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The Basics of Latte Art

Imagine this: you need some caffeine to start your day, so you walk into your favorite coffee shop (K Brew of course) and order a latte. A few minutes later, the barista hands your cup over the counter. There’s no lid on it. You look down at the layer of foam at the top of your drink and what do you see but a beautiful work of art that makes you want to stare at your drink before you take that (glorious) first sip. 

Welcome to the world of latte art: where a cup of coffee is not only a beverage, but also a blank canvas. 

What Is Latte Art? 

Although latte art has risen to popularity on account of social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok—where impressive latte art photos and making-of videos abound—it may surprise you to learn that latte art was introduced into the coffee industry more than thirty years ago. 

We have a man by the name of David Schomer to thank for bringing latte art into the mainstream here in the United States after noticing how baristas in Italy were getting creative when they poured their lattes. Schomer, who currently co-owns Espresso Vivace, has been pursuing coffee-as-art over the past few decades, publishing books and even releasing a DVD titled “Caffe Latte Art.” He’s credited for developing patterns (such as the rosetta) and continuing to make espresso a beverage that pleases the palate and the eye. 

How Is Latte Art Made? 

The airy foam that’s produced when milk is finely steamed is called milk foam, or microfoam, and this is an essential latte art ingredient. 

The most widely used—and impressive—method of making latte art is “free pouring.” Once your espresso develops a visible creamy and brown surface, which many people refer to as the “crema,” you can combine the microfoam with the liquid. Sounds easy, but it takes lots of practice. 

Those who are well-versed in latte art emphasize the importance of achieving a wet, paint-like consistency with the microfoam—think velvet and silk, if you will. It’s also crucial not to allow the milk to heat past a certain temperature. 

As the foam rises to the top during a free pour, it creates a contrast of colors and makes way for a beautiful pattern to form. This method takes practice because the resulting pattern relies heavily on the proficiency of the pour—you can’t pour too fast or too slow, nor can you pour too far or too close. In true Goldilocks fashion, the pour has to be “just right.” 

Some baristas prefer not to pour, but to etch. Also regarded as a popular latte art-making method, etching involves pouring the microfoam directly atop the liquid and using a small stick to draw your chosen design, such as a heart or leaves. 

Latte art stencils are available to purchase. These allow you to create latte art in a less conventional manner. Chai latte fans, for example, could dust cinnamon on their chosen stencil, using the ground spice more so than the foam to create a design. Hot chocolate lovers could do the same, holding the stencil over their cup, sprinkling ground cocoa into the stencil, and then lifting the stencil to reveal a design. Some people elect to use stencils as a way to embellish the latte art they’ve made using the free pour or etching methods as discussed above. 

Can I Make Latte Art?

Of course! Although latte art is fleeting in that it doesn’t last longer than a few minutes on account of the foam disintegrating, the process of making—and mastering—latte art is fun and rewarding. If you admire latte art, we want to emphasize that you don’t need to be a professional barista to make it. All you need are some essential tools and ingredients and you’ll be well on your way.  Remember, latte art can also be made with hot chocolate, chai, or any other beverage made with steamed milk. Contrast between the milk and the other ingredients is key, though. 

Ingredients 

 - Milk: the creamier, the better. While we recommend full-fat dairy milk, you can also use almond, oat, or soy milk. Just be aware that if you use non-dairy milk, your microfoam may lack a bit in texture. 

- Coffee: the fresher the beans, the better your coffee will taste. (May we recommend our Signature Espresso?)

Tools

- Espresso machine: this machine comes complete with a steam wand, which is what is going to give your milk the foam you need to create your art. 

- Frother: if you don’t have the money to purchase a fancy espresso machine, or perhaps you have the money but not the counter space, buy a frother instead. This tool can produce a beautiful layer of microfoam in seconds. 

-Milk pitcher: aim for a narrow spout and wide base. You will want a pitcher that is about 2-3 times the size of the cup you are pouring into. 

- Liquid thermometer: this tool will help you avoid scalding your milk (opinion here varies, but start by getting the milk to 165F degrees, and adjust on future pours). 

- Toothpicks and/or pens: if you want to try your hand at etching, many people elect to use toothpicks, but you can snag a set of stainless steel latte art pens without breaking the bank.

- Syrups: consider dipping your toothpick or latte art pen in chocolate syrup so you can write words or experiment with additional designs.

- Stencils: there are so many stencil designs on the market—moons and stars; smiley faces; coffee beans; the list goes on!

- Spices/powders: if you go the stencil route, don’t forget to buy some spices and powders such as cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, and perhaps even cardamon, anise, and/or cloves.

Helpful Latte Art Making Tips 

Are you ready to try to make some latte art? Here are some tips to keep in mind: 

- Right before pouring, twirl the milk in the cup to incorporate the microfoam throughout the pitcher. Pop any surface bubbles by gently tapping the bottom of the pitcher on the counter. 

- When you pour your milk, make an effort to lift the pitcher away from the beverage’s surface so it merges beautifully with the crema. 

- To get the best results when steaming your milk, use cold milk straight from your refrigerator. 

- Whether you use an espresso machine or a frother, be sure to swirl your milk. You may swirl it vigorously in order to achieve that velvety, silky texture as mentioned above.

- When you’re ready to combine the espresso and the microfoam, pour at a steady speed and hold the cup at an angle. 

- Gently move the pitcher backwards and/or sideways to create your pattern.

Count On K Brew 

Here at K Brew, we’re proud of the hard work and dedication our Baristas give to their latte art. Stop by one of our four coffee shops in Knoxville so we can serve you one of these beautiful designs. 

Should you try your hand at latte art, the team here at K Brew wishes you luck. Remember that it takes practice and, therefore, patience. Once you get the hang of it, we think you’ll love the feeling of sipping on a latte that’s as delicious as it is beautiful.  

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