The na­tion’s love of cof­fee has led to de­mand for ‘latte art’ skills, as we try to recre­ate café-style flour­ishes at home. Maria Fitz­patrick tries her hand

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Lifestyle -

Cof­fee art? I’ll have a go, I thought, ex­pect­ing noth­ing more com­pli­cated than a sten­cil of a snowflake, a sieve and some co­coa. But no, the art of the latte is another beast al­to­gether. Caitlin Ernest, an ex­pert barista, is giv­ing me a be­gin­ner’s class in the art of ma­nip­u­lat­ing milk to cre­ate the pro­fes­sional’s sig­na­ture smooth and dec­o­ra­tive frothed milk fin­ish. It’s the skill that el­e­vates an or­di­nary cup to some­thing spe­cial, and now ev­ery self-re­spect­ing cof­fee nut wants to be able to achieve it at home, too. Caitlin’s lat­tes, the re­sult of five years’ ex­pe­ri­ence, are blended to per­fec­tion so that they feel like liq­uid silk on the tongue, and are adorned with the love hearts, tulips and fern­like rosetta de­signs you see in the best cafés. So far, though, de­spite the in­cred­i­ble aroma of the Mon­mouth Cof­fee Com­pany beans that we’re us­ing, I have re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to taste more than one: at the mo­ment my latte hearts look more like drunken rhi­nos, and caf­feine jit­ters won’t help mat­ters. This skill re­quires “good hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion, con­trol and prac­tice”, says Caitlin. Ac­cord­ing to John Lewis, thanks to the na­tion’s ac­cel­er­at­ing pas­sion for cof­fee, latte art is go­ing to be the next cock­tail­mak­ing in the host-with­the-most’s reper­toire. “This year, café cul­ture has en­tered a new era, step­ping off the high street and into our homes,” says Will Cum­mings, John Lewis’s as­sis­tant small elec­tri­cals buyer. “The na­tion’s re­la­tion­ship with the drink has gone from be­ing a habit to a hobby; peo­ple are much more dis­cern­ing – they don’t want to be pas­sive about the drink­ing, they want to learn about it, talk about it, be in the know about the beans, the roast­ing and the flavours, and are de­ter­mined to re-cre­ate the more so­phis­ti­cated cof­fee house ex­pe­ri­ence at home. “There’s a show­ing-off el­e­ment to it, but it’s a geeky thing too. They’re tak­ing that in­ter­est in cof­fee to the next level and want to im­press with their barista skills.” While there has been a de­cline in the de­mand for ba­sic fil­ter/per­co­la­tor cof­fee mak­ers, sales of the “ex­pert” café-style bean-to-cup ma­chines have soared by 167 per cent, along­side a “mas­sive leap” in sales of tra­di­tional man­ual pump es­presso ma­chines, grinders and milk-froth­ing jugs. The depart­ment store has noted, too, the rise of the “two-ma­chine house­hold” – for in­stance, a pod ma­chine for the quick week­day cup and a more ex­pert ma­chine for week­ends, when there’s time for foamy flour­ishes. More re­search is be­ing in­vested in cof­fee ma­chine tech­nol­ogy by the store than any other electrical gad­get. “The gourmet side of cof­fee re­ally comes out with man­ual es­presso ma­chines,” ex­plains David Gub­bin, who works for Sage, the new He­ston Blu­men­thal range we’re us­ing to­day (their ma­chines come with a “white glove” but­ler­meets-barista in­stal­la­tion ser­vice; sageap­pli­ “You’re not just press­ing a but­ton, but do­ing ev­ery­thing a barista would do: grind­ing beans, tamp­ing down the cof­fee, mak­ing an ex­trac­tion [the es­presso that comes out of the beans], tex­tur­ing milk [not froth­ing] and work­ing it through the es­presso in your cup to achieve a per­fect top.” “There’s a the­atri­cal as­pect to it, like cock­tail-mak­ing, and it’s so sat­is­fy­ing when you get it right,” says Caitlin, who has been