You think that just because your barista at your favourite coffee shop can create amazing latte foam art designs means it’s something pretty easy? If you’ve ever actually tried to make latte art, you’d know after making a big mess just how skilled your barista is and how easy they make it seem.
If you’re a huge fan of lattes, you probably know how expensive they can be. Not only is it much cheaper to make your own, it is something you can learn with some practice and simple tips and tricks. A latte is just espresso mixed with steamed milk, which ultimately turns into a foamy delicious heaven.
Every step of the process is important including the drawing of espresso and steaming the milk. Master the basic procedure and then start creating your own designs. Latte experts claim that if you get two things right, you can get that perfect cup of latte. These key ingredients are a fresh shot of espresso with an adequate amount of crema and properly textured steamed milk. You can’t simply add regular milk to latte because there’s some incredible science behind it.
What you’ll need is an espresso machine with a commercial grade milk steaming wand, a milk frothing pitcher, milk of your choice, espresso and a rounded cup.
The Fascinating Foam
Your cup of latte is made with steamed milk. Steamed milk has ‘microfoam’ that makes it sweet and suitable for creating designs. Steaming the milk denatures it which means it alters the physical properties of the milk. The fat and sugars in the milk break down into smaller, simpler sugars making the milk sweeter.
If you want to create a foamy steamed milk, here’s how to do it right:
- Take your milk frothing pitcher and fill it with milk approximately to the bottom of the spout and then turn on the wand.
- Put the steaming wand at the bottom of the pitcher and raise it gradually to the tip of the milk. When the milk starts to rise, lower the pitcher so that the steam wand stays about 1 cm away from the tip of the milk.
- Tilting the pitcher towards yourself will help you see inside. Let the milk swirl evenly. Not submerging the wand at the right place will cause the steamed milk and the foam to form as two distinct layers, which makes latte art more difficult.
- When the milk reaches a temperature of 140°F–180°F, turn off the steaming wand. Skilled baristas simply detect the temperature with touch but you may want to use a clip-in thermometer for better accuracy.
- Some baristas believe in keeping the pitcher low and raising it up when it becomes warmer, so as to swirl deeper in the pitcher.
- After taking out the wand, tap the pitcher firmly on a counter to disperse any large bubbles. This will help you get a thicker foam.
- Finally, take the pitcher and swirl it with your hand round and round until it appears to be consistently thick. This will help you make a consistently thick latte.
That Shining Shot of Espresso
Grind your espresso using a burr grinder for extra freshness, as it lets you control how coarse/fine you want the grind to be. A good shot of espresso should have a little cream in it along with the coffee flavor. Here are a few tips to help you pull that perfect shot:
- A perfect shot emerges when pulled within 21-24 seconds. It tends to be sweeter when pulled in this duration. Remember to put 7 to 8 grams of ground espresso in every shot you make.
- The amount of force applied when tamping down on the espresso grounds has a huge impact on the extraction time. When using a portafilter, apply 30 to 40 lbs of pressure to tamp down. Check how much pressure you apply by first pressing down on a bathroom scale to determine your force. On an average, it is around as much force as you can manage to apply with one hand.
- Now pour your espresso shot into a round mug or any container that is wider at the mouth. Always make sure you run those shots as soon as you’ve foamed your milk. Don’t leave it for more than 10 seconds before adding milk.
Perfect the Pouring
This skill requiring step takes practice, but be patient because after messing up a lot of cups you’ll get the hang of it. Latte art is usually done in a rounded bowl-shaped cup. You pour the espresso into the bottom of the cup and then pour in the steamed milk and swirl it to create designs.
The pouring technique is all about speed, height, position, and flow when pouring your steamed milk. Here are a few tips:
- To make the base, pour in ⅓ of the milk with your pitcher’s spout being 6–10 cm over the cup. Now move the milk stream back and forth in a line so that you get an evenly colored, light brown base of milk on which you can create the design.
- To make the design lower the pitcher’s spout, keeping it right above the cup. Now with a back and forth motion quickly pour the second ⅓ of milk. Move the stream from high to low and pour at a steady speed.
- This means that you pour it high until the cup is nearly half full, and then lower the pour when making the design so it’s close to the crema.
- Make sure you hold the cup tilted at an angle towards you and pour steadily. Pouring too fast could break the crema while pouring too slow can take the foam in deeper.
This is how you can make some basic latte art. Once you master this technique, move onto creative designs like hearts and rosetta.
Latte art designs
Leaf or Rosetta: Pour the milk stream in a side to side manner until the foam appears on the surface. Continue doing this until a pattern appears. When moving sideways, gradually move the pitcher backwards. Once you’ve reached the end of the cup, move the pitcher in a straight line through the pattern. If you create the pattern with quick side to side movements, you’ll see more leaves in the rosetta, while slow movements will create fewer, thick leaves.
Heart: Pour the milk stream in a side to side manner concentrating in one area of the cup. Keep doing this until a big circle of crema appears. Move the pitcher forward and continue depositing on the big spot of foam until the cup is nearly full. Complete the heart by pouring in a straight line forward very quickly.
Flower: Start pouring the milk stream about 2-3 cm or 1 inch away from the bottom. Fill the cup halfway and then shake the pitcher gently in a back and forth motion all the while gradually moving backwards. This will push the flower design forward and also fill up the cup. Try using wrist movements instead of your hand for the back and forth motion.
Get more creative in your designs by using cocoa powder, stencils. You can also create a chocolate syrup to create an outline on the edges of your foam, or write a word. Another technique is to simply dip a pointy object in the cream and add some stained cream to create unique designs.