Latte art is fashionable, that’s for sure. Not many years ago, it was strange to see coffee bars decorated with a foam of milk “as the canons command,” and the pure expression of latte art sounded Chinese to most. Today, the landscape has changed, and a lot (to the delight of all consumers, fortunately).
There is no precise source, but everyone agrees that the Italian barista Luigi Lupi was the forerunner of the “decorated cappuccinos” technique, as he called it back in the 1990s. From then on, everything developed and precipitated at forced speeds all over the planet. However, Lupi himself confesses that he did not create the latte art technique: he already knew it beforehand and took care to develop it.
Today, there is no new barista who boasts that he hasn’t done anything with latte art and tried to bring a smile to his customers with a drawing or decoration on the fly.
There are several latte art techniques, and it’s a continually evolving area, so here we’ll talk about some of them.
- Free spill: the one you’ve seen in many YouTube videos and maybe in your favourite cafeteria.
- Etching: all the milk foam is poured over the coffee, without creating any drawing, as if it were a white canvas. Once there, with the help of sticks, punches or small knives, you can apply brown shapes and ingredients (chocolate syrup, cinnamon, cocoa powder) to create your drawings.
- With templates: like the previous one, but this time you place a model on top of the white foam canvas and sprinkle on it the ingredient of another colour you want. The template forms the drawing without you having to do anything else.
- Latte Art 3D: It is a much more advanced technique that consists of using volumes of milk foam and adding a variable height to your coffee. This pile of foam can be sculpted – again with the help of chopsticks – and decorated to create three-dimensional figures.
But before we start to delve into every latte art technique. Let’s start at the beginning:
What is latte art?
Let’s start with the principle: what is latte art? It’s a decorative technique that consists of decorating or enriching coffee preparations with milk foam, drawing different motifs on the surface of the latter. For this reason, there is also talk of making latte art with foam.
To make latte art is a creative technique, decorative, artistic in some cases, but that must not mask in any way the real task of the barista: to prepare a great coffee. That is to say: a good latte art should crown a great coffee, and not vice versa.
Latte art, as everyone knows, has a scientific explanation: the milk foam and the creamy layer of the espresso are two colloids (or colloidal systems), which are therefore mixed and allow the elaboration of these patterns (“drawings” in colloquial language).
In other words: latte art could not be made if we used other non-colloidal elements. For example: try making an art latte using regular milk (without emulsifying) or pouring milk foam on a single coffee, not espresso, that does not have foam. Can’t you reproduce any drawing?
How to make latte art at home (step by step)
Traditionally this has been a speciality reserved for experienced baristas or waiters. But anyone can be encouraged to do homemade latte art, or at least try it – if only to surprise your visitors!
What do you need to make latte art at home? Follow these steps for now:
- The first thing is to learn how to foam the milk correctly. Without a good milk foam, you won’t be able to make latte art.
- The second thing is to prepare a good espresso, as the canons command. In other words, your espresso must have a layer of cream dense enough for the milk foam to deposit on it with stability.
- After that, you must make sure you have the necessary instruments, at least to start with. To get to know them, have a look at the next section, but from the start, make a stainless-steel milk jug.
- And, of course, the milk frother. Here, as we are talking about latte art for beginners, we can be more flexible and use the vaporizer of the coffee maker that we have in the kitchen.
OK, you have the basics to start… you only have practice left. If you want to be on the safe side when making latte art at home, take note of these tips:
- Slightly shake the jug throughout the process. This way, you ensure that the foam will not separate from the milk (remember that they are elements with different density and will tend to move away if you do not remedy it).
- Use a large cup to get started. It’s easier. It may not be the one you use later to pour your coffee regularly, but it will be more comfortable to practice.
- The height and speed at which you serve milk are two primary factors. Let’s find out how they influence the result of your drawing:
- Height: determines the extent of the white layer of the cream. If you serve the foam from very high, the white surface over the coffee will end up being enormous. If, on the other hand, you pour the foam very close to the coffee, you will barely have any room for the manoeuvre to draw.
- Speed: tilting the jug too much or too little determines the rate at which the milk foam will fall on the coffee. If the foam subsides violently, it mixes with the coffee, and you can’t draw anything. If the foam falls too slowly, you won’t be able to control the movement to draw the shapes.
What do you need to make latte art?
Among the ingredients for making latte art are, of course, the accessories. Not everything is milk and cocoa. You need to use some tools to execute your creations correctly.
The minimum essential is a good stainless-steel milk jug, and from there are various accessories that can come in handy, or not, depending on how you want to work.
We are going to talk on this page only about the most important but remember that you can learn more in our guide on accessories for baristas.
The most basic materials for making latte art are stainless steel jugs, in which the milk is foamed directly and then served over the coffee. Only with a pitcher (and if you have enough skill to help the foam), you can already make latte art like a professional. It’s all about practice.
We’re not going to dwell on them much: we’ll refer you to the specialized guide we prepared at the time about stainless steel milk jugs.
Templates for latte art
There are two ways to make latte art at home. Either by drawing by hand (with the help of a jug and your skill on the right wrist). Or by going a step further and using latte art templates that are placed on top of the milk foam and allow you to “draw” on them, only by pouring some powdered ingredients such as cocoa or cinnamon to bring the drawings to life.
After all, latte art with templates be an aid; to simplify the work, you don’t have a lot of experience in these lids or just the opposite: as a challenge to take your creations to the next level.
The best templates for latte art are made of stainless steel: they are much more hygienic, fully washable and reusable. Think that the usual thing is that you use these insoles many times a day and on different coffees that later the consumers are going to drink, so it is not possible to be spared in cleanliness and hygiene. The plastic ones are much cheaper, but we recommend the metallic ones.
