If you’ve had a dine-in latte at a neighborhood coffee house, chances are pretty good that the foam on top of your coffee has been decorated with a beautiful design. Those in the know refer to this as “latte art,” a practice that’s actually been around for a few decades now.
Even if you haven’t had the pleasure of a professional barista using your latte as a canvas for his or her design, you’ve probably seen pictures of coffee art on social media. After all, what better way to start your day than with coffee – especially when it features beautiful art on top!
What Is Latte Art?
Latte art is the result of steamed milk that is then poured into a shot of espresso. By varying the volume, speed, and other factors related to the pour, a barista is able to create a drawing or design on the surface of the beverage. To further embellish the surface of the latte, a barista can draw into the top layer of foam with utensils, such as the back of a spoon or a stir stick.
In order to create latte art, a couple of elements must be present: first, the espresso shot must have crema, or that foamy, silky layer or head that’s typically lighter brown in color when compared to the actual shot of espresso beneath. The second element is known as microfoam, which is the dense, foamy mixture at the top of a pitcher of steamed milk.
When the hot milk is poured into a latte, the foam separates and rises to the top where it can be mixed together with the brown crema from the coffee. The resulting contrast in colors allows the barista to create designs in the surface of the latte.
Styles of Latte Art: How to Make Coffee Pictures
There may not be an infinite number of pictures and styles to decorative latte art, but there are certainly quite a few. From hearts to rosetta shapes, intricate designs to flowers, the pictures of coffee that we see online depict a bounty of beautiful images that resemble high art more than a morning beverage. So what styles of latte art exist, and what are the designs called by the professional baristas who make them?
There are two principal ways that latte art can be created. Free pouring is the act of simply pouring steamed milk into the espresso to create coffee pictures. Etching, a variation of making coffee pictures, involves the use of a tool once the pour has been made. With free pours, most coffee pictures involve either an image of a heart, or an image of a leafy fern shape, known as a rosetta. A direct pour will result in a heart shape, while more wiggling of the milk pitcher during the pour will yield the rosetta coffee picture.
With etching, even more intricate designs can be achieved, creating pictures of coffee that resemble masterful works of art, perfect for social media use. Geometric shapes that vary in intricacy, animal images, and flowers are all common coffee pictures.