Coffee art used to be something that you only saw in books or on TV commercials but not any more. Good baristas are making it a part of everyday coffee-making. But before you start moaning and saying that you don't want art on the top of your coffee at the expense of speed and taste, think again. Your barista should be pumping out fantastic coffees at speed and still doing coffee art, if they've been trained properly.
There are basically two different techniques for creating coffee art. The first is pouring the coffee carefully from the beginning and using a thermometer or toothpick after the pour to design the shape of your choice. You have to ensure that you don't pour your latte too quickly otherwise you will dissipate the crema or at least stain it, which means that you won't have that perfect brown colour to play off against the white of your creamy milk to create the patterns. The second technique for creating coffee art is achieved by free-pouring (ie pouring designs straight from the jug without the aid of an instrument after the pour). Free-pouring is often considered the holy grail of coffee-making but in my opinion you are restricted in the number of patterns you can achieve by employing this method. Sure, your fancy hearts and leaves are impressive, but we can create an infinite number of patterns using the first technique spoken of above.
Remember, too, that coffee art is not something that is just confined to lattes any more. Good cafés should be doing artwork on short and long macchiatos as well. Top-notch cafés also decorate the top of their cappuccinos, hot chocolates and mochas simply by using the chocolate sprinkles in an inventive way rather than just dumping a mass of chocolate powder on top of the froth. You can buy a chocolate stencil kit from catering/homeware shops and these work a treat. The trick is using them in interesting ways. For example, create a chocolate star towards the top of the froth on your cappuccino using a star stencil and then draw a few straight lines leading up to the star with your chocolate shaker (just move your wrist back and forth in the same straight line) and you get a shooting star!
It helps to have a creative streak but given a few lessons, most baristas can create their own fantastic signature patterns. I'd rather drink a coffee that someone has put some effort into rather than a boring coffee any day!
Matthew Gee and brother David Gee run Barista Basics Coffee Academy in Artarmon, Sydney. Their purpose-built facility focuses on teaching people how to use commercial espresso machines and grinders as well as domestic coffee machines. They have just written a book on coffee entitled bean there, drunk that... and several instructional videos including one entitled Latte Art and Presentation Techniques. They also run a wholesale coffee company and own an espresso bar in Brisbane. web: www.baristabasics.com.au ph: 1300 366 218
© & ™2004 Matthew Gee and David Gee
No part of this article may be reproduced without the express permission of the authors