Sitting down at your favourite coffee place and having just received your piccolo latte, you can’t help but stare at the pretty design on top of your drink. It makes you wonder how much technical skill one needs to have to create such art.

Latte art was developed in Seattle, in the late 1980s and widely popularised by the owner of Espresso Vivace, David Schomer. The popular rosette pattern was developed by Schomer in 1992, which was inspired by a photograph he once saw at a cafe in Italy.

Technique Of Latte Art

What is needed for latte art is simply not just coffee and milk, but espresso with crema and microfoam. It’s the microfoam which does the latte art trick. Baristas add steam to the milk which rapidly heats the physical attributes of the milk and becomes denatured. So when pouring the milk into the espresso, it’s the milk that goes in first which separates the foam from the liquid and finishes off with the foam design on top.

There are two main styles of latte art: free pouring and etching.

Free Pouring

Free pouring is a more common technique to practice in cafés as it doesn’t take long to prepare. Regardless of how relatively quick it is to make latte art, it can go from art to a regular cup of joe without the right experience, attitude and techniques.

It is difficult to master as the barista will need to know how to carefully manipulate the flow, height and angle of the milk pour. With the precise movements of the hand, your coffee will look as though Van Gogh was your barista.

Etching

Etching, on the other hand, is a style where the barista draws on the surface of the finished drink with external tools, normally a coffee-stirrer. Famous etching patterns can range from crosshatching, to animals, to flowers. Generally etched latte has a shorter lifespan than free pouring latte art as the foam dissolves into the latte more quickly.

However, many skilled baristas think it’s a hassle to produce art by etching as they think it serves only for a cosmetic finish that can be made to cover up a badly made coffee.

3D Latte Art

If you’re impressed so far, be prepared to be blown away by 3D latte art. A barista named Kazuki Yamamoto went viral last year because of his 3D designs of an octopus, cats and even a giraffe! By creating the right consistency of the milk foam, Yamamoto is able to sculpt the 3D foam on top of the coffee mug, sometimes even outside the mug and sometimes making the coffee foam climb out of one cup and reach for another. He is literally thinking outside the box (in this case, cup).

So the next time you see your cup of coffee that’s designed intricately with latte art, don’t be shy to give the barista your compliments. It certainly takes a great amount of technical precision to create such a fantastic piece of artwork. And your praises will definitely make their day.