BREWING GUIDE: LATTE ART
Pouring latte art is like dunking a basketball. Tremendously awesome, but not totally necessary.
To be a professional baller (and a professional barista) means spending years honing your craft, obsessing over fundamentals, practicing over and over again the essentials: passing, dribbling, shooting, defense. Only when you've really mastered the fundamentals of hoops does it make sense to try to jump up there and slam one home. Without basic skills, a slam dunk is all flash and no substance.
Ballin' behind the bar is no different. Before tomahawk-jamming a five-tiered tulip, you've got to master the basics of espresso: grinding, dosing, tamping, and extracting. Without delicious espresso, a perfectly-symmetrical heart doesn't taste very loving.
Having said that, dunking a basketball--and pouring many-tiered tulips--is really, really cool.
As baristas, we want to give our customers a great experience. Just like basketball players putting on a show for the fans, we want to wow our "fans" with a gorgeous visual experience. Throwing down a pristine rosetta shows our talent, care, and attention to detail.
But that's enough talk. Let's get out on the court--er, espresso bar.
PREPARE AND STEAM MILK
Prep milk pitcher. For a ten-ounce latte (standard size), fill milk up to about a pinky’s width from nozzle of pitcher. Steam milk while shot is extracting. (Once in a blue moon you'll have to stop your shot and turn off the steam wand at the exact same moment which for some reason causes a neurological freak-out and you might spill scalding milk all over your pants.) Steam milk to 140 degrees, and so that it has the texture of wet paint.
While, the shot is pulling, begin steaming your milk.
Aerate your milk (that high-pitched hissing sound) until the temperature of the milk is the same as the temperature of your hand (your hand will be holding the pitcher, so you'll be able to feel it). Once your milk/hand temperature have evened, submerge the steam wand a couple of inches below the milk's surface, creating a whirlpool motion--this gives the milk necessary texture. When the pitcher is almost too hot to touch--that's 140 degrees.
SWIRL AND TAP
Swirl milk in pitcher to smooth out textures. Knock mug and pitcher against counter to remove bubbles. Recite soothing incantation, maybe a verse from Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet. Hold the cup and the pitcher parallel and perpendicular to each other.
You should hold the pitcher and the mug on the same horizontal plane (parallel). The nozzle of the pitcher should point straight through the center of the mug (perpendicular).
CREATE A BASE
Tilt cup 20 degrees toward the pitcher. Begin pour with high, thin stream. You want the milk to “dive” beneath the surface of the espresso. Too forceful and the milk will “wash out” the espresso--too thin and the design will be all bubbly. Continuing this dunk analogy, you are Michael Jordan about to take off from the foul line.
The infinite possibilities of a blank canvas!
Begin the pour with a thin, high stream. Don't want to disrupt that beautiful crema.
Still with the thin, high stream. You'll want to keep at this until your cup is about half-full (or half-empty?).
The cup is almost half-full, as you are wanting to build a nice base for your art.
When the cup is about half-full, "dive" down into the crema, lowering the spout of your pitcher so that it is very nearly touching the liquid. This close-to-the-liquid pouring creates a white dot in the drink (this white dot is your friend).
Dive into the center of the liquid, with the nozzle of the pitcher nearly touching the liquid. Seriously, get close to that liquid. Closer than you think.
A white dot will begin to appear. This white dot is the base of all latte art designs.
To pour a heart, continue pouring into the center of this dot until drink is almost full. For added texture and a wider heart, slowly wiggle pitcher from side to side. When the cup is nearly full, raise your pitcher up and pour a thin, high stream once again (just like at the start). “Pull through” (towards the thumb of your mug hand) the design to sculpt the finish. This is for style points--you better stick the landing. (We're mixing metaphors here but latte art is also like gymnastics.)
To pour a tulip, create your white dot--then stop pouring. Step away from the latte. Not really. Just pull your pitcher away from the liquid for a second.
Then, right behind the first white dot you just made, dive back into the liquid, creating another white dot. Stop again.
Create another white dot. And so forth. You could go on making little white dots but eventually the drink would overflow and spill everywhere, so finally, you'll make a heart out of your last white dot, and finish it off just like before: by raising your pitcher, and pulling through the middle of the design. This will make those white dots look like leaves, and will make you look like a slam-dunkin' superstar.
Raise your pitcher and, just like at the beginning, finish the pour with a thin, high stream, cutting the design in half, creating symmetrical leaves.
When Michael Jordan was a freshman in high school, he was really terrible at pouring latte art. But with much practice and determination, he became the best NBA basketball player of all time.
Be like Mike. Practice.