Barista art, also known as latte art, is best defined as creating a drawing, shape or picture on the top layer of a coffee beverage. This traditionally occurs with a latte, which is comprised of espresso and steamed milk. The mixture of white milk and black coffee allows for a sepia-toned canvas that baristas, or coffee servers, can create images on with various hues of brown, creating intricate pictures complete with shading.
Anyone who's ordered a latte at a coffee shop likely knows a little bit about barista art. With the foam atop your coffee, baristas are able to make small designs like leaves, plants or hearts. But it's not just these simple shapes that are possible with your foam – you can really create almost anything.
Rather than just being a way to entertain customers before they start drinking their beverage, barista art has become its own art form, complete with masters and competitions. Whether you're an employee at a coffee shop or just a dedicated coffee drinker who likes to get your caffeine in style before your shift, here's some interesting information about the background of barista art and how you can create some yourself.
How barista art came to your coffee shop
Although barista art may just seem like the latest coffee-related trend at your local shop, the truth is that latte art really is nothing new. Italians have long been enjoying espresso and lattes. As long as people have been drinking lattes, there have been artists making specialty designs on top. In fact, barista art is practiced in some degree in coffee shops all over the world.
In the U.S., David Schomer, owner of Seattle's independent coffee shop Vivace, brought this art form to the public. MSNBC reported on Schomer's love for espresso and quality coffee in 2003, when the news source also pointed to his introduction of this Italian art form to the U.S. At the time, few others made coffee in a way that could create images on top of the foam.
"In Italy, these drinkable designs have a half-century-old history, but they are rarely replicated on these shores – in part because the necessary milk texture is nothing like the aerated foam at your local coffee bar. Vivace employees steam up a dense, rich concoction that contains air but almost no bubbles. When properly prepared, the top of the mixture is so smooth it actually shines," MSNBC explained.
Schomer explained that the texture of the images added to the beverage's taste as well as its aesthetic appeal.
Since 2003, barista art has expanded in the U.S. and is practiced by many coffee gurus and enthusiasts. Websites like BaristaJam.com encourage professional and amateur baristas to upload photos of their latte art on Instagram to share with fellow coffee lovers.
One barista, Michael Breach, has become famous for creating such intricate designs that they look exactly like people. He used to work the night shift at a coffee shop where business was slow. This gave him time to practice and perfect his artwork, his website explained. He now makes portraits and intricate pictures at special events and has appeared on a variety of television programs displaying his work, such as "Good Morning America" and "The Chew." In early 2014, he did a series of pictures that showed images representing the Oscar-nominated films.
Create your own
Although you may not be able to create a lifelike Leonardo DiCappuccino like Breach does, there are simple techniques that can allow you to make your own barista art.
Baristas all agree that milk is the key to making good latte art. Food Service Warehouse explained what exactly you should look for when starting a piece of drinkable art.
"You want to make sure that your milk has been properly prepared for making designs atop the latte," the food service advice website explained. "The milk foam used for latte art has a slightly different texture than the milk foam that you see atop a cappuccino. It must be made of small, evenly sized bubbles and should have a velvety looking texture. It should also have a slight sheen to it. The method of getting this texture in the milk is often referred to as "stretching" the milk, rather than steaming or foaming."
To stretch your milk, steam cold milk, swirl the steamed milk before using and hit the bottom of the pitcher if you spot large bubbles.
The rest of a design comes down to how you pour the milk into the cup. Being slow, steady and practicing are all key – you won't get it your first time. For example, the leaf, or rosetta, that's the most common involves pouring milk slowly while zigzagging it to create the lines, then quickly bring it across to make the middle line. When you get more advanced you can use a toothpick to make small designs like Breach does with his portraits.
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