You can buy your latte art stencils lose individually, but the most practical is to purchase a kit of stencils with various designs. The only thing you must watch out for is that they have the right diameter (usually 8.5 cm) to use in the cups or glasses you typically use.
On other occasions, as you can see, the templates are sold together with cocktail shakers or sprinklers to serve the cocoa, cinnamon or the ingredient you want on top of them.
We have doubted whether to include them because when making drawings with latte art, the usual thing is that you emulsify the milk directly from your coffee maker.
In any case, if for any reason your coffee maker does not have a steamer lance, you can always make the foam with a separate milk frother. You can learn everything you need to know about these devices in the guide we have just linked to you.
A barista sprinkler is a full container where we add the ingredient that we are going to sprinkle on our coffee (or on the template latte art). We usually use cocoa powder, cinnamon or brown sugar – brown ingredients that allow us to draw on the white foam of milk – but they can be used for any element.
They are usually made of stainless steel and are also called cocktail shakers for baristas, but we understand that sprinkler is a much more appropriate name for the task it performs.
Tips to make latte art
All barista fans, with greater or lesser ability, handle a series of standard guidelines that beginners should know and put into practice as soon as possible. If you want to be on the safe side, sign up for these basic latte art tricks:
- Always use whole, cold milk (without reaching the freezing point) to make your lather.
- The spray nozzle you use for foaming must always be dry and purged. Any drop of water that gets into your milk jug can spoil the density you’re looking for.
- When you start pouring your milk, make sure that the jug is about 5 cm from the glass or cup. Then you will adjust it according to the pattern you are going to draw.
- When you are starting with these techniques, focus on getting a continuous stream of milk. No stops. Then try to master the heights and angles.
- Ideally, start the pouring at low speed, then slightly accelerate the milk drop.
- Always pour the milk into the centre of the cup. If you do it close to the edge, you can spoil the drawing.
How to make 3D latte art
3D latte art commonly refers to two very different aspects of each other. The first and most widespread is the production of three-dimensional figures (not mere drawings) giving volume to milk foam. In other words, adding the height dimension to traditional latte art, in Japan, they are true coffee fans with 3D latte art!
Once you shape the three-dimensional milk foam, as if it were a sculpture, you end up decorating or refining it with techniques more typical of 2D latte art (applying touches of colour with chocolate, cinnamon or other food colourants).
For this, it is necessary that the milk foam is something denser than usual (so that it does not fall at the first change) and that your ability allows you to work quickly to sculpt it. You only have a few seconds.
The results, usually from animals or cartoon characters, are as surprising as these:
Secondly, we have latte art with 3D printers. This is nothing more than a sophistication that seeks to recreate photographs or any design precisely on the coffee or the milk in this case.
We cannot consider 3D latte art a barista technique because such precision is impossible to achieve with manual methods. Instead, latte printers are used.
Haven’t you ever seen them before? They are machines capable of scanning in real-time any object or face in front of you and reproducing it in a few seconds on a cup of coffee. The results are amazing, and the technology is continually evolving.
We are not going to extend much on the operation of these apparatuses since we already dedicated an extensive guide to him at the time. You can consult it here: coffee printers.
You can make lovely coffees with them!
How to make latte art without a machine
When we make this query, we usually refer to foaming milk without the need for a specialized apparatus for it. Because once we have the emulsified liquid, the process of drawing latte art is the same all the time, and it is executed in a handcrafted way.
To foam milk without a machine, we refer you to our guide on how to foam milk correctly. There we dedicate a specific section to this technique.
It is a matter of using a manual milk frother, or enclosing the milk in an airtight jug, shake it well for a few seconds, and then heat it in the microwave. However, the quality of the resulting foam may not be the same as if you use the steamer in your coffee maker, as required by law. But to make an art latte without the machine, if you are starting and you want to practice, it will be enough for you.
Latte art with colours
Making rainbow latte art is more straightforward than it sounds. However, you must take care of some details that you don’t usually notice at first glance.
The first thing we’ll see is how to colour the milk for this latte art. It’s straightforward: you buy the food colourants (totally stale, of course) you want and throw them on the milk so that it takes the desired colour.
So far, so good, right?
OK. What not many people know is that the way you apply the colour to the milk (in the jug, before serving it) is fundamental and plays a determining role in the result. The shades of the liquid are not going to fall on the coffee in the same way, depending on:
- If you have used one or more colours in the milk.
- If you have used several, in what order they have been applied.
- If you have stirred the milk (or slightly aroused the jug) after pouring the colours, or not.
- If you serve the coloured milk in the cup directly over the coffee (brown background) or a previous layer of milk foam (white background).
As you can see, there are several factors, and ultimately the barista doesn’t have 100% total control over how the drawing on the coffee is going to come out (as it does when you make an art latte with conventional white milk foam).
In this video, you can see different possibilities and their effects:
So, if you want to know how to make latte art with colours, the best advice is to practice and practice. You must know how to solve situations on the fly and coordinate your drawing as you observe how the milk falls and how the colours look. It is complicated to establish predefined formulas in this case. As a general guideline, if you are going to use several different colours, it is better to apply them horizontally on the milk (as if they were stripes of colours parallel to each other).
Another essential aspect to keep in mind is which food colourants to use for latte art. Not all are the same: the best thing is to try different brands (they are usually inexpensive) and stay with those that have a more suitable texture for your preparations. And, of course, do not modify either the taste or the initial density of your milk foam. Here you can see some examples on Amazon:
In conclusion: a beneficial technique that produces surprising results but is risky and that does not contribute anything to a good espresso (however, it can ruin it if the design goes wrong). So, practice to the max before doing live latte art!