en­listed to demon­strate to John Lewis cus­tomers. But be­fore you even think about dec­o­ra­tion, the cof­fee base must be right, David ex­plains. “Tem­per­a­ture is the most im­por­tant fac­tor for get­ting the best taste. You need a flat line of 93C through your 30ml shot of es­presso; too hot and it will be bit­ter, too cool and it will taste sour. At one time, only the boil­ers of com­mer­cial ma­chines had that pre­cise tem­per­a­ture con­trol and ex­trac­tion pres­sure, but you can now achieve pro­fes­sional re­sults on do­mes­tic ma­chines.” Your 30ml shot of cof­fee should take a full 30 sec­onds to come through the ma­chine: “If it flies out, you’re not get­ting the full flavour from the beans,” Caitlin says. “It should look nice and syrupy.” Now comes the milk. Per­fect­ing the creamy tex­ture is the most im­por­tant skill. “It af­fects the feel and taste of the en­tire cof­fee. You can’t rush it,” Caitlin says. Milk that is too foamy, bub­bly or frothy is “dis­as­trous” – we’re look­ing for a smooth, thick but silky con­sis­tency which slinks around the me­tal jug “like wet paint”. The rookie mis­take is to stand there steam­ing and froth­ing the milk for ages, get­ting loads of bub­bles into Buy smaller bags of fresh beans, pay­ing at­ten­tion to the “roasted on” date. Car­bon diox­ide is pro­duced dur­ing roast­ing, and it can make cof­fee taste quite acidic. Try to ex­tract your cof­fee be­tween the fourth and 18th day af­ter roast­ing, when the beans will have the right bal­ance of flavour. Keep beans in an air­tight con­tainer in a cool, dark place, NOT in the fridge. Grind­ing beans for each cup re­leases oils and aroma which you want to cap­ture. You have to move quite quickly from grinder to cup. If us­ing a man­ual es­presso pump ma­chine, “tamp” the ground cof­fee down with your tam­per tool, press­ing lightly enough to get an even sur­face with­out grounds go­ing over the side, with a slight twist if nec­es­sary. it, Caitlin ex­plains. The key is to keep the tip of the noz­zle of the steam­ing wand only just be­low the sur­face of the milk, lis­ten­ing for a gen­tle “husssshhh” sound. “If you get that loud screech­ing that you might have heard in cafés, the noz­zle is too deep in the jug, and the milk is be­ing blasted and over­heated.” A bit like mak­ing cus­tard or a roux sauce, you feel a bit of pull when the con­sis­tency starts chang­ing and the milk grows in vol­ume. Caitlin rec­om­mends watch­ing for about half a cen­time­tre of froth above the mark of your orig­i­nal cold milk. She shows me how to “pol­ish” the milk, swirling it ever so gently around the sides of the jug, a process that stops the foam from sep­a­rat­ing, and some­how makes it glossy, while knock­ing out bub­bles. Then, it’s a race against time while my es­presso’s still hot and the tex­tured milk is com­pact and smooth. Caitlin shows me how to tilt my cup with one hand, and raise the milk jug about 15cm above it, then swirl the jug lightly to pour a nar­row stream of milk into wide cir­cles that com­bine with the cof­fee. When the cup is about two-thirds full, the thicker, creamy mi­cro­foam, which nat­u­rally moves to the back of the jug, needs to be di­rected, as a white foam dot, into the cen­tre of the cup. This is done with a “fast pour” – the milk must flow quickly but the hand barely moves. “Usu­ally when peo­ple get the jug in their hand, they freak out and start jig­gling it re­ally fast,” says Caitlin. My first at­tempt lands


Creamy cre­ations: there’s plenty of sci­ence be­hind cre­at­ing the per­fect cup, but there is an art to it too, Maria dis­cov­ers

Show-off: tulips and roset­tas are all part of the barista reper­toire

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