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What Is Latte Art?

Learn what latte art is, how it began, and what makes a good latte art design in this Howcast video series about coffee art.


No one really knows where it actually got started. Conceivably, it happened and began in Italy. It really gained prominence in the U.S. through David Schomer, from Espresso Vivace in Seattle. The late 80's/early 90's was when he first started discovering it and really getting into it, and began teaching latte art classes, and then published a book called "Café Latte Art," which really kind of began this movement that we see now.

It's more or less assumed that if you're producing specialty coffee, and doing a really good job on your bar, you will be pouring latte art. That really started, again, with Espresso Vivace, with David Schomer in the early 90's, at least in America. Of course, several people along the way have put their own stamps on it. People like Chris Deferio, a couple of decades later came along, and started doing really cool stuff. And later, Christopher Nicely, people like that have really started taking it in all new directions.

It has evolved into a much different thing than it was when it began. It began as a very basic way to intentionally mix espresso with milk in a way that was recognizable, maybe in a heart or a dot. Now we can just do so much. Everything is still the combination of a heart, a leaf, or a dot. But arranging them in different ways, really enables us to make some very intricate, very interesting designs in coffee.

There are several objective quality markers in latte art, especially as judged in latte art competitions. You want to see a crisp, white design against a dark brown background. If it's a design that should be symmetrical, it should be centered and symmetrical. We'll demonstrate some asymmetrical designs later on today.

But if it's a heart or a rosseta or a tulip these are designs that are made to be symmetrical to themselves and symmetrical in the cup, so you want to see a lot of that. Again, that crisp, white against dark brown. You don't want to see any beige. You don't want to see any what we would call ghosting, would be not quite getting the design in there, the way you want to.

And of course, there are no latte artists. We are barista's, so as such this means that we're creating delicious coffee, and we're serving it very quickly to customers who came to get a drink, and usually to leave. If a design takes a very long amount of time, you're not doing your job as a barista, as well as you could be, so speed is a factor. If it takes a very long time to produce something, that means that someone has waited a long time to get that very beautiful design, but maybe the drink itself might not be as delicious as it could have been.

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