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Latte Art 101: A Beautiful Cup of Coffee

So, what is latte art? Latte art is a design in the foam of your coffee drink — a tulip, a rosette, a heart or a blob that you can’t really identify. You might admire it, or be tempted to take it for granted – after all, you’re about to drink it — but for some baristas around Oregon, it’s serious business.

Billy Wilson is an award-winning barista who owns two coffee shops in Portland. He says latte art is important because “whether I create latte art on top of your drink or not, it’s going to taste the same, but it’s really about that initial reaction you have to the beverage I just made you.” He explains that there are two distinct styles of latte art.

Poured latte art is made as the barista creates the drink. Milk is heated with steam, then poured into espresso that’s already in a mug. The design relies on the steady hand and pouring technique of a particular barista. Wilson calls this style challenging because it’s technical. Milk and espresso must be the right density and temperature at the same moment. Success means creating a consistent and beautiful design, while pouring hot drinks for an entire shift. As Billy puts it, “in the middle of a rush you kind of enter into this Zen mode where you’re basically making latte after latte after latte so you just kind of turn your brain off and you just kind of get into it.” It’s on-the-job art where consistency and beauty intersect.

Etched latte art uses the steamed milk on top of the espresso as a canvas. The artist uses a pointed object and chocolate sauce to create everything from complex shapes to intricate, shadowed portraits. There’s lots of time for experimentation until the foam starts to bubble and break up. The finished piece can be striking, but each design takes longer, and Wilson says it’s not practical at a busy café or coffee shop.

Wilson calls himself “old school” because of his passion for pouring, rather than etching designs. He’s always striving to pour the perfect rosette. But he says anyone can pour the basic shapes, and showed us his technique for pouring a heart — which might impress someone special over the holidays!

Watch Oregon Art Beat’s food special to learn more about the art of being a barista.

Video Credits: Videographer – Greg Bond; Editor – Lisa Suinn Kallem

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