Confessions of a Home Barista: Latte Art

Thursday, 14 March, 2013
by Iain

If I'm honest, I'd say it's a showing off thing more than anything else. People are impressed if you can free-pour good latte art. I know I am. And I'm confident most of you are too. It's a visual promise of the amazing coffee to come. When friends come over, you want to wow them. That's why we decorate our homes, buy art for the walls and invest time and money in making the experience memorable for our guests. We want them to have a good time and leave feeling happy. 

These are my attempts. I got this Nuova Simonelli Oscar and Grinter grinder combo in December - so it's been almost 3 months, and I'm making about 3 or 4 coffee's a day, (not nearly enough!) depending who's around the house or visiting. The espresso's are always pretty good - it's the milk that's tricky. Sneaky, troublesome, temperamental milk.

in the kitchen with my best friend, Oscar. Best shots ever. Shots of espresso, not gunshots. Eish.

These were my first attempts in December. Overfrothed blobs to start, but got a little better with practice, and a little hand wiggling!

These were from January, I started to get better milk consistency and the shapes even started to look less like blobs and more like flower-thingys.

Ah, these were fun! Fleur de Lis style. Except the last one. What is that?

By Feb, I was aiming for a rosetta. You can see the improvement, but I'm not gonna be entering any latte art competitions quite yet!

  My most recent ones...getting some heart-like patterns by pouring, stopping and lifting - bit of a lottery, but hey, that's the fun part.

It takes a huge amount of time to be able to learn how to steam and stretch milk perfectly - to get that silky, smooth micro textured gloriousness in your milk jug. Social scientist, Malcolm Gladwell was right about the 10 000 hours thing - and I'm on about 20 hours, so in my very humble opinion, it's a pretty decent indicator that if someone is free-pouring triple tulips into your cappuccino, then they know what they're doing. When you've spent that much time pouring - you also generally know a bit about the espresso side of things, so it should be an above average cup of coffee.

Yes, yes, we've all had that experience, of being served an incredible looking cup, with a perfect rosetta, a heart or a tulip but it tastes revolting as soon as the espresso touches your lips - it happens. My point is that it's something for all us home baristas and wanna-be coffee geeks to aspire to. It makes us look good, and feel good about our progress.

To start with (I'm putting this disclaimer upfront!) I usually drink cortados in small cups, and the steam wand is quite short on the Oscar, so I have the smallest of the milk jugs and the smallest cups, so it's quite difficult to get the right consistency of milk before it heats up too much in the jug, and when pouring,  to move the milk and foam around the cup exactly like it does in cafe cappuccino cups - but that's just my "bad workman blames his tools" excuse! So there!

Seriously - I'm having a lot of fun learning this, and if anything, it makes me appreciate good latte art even more when I'm out and about in the cafe's. Hopefully one day soon my rosettas will look more like rosetta than like creepy Blair Witch project symbols in the forest.

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