If you are a latte or cappuccino drinker, perhaps you sometimes notice little designs carved into the espresso at the top of your drink. These designs, called “latte art” often take the form of a rosette (leafy-looking thing), or a heart. There are some good pictures of these at www.latteart.org poured by 20year barista and coffee sommelier in Piacenza Italy, Luigi Lupi. Pouring latte art is difficult. The espresso must be prepared and extracted near perfectly and with thick crema. The milk must be steamed to a creamy and velvety texture, with no foam bubbles to big. The milk must be poured in a precision fashion, and good timing is essential (as espresso crema degrades in seconds, and milk and milk foam can be significantly altered in seconds). Latte art is more than a nice presentation, it shows that the drink was prepared to the utmost quality and by a highly skilled barista. The velvety milk and pouring fashion incorporate the espresso into the milk wonderfully, while giving it a silky mouthfeel. The incorporation of the espresso into the milk is important because dispersing the espresso throughout the milk slows its degradation and also ensures that the recipient won’t get a mouthful of flavorless milk-foam with one sip, and get a sip of flat hot coffee-milk with the next, while still preserving the potential to maximizing the amount of foam (which gives the drink its silky mouthfeel). Large foam, which cannot be used for latte art, also wastes taste bud space while not contributing much to the mouthfeel. However microfoam, used for latte art, maximizes the contact area of the drink with the tongue while providing a creamy mouthfeel.
Now, while much of the previous is fact, that this necessarily results in a better latte or cappuccino, is somewhat opinion. There are other schools of thought that say I’m wrong, whether they disagree that the taste & texture is any better, or because latte art may go against an old traditional ideal. We teach latte art at Muggswigz, and Lindsey is becoming extremely adept at it (her rosettes surpass mine), Matt is beginning to get the hang of it, and I’m experimenting with new designs. It probably takes most people a year or so of diligent practice to be able to consistently pour latte art, and regardless of whether it results in a better beverage or not, it makes obvious that the barista has knowledge, artisanship, and passion for their profession.