Who ben­e­fits from latte art: the cus­tomer or the barista?


Though the ex­act ori­gins of latte art has not been traced ( many at­tribute it to the Ital­ians who cre­ated the espresso), a num­ber of peo­ple credit its pop­u­lar­ity to David Schomer, a known barista and café owner in Seat­tle, Wash­ing­ton. It was re­ported that the nowu­biq­ui­tous latte art pat­tern, the heart, was born at his Espresso Vi­vace in the late 1980s. Since then, this fancy method of pre­par­ing cof­fee de­signed with steamed milk has turned into a craze, evolv­ing from rosettes and tulips to an­i­mals and per­son­al­i­ties.

In the Philip­pines, latte art is still a rel­a­tively new prac­tice. Al­le­gro Bev­er­age Cor­po­ra­tion pres­i­dent Leo de Leon dates latte art’s emer­gence in the coun­try to be around the same time Amer­i­can and Euro­pean cof­fee chains opened. “When they started, the skill level was very low, [ but with these West­ern cof­fee shops], the level im­proved. Be­cause these chains have a stan­dard to make espresso, cap­puc­cino, café mocha, and café latte, the skill level [ of Filipino baris­tas] im­me­di­ately im­proved,” he re­lates. “And to dis­tin­guish themselves from other cof­fee shops, they pro­duced latte art.”


The café latte, made with equal amounts of espresso, milk, and foam, re­quires cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics and a par­tic­u­lar set of tools to be trans­formed into a mas­ter­piece.

First is the espresso. Hi­de­nori Izaki— 2014 World Barista Cham­pion and the first Asian to hold the ti­tle does not rec­om­mend us­ing freshly roasted beans to make your brew. “If your cof­fee is too [ fresh] the crema gets very rough, so it’s very hard to pour nice latte art,” he says. The crema, which is ba­si­cally the emul­sion of nat­u­ral oil from the cof­fee bean, is the layer seen on top of a shot of espresso. “You need to age your cof­fee. You need to rest your cof­fee af­ter roast­ing, maybe [ around] 20 days.”

Schomer, in the course of his de­vel­op­ment of Espresso Vi­vace, found that the tem­per­a­tures at which espresso is made also had an ef­fect. He pegged his ideal tem­per­a­ture at 203.5 ˚ F. Any­thing lower, he noted, re­sulted in a sour taste, while any­thing higher pro­duced espresso that was more bit­ter and burnt.

The steam­ing and pour­ing tech­niques to pre­pare the milk are

also im­por­tant, notes Izaki. To pro­duce high qual­ity steamed milk, it is ideal that it be very cold, and prop­erly aer­ated with­out bub­bles. Whole milk is also gen­er­ally pre­ferred, as this pro­duces the best fla­vor. For espresso- based drinks most es­pe­cially, it is pre­ferred that the milk has a creamy, rich taste.


Latte art is pri­mar­ily an ap­peal on our vi­sion. “Peo­ple are very sen­sual,” De Leon says on the pop­u­lar­ity of latte art. “That’s why chefs plate their dishes. Latte art is a way of plat­ing the cof­fee drink. To make it more ap­pe­tiz­ing. Even be­fore they sip the cof­fee, [ the drinker] al­ready en­joys it be­cause there’s some sen­sual plea­sure to it.”

This type of art can be cre­ated us­ing two meth­ods: free pour­ing and etch­ing. The free pour in­volves the pre­cise stream­ing of milk from a jug into a cup of espresso. Shapes are formed by al­ter­ing sev­eral fac­tors in the pour, such as the height and prox­im­ity of the jug from the espresso, and the hand move­ment, which forms the shapes.

Free pour can be con­sid­ered as the more tech­ni­cal of the two. In latte art com­pe­ti­tions, this cat­e­gory is judged based on three main cri­te­ria: sym­me­try, com­plex­ity of de­sign, and con­trast be­tween the cof­fee and milk. Free pour latte art of­ten takes the form of any of the fol­low­ing clas­sic shapes: the heart, the tulip, and the rosette. Com­bin­ing these free pour de­signs have re­sulted in more com­plex forms such as the scor­pion or the swan. Aside from the clas­sic shapes, these have be­come main­stays in latte art throw­downs.

Etch­ing, on the other hand, re­quires more cre­ativ­ity and artis­tic sense. It in­volves us­ing a pick or stick to draw im­ages onto the cof­fee sur­face, which acts as a can­vas for the latte artist. Some baris­tas go as far as adding food dye to their art.

Latte art com­pe­ti­tions serve as a plat­form for baris­tas to not only im­prove their skills, but also to con­nect with and ex­change ideas with other baris­tas. “We cre­ated this com­pe­ti­tion be­cause we want to raise the bar [ in the barista] pro­fes­sion here in the coun­try. It’s a very spe­cial­ized pro­fes­sion. Now you even have latte art spe­cial­ists,” De Leon points out.

Al­le­gro Bev­er­age has been host­ing barista com­pe­ti­tions since 2004 and send­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives for in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions for the past four years. In turn, they also in­vite barista com­pe­ti­tion cham­pi­ons such as Izaki to speak dur­ing lo­cal barista throw­downs. De Leon says, “The more we have of these, the bet­ter ap­pre­ci­a­tion for spe­cialty cof­fee and the barista pro­fes­sion. Our baris­tas here are get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter. The more of this com­pe­ti­tion we have, the more ex­po­sure there is in the in­dus­try, the higher our skills, and the more in­formed we [ be­come].”


Al­though latte art is gen­er­ally prac­ticed by cof­fee shops and chains, it is re­garded as an ad­di­tional or more ad­vanced skill for baris­tas. Its cre­ation is a dis­play of one’s tech­nique. And though there ex­ists a dis­pute on its im­por­tance, baris­tas still ul­ti­mately put higher value on ac­tual cof­fee- mak­ing— that is, the taste and qual­ity of each cup.

“For me, taste al­ways comes first,” Izaki says. “But latte art is im­por­tant when it comes to show­cas­ing the beauty of cof­fee so that you can vis­ually en­joy the cup of cof­fee as well. You don’t merely look at cof­fee. Maybe you [ post it on] In­sta­gram or some­thing. But in the end, you drink the cof­fee. I think that’s what’s im­por­tant— the most im­por­tant el­e­ment to con­sider. You do not only form latte art, you also need to pay at­ten­tion to mak­ing cof­fee.”

“In the end, you drink the cof­fee. That’s the most im­por­tant

el­e­ment to con­sider. You do not only form latte art, you also need to pay at­ten­tion to the

cof­fee,” says Hi­de­nori Izaki.

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