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The Art of Designing an Esthetically Pleasing Latte

By Stephanie Rew

Have you ever picked up a latte and seen it smiling cheerfully back at you before you take the first sip? Maybe you’ve marveled at an intricate tulip or felt the extra warmth of a carefully crafted microfoam heart. When it comes to coffee, everyone has a different preference for strength, taste and even smell, but sometimes presentation can also make a significant difference. Evergreen Living chatted with local coffee connoisseurs René Steenvoorden, owner of Bivouac Coffee, and Hannah Jensen, the roastery’s head of training, to learn what it takes to turn a little latte into a masterful work of art.

EL: What are the main ingredients or components needed to create great latte art?

HJ: First, there’s milk texture – you can have great milk texture and no latte art, but you cannot have beautiful latte art without great milk texture. Ideal milk texture is called “microfoam,” which happens when milk is aerated just right and tiny, micro-bubbles are distributed throughout the milk instead of sitting in a thick layer on top. The ideal texture resembles the appearance of wet paint. Next, the container that the milk is poured into will determine how easily latte art can be created – cups or mugs with rounded bottoms and wide tops will aid in making great latte art, and it can be more difficult with a flat-bottomed or strangely shaped cup or mug. Finally, the milk pour is where the magic all comes together! The initial pour is poured from several inches above the milk’s surface and swirled around. Then, when the cup is about ⅔ of the way full, the milk is poured quicker and very close to the latte’s surface. Stacks or wiggles are pushed along the latte’s surface to create hearts, tulips, rosettas or any other fun, tasty, and beautiful latte art designs.

EL: What is the most challenging or intricate latte art design you’ve mastered so far? What’s been one of the funniest or most memorable mishaps in creating a design?

HJ: I like to challenge myself by seeing how many stacks I can get on a tulip! I think my current record is eight. As we’re learning new latte art designs or techniques, sometimes the latte ends up looking like a strange blob – that’s when I like to look at it just like looking for shapes in the clouds, naming the design whatever it most closely resembles – I’ve seen everything from a “distorted turnip with legs” to a “man holding a trophy.”

EL: If you could create or re-create any piece of visual artwork in a latte design, what would it be and why?

HJ: I think it would be fun to create little portraits of each of our staff members in lattes! Either that, or maybe Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”

EL: Taste, smell, and even texture are all parts of the sensory experience of drinking coffee. How does adding a visual component affect or change that experience?

RS: It’s nearly impossible to create latte art without well-steamed milk. The presence of art on lattes shows that the barista cares about milk texture and making the drink perfectly. It’s not the most efficient way to make a latte, since it takes an extra moment or two to really hone the quality, ratios, flavor and presentation of the drink. But it’s beautiful and shows the care that went into making it.

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