Latte Art 101: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Latte Art refers to the techniques used by baristas to create designs, ranging from realistic drawings to geometric shapes, on the surface of a drink, mainly coffee.

Although it can also be made on other beverages such as hot chocolate, it is most commonly done using freshly steamed milk in a metal pitcher, frothed with a steam wand from an espresso machine.

The frothed milk is poured into the coffee, resulting in a unique design in the final cup served to the customer. However, this is just the beginning, as there are several techniques to create Latte Art.

Interestingly, this process is known by the same name worldwide and originated from combining the Italian word for milk, “latte,” and the English word for art, “art.” This translates to “making art with milk,” reflecting the mixed origin of Latte Art techniques.

Of course, Latte Art can only be done with properly frothed milk, and it can only be achieved in a latte – without properly steamed milk, there can be no Latte Art.

But how did the idea of Latte Art come about?

Latte Art emerged simultaneously in the minds of two passionate coffee baristas in the 1980s – Luigi Lupi from Italy and David Schomer from the United States (source).

Unbeknownst to each other, they began decorating cappuccinos (in the case of Lupi) and espresso (in the case of Schomer) with designs and patterns.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that Lupi and Schomer discovered each other’s work. After refining his Latte Art technique, Lupi even produced a series of instructional videos for baristas called “Decorated Cappuccinos” in 1998.

With the advent of the internet, Schomer, who had already published a book on the subject, began to publish video courses online under the name “Latte Art”.

Thus, Schomer is credited with inventing the name “Latte Art”. In a beautiful example of coffee brings people together, Lupi and Schomer exchanged audiovisual material to improve their techniques rather than arguing over who invented Latte Art.

And with this heartwarming story, the discipline of Latte Art for baristas was born, with both Lupi and Schomer considered its co-founders.

The evolution of Latte Art techniques

Latte art is an art form that has evolved over time, with new techniques emerging to create stunning designs on the surface of a latte.

The free-pouring technique

The technique of free pouring is the foundation of latte art, and it involves pouring steamed milk from a jug into a shot of espresso to create designs such as hearts, rosettas, and leaves.

The etching technique

The etching technique is a more sophisticated version of free pouring, where baristas use tools such as brushes, stencils, and cocoa powder to create intricate designs. This method allows the barista to unleash their inner artist and create unique, eye-catching designs.

The fudge technique

Another technique is the fudge, which involves pouring chocolate sauce or syrup onto a latte to create patterns or write words. Similar to etching, fudging requires the use of stencils and a steady hand to create beautiful designs.

➡️ However, it is essential to remember that the quality of the coffee is paramount, and the beauty of the latte art should never outweigh the taste and aroma of the coffee.

While elaborate latte art designs may impress in a competition setting, it is crucial to remember that customers come to a coffee shop for coffee, not just for the beautiful designs on their latte.

In conclusion, latte art is a beautiful and creative way to add an artistic touch to coffee, but it should never overshadow the quality of the coffee itself.

The three keys of Latte Art

Every barista must master three elements if they want to dominate latte art. Without them, creativity and artistic sensitivity will not be of much use. If you are interested in the technique, take note.

1. The froth One of the secrets of latte art is the transformation of milk into an emulsion or froth. A micro-foam texture is ideal for making designs on the coffee. Imagine that the espresso is the canvas, and the foam is the brush and material to paint.

To achieve a perfect froth, you need to control the temperature of the milk (it is recommended to have a thermometer), a stainless steel pitcher, and the espresso machine’s steam wand.

2. The espresso: Once the milk is frothed, it is the turn of the coffee. Remember the guidelines for making a good coffee. The perfect emulsion results from selecting a good variety, natural roasting, fine grinding, and quality water.

3. The technique: There are two ways to achieve designs with milk foam. The most commonly used is latte art, or free pouring, and consists of pouring the milk over the cup with the espresso so that the designs are created. To perform the technique correctly, four basic elements must be taken into account:

  • Position: It is essential to pour the milk onto the coffee in the central part of the cup. Pouring it on the sides can cause the structure and consistency of the foam to be lost.
  • Height: A specific width and height must be achieved to pour the milk and its foam into the espresso. In the first case, think of the width of a shoelace; in the second, about 5 cm above the coffee.
  • Flow: The milk’s fall must be slow and smooth to prevent the foam layer from breaking.
  • Control: You have control over the milk by mastering the three previous elements. After that, there is nothing left to do but practice consistently.

What do you need to do Latte Art?

To make Latte Art, you will need the following elements:

  • Coffee: You will need an espresso or a coffee with milk to make the base of your latte art.
  • Milk: Milk is a crucial element for making latte art. It needs to be well steamed and with the appropriate texture to create the base for the design.
  • A coffee machine: An espresso machine is necessary to make the coffee base. You will also need a steam wand to heat and steam the milk.
  • A milk jug: A milk jug is necessary to steam and texture the milk.
  • Drawing tools: To make designs in your coffee, you will need tools to draw on the surface of the milk. You can use tools such as toothpicks, knives or drawing pencils.
  • Creativity: Creativity is essential to make unique and original designs.
  • Practice: Latte art is a skill that develops with practice. You must dedicate time and effort to improving your skills and creating impressive designs.

In summary, you will need coffee, milk, a coffee machine, a milk jug, drawing tools, creativity and practice to make latte art.