create the various rich golden-brown layers when the espresso sits out for too long.
2. Silky Smooth Steamed Milk
First comes espresso, then comes the milk. And not just any milk, steamed milk.
Now, what do we mean by steamed milk?
I’m sure there are many ways to define steamed milk, but the basic concept is that you have some hot air(steam) incorporated into milk to create an overall light and silky-smooth texture. This is done using a steam wand which is usually a component of most espresso machines.
The most important thing is to incorporate steam, which creates bubbles in the milk, by keeping the tip of the steam wand just a little below the surface of the milk. The sound you hear during this procedure is very important since you’ll understand whether you have larger or smaller bubbles of steam incorporated into the milk.
Why is it important to know the size of bubbles(air) being incorporated into the milk?
This is where it gets interesting. If you’ve ever had cappuccino, you may have noticed the super tiny bubbles which make part of the foam on top. When those bubbles are tiny and small, the texture of the milk is silky-smooth, and also sweet because its easier for our taste buds to percept the natural sweetness of milk. When you have larger bubbles, the texture is rather rough, and it’s more difficult to detect the sweetness of milk. So, the ideal thing is to incorporate small bubbles of steam.
The first step is, of course, the incorporation of the bubbles(steam). The second step is the breaking up of the bubbles by submerging the steam wand into the milk pitcher and then creating a vertical tide cycle.
What’s a vertical tidal cycle? Kind of like a whirlpool, except that it’s rotating up-down. After incorporating enough steam into the milk, it’s important to break up the bubbles of steam to make them even smaller so that the milk is smooth, silky, and creamy. This step is also important as it makes it so much easier to create latte art.
So, keep these two steps in mind and you’ll create smooth, rich, and silky steamed milk ready to pour.
If you are interested in getting into the nitty-gritty of steamed milk, there’s this awesome post you can check out.
3. Pouring with decisiveness
The final and the most decisive aspect. The pour.
This is when sparks fly and imaginations go wild.
It’s also the part where you have to let go….. let go of the fear, worry and everything else.
Make a move and don’t stop until you’ve poured to the brim of the cup. In short, be decisive.
The most important thing about pouring is understanding how the milk flows once it falls into the cup. Sometimes the pour technique can change depending on the type of mug/cup used for the pour. The bottom can be curvaceous, or at a right-angle. That has to be considered. So, the important thing is to use your imagination and create an image of yourself pouring the milk and visualise the milk flowing in a circular motion around the mug and enveloping the espresso while creating layers of golden brown.
There seem to be two parts to pouring.
1. Free Fall
This is when you pour the milk into the espresso from a rather high place. This allows the milk to quickly and evenly mix with the espresso to create a canvas. Which means that you don’t have to worry too much about where exactly the milk falls. I tend to let it fall on the center of the cup.
2. Guided Painting
I didn’t use the term ‘fall’ here. That’s because it’s more of placing the milk onto the created canvas. Once again, using your imagination, create an image of how you want to paint your canvas. And then bring the pitcher closer to the mug/cup, as if they can touch each other within a hair’s breadth. That’s when you’ll finally see the end product of your hard work.
These two steps are just a flow of the whole pouring process. So it’s important to know how long to free fall, and then get into painting.
Practice is crucial, and it’s going to take a while to start seeing some results.
But having some knowledge, like these three key aspects, can really accelerate the whole process and will leave your friends gasping in awe in no time.