You can tell a good coffee by many things. One of the easiest is latte art: the pretty patterns and designs that decorate the surface of your coffee. It can seem like an unimportant decoration, but it's a complex art that many baristas take very seriously, and consider the main part of their skill. Underneath it all are many terms and ideas, which we'll briefly summarize here.The Basics
Basically, latte art is about pouring steamed milk onto an espresso in a way that creates a pattern between the milk and the espresso. Here, baristas use two tricks. First, a background is made by mixing the milk and espresso to create a dark brown field. Second, the milk is carefully lain on the surface, creating a clear, white foreground.
Physically, there are a few pouring methods from which to form the simple latte art pattern. Almost any latte art design can be cast using these basic methods.
Blobs and Lines
To create a white foreground element, the milk pitcher must be brought to the surface of the coffee as it is poured. The right momentum will allow the milk to slide onto the surface. Basically, this creates a rather unattractive blob. If you lift the pitcher up at the end and drag the final shot of milk across the cup, this simple circle turns into a charming heart shape.
Stacks and Tulips
With a little more control, these blobs can be "stacked" by adding successive circles next to each other in a pushing motion. The pattern spreads out to the edge of the cup and becomes a series of concentric leaves. With a line through the center, this becomes what is called a "tulip".
Wiggles and Rosettas
The other key technique of latte art is wiggling, or "wiggling". By gently wiggling the milk jug as it pours, the simple blob turns into a serpentine line that layers in on itself to form a textured shape that combines background and foreground. These shapes can be made into hearts or stacked into a more complicated tulip by combining the above techniques.
The last basic pattern is considered the most technically difficult: the Rosetta. Here, the wiggle technique is carefully controlled to first spread a crescent at the base before drawing a squiggly line across the cup, and the entire pattern is traced across as in the other patterns. Timing, control and finesse combine to create an elegant, well-proportioned and symmetrical design.
Based on these methods, baristas have developed a whole range of more complicated designs, combining some or all of them with other tricks. Swans, for example, add a heart to the side of a rosette that resembles a swan's head. "Inversions" involve rotating the cup 180 degrees mid-pour and stacking it into the bottom of the original mold to create a more complex shape. Some baristas also like to use a needle to draw dots and lines on a free-poured mold to create more complex designs like faces and animals. However, this is criticized by others as it is unsanitary, time consuming, and reduces the quality of the cup of coffee itself.
There are entire competitions devoted to latte art, which begs the question of how best to judge a "good pour." There are a few criteria you can use to judge the appearance of your cappuccino.
All designs should be symmetrical. This means that the line drawn through the design at the end of the pour divides the design evenly in half. Also, if the cup has a handle, it should be perpendicular to this line. Some more advanced designs, such as swans, may be asymmetrical by nature, but again, care should be taken to balance the two sides appropriately.
The most basic skill is controlling when the milk enters the espresso and when it reaches the surface. Therefore, a sharp and defined contrast between the white foreground and brown background is a sign of quality. Blurred hearts and blurred tulips are usually signs of poor technique.
Quality of the milk
Even though we like to drink pretty coffees, at the end of the day, tasting is the most important thing. Latte art shouldn't eclipse the quality of the coffee, and a beautiful rosetta poured into frothy, overheated milk doesn't do anyone any good. The milk