Over the years since we began selling and leasing commercial coffee machines to coffee shops and mobile coffee vans around the UK, we’ve found that coffee shop owners pretty much fall into two camps. Those who think latte art is all froth and no substance, and those who’ll put in the hours of steady-hand practice to achieve pitcher-to-cup perfection. But Christmas is coming, and if there’s one time of year when your customers might appreciate the extra effort, it’s now. If you’re one of those people reluctant to risk ruining a good coffee with awful artwork, we’ve got some top tips for festive latte art, and some of them require very little skill at all.
We three kings of coffee art are
- Number one is the real deal. The part baristas can get a little snobbish about. Latte or cappuccino art formed of foam, with no cheats, tools or extra ingredients.
- Number two, initially pooh-poohed before finally appearing as a competition category at barista competitions, is latte etching.
- Number three is the out-and-out latte art cheat. So easy you could literally do it with your eyes shut. Coffee art stencils.
Festive latte art from foam
If you’re not already firmly familiar with foam art, you may find be reluctant to start with the real deal so near to Christmas. If you don’t have quiet times of day to follow the steps, skip to the other two methods. Otherwise, head over to YouTube to search out some incredible latte art tutorials. Before you press play, here’s what you need to have ready:
- A clean, cold milk pitcher – store it in the fridge as this gives you more time to work with the milk
- A milk thermometer. You need to aerate the milk to between 30°C and 40°C, and steam it to no higher than 65°C or 70°C at a push.
- Milk, stored at around 4°C.
- A well-purged steam wand with good, consistent pressure.
The texture of your milk is critical. It needs to be smooth – you need to submerge the wand, or the consistency will be wrong because the milk will separate.
The pour is all about angles, speed and distance. Tilt the cup – ideally one with a round bottom – slightly away from you. Start off around 5cm from the rim of your cup, pouring steadily into the centre. Start slow, too, but speeding slightly as you bring the cup closer to the milk pitcher. As you probably know, the first three latte art designs baristas learn are the heart, the tulip and the rosetta. And guess which festive icon can easily be created with a marginal alteration in the rosetta pouring technique? The Christmas tree. Hello Instagram…
Latte art etching
Dubbed cheating by latte art purists, etching is the practice of drawing your latte foam art. Why cheating? Because it’s easy. Once again, fundamental to success is the quality of your foam (although you aim for the perfectly textured coffee even without art, right?). It’s a simple matter of using a thin tool – even the tip of the milk thermometer, when you’re starting out – to draw in the foam. What brings it to life is syrup. Squeeze three thin rings of syrup into your poured latte – one close to the diameter of the cup rim; the second inside the first, about a third of the way towards the centre; and the final circle inside your second circle, small and close to the centre. Then, take your milk thermometer and draw it across the surface from the outer ring to the centre. You’ll pull the colour of the sauce through the foam. Repeat four or five times at regular intervals around the cup, and what you’ll have drawn will resemble a snowflake. Fitting, eh? Again, searching the internet and YouTube in particular will give you stacks of inspiration and help you perfect your technique.
Coffee art stencils
What coffee toppings and sprinklings do you have behind the counter? Cinnamon, nutmeg and chocolate are the likeliest candidates. Time to put them to good use. And all you need is a pair of sharp scissors and some relatively resilient paper. Hold your sheet of paper over each size of coffee mug and takeaway cup you provide, and draw a circle for each. Within each circle, draw and then cut out your festive artwork. Christmas trees, snowflakes, snowmen, Father Christmas, reindeer… they’re all fair game. With the necessary cuts made, simply sprinkle the coffee topping onto that beautifully frothy cappuccino, through the paper stencil. Easy as that. Instantly Instagram-worthy coffee art.
The big idea behind latte foam art isn’t to show off. It’s to stand out. It’s to demonstrate care and love for what you do. It’s to make customers feel you’ve made an effort. It’s to give them a reason to share your creations on their own social media channels. It’s to give you the opportunity to share what you do with a wider audience. Prepare, practice, perfect and pin up your pictures on your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages; instant, shareable content that attracts attention and, we hope, custom.