Whether you’ve been a fan of the drink for years or have just now become acquainted with the classic latte, you know there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a freshly poured work of art at the top of your cup. Sure, we know it’s the rich flavors that actually make a good cup of brew, but presentation is everything; a carefully crafted image etched in foam brings the coffee from good to great and almost immediately brings a smile to any caffeine enthusiast’s face.
Maybe you decided to try to replicate the designs you’ve seen at your favorite coffee shop on your at-home brew, but unfortunately, you weren’t quite the barista you thought you were, and well…your art fell a bit flat.
We get it, a failed attempt at latte art is frustrating, but no worries; we’re here to help. Pouring impressive latte art is a skill you can master, and we’ve got all the info you need to do it!
It Starts with the Milk
High-quality latte art begins with high-quality milk, and step one of a perfect pour is perfect milk steaming.
If you’re using a steaming wand and pitcher, you’ll need to let spurts of air into your milk first — this process should create a hiss that sounds a bit like paper being torn. Then, angle your pitcher so the wand begins to form a tornado in the milk, and the air bubbles travel through the entire volume of liquid.
You’ll want to be sure your milk has developed a glossy texture, and when it begins to resemble wet paint, you’ll know you’re ready to add it to your espresso.
The Pouring Process
The espresso machine has brewed your shot, and the milk’s been steamed; now, you’re ready for your first pour. But don’t wait too long to get started — you don’t want your milk to lose its creamy consistency! Now, take a deep breath, grab your steamed milk, and read along to find out how to create three popular latte art designs.
First to try in our guide to a creative cup of coffee is the heart. Though the design is simple, the symbol of love is an easy crowd-pleaser, and with just a bit of practice, you’ll be wowing your friends and family with an Instagram-worthy cup of Joe in no time.
Start by holding your pitcher of steamed milk 3-4 inches above your shot of espresso. You’ll want your cup tilted at a 45-degree angle as you add the milk to the deepest part of the espresso. The milk should flow in a thin stream as you add it to your coffee, moving your wrist in tiny circles until the milk and espresso mixture reaches the edge of the cup.
Then, stop the pour, and move the pitcher’s spout as close to the espresso as you can. Pour the milk, slowly wiggling the pitcher side to side as a foamy white shape appears atop the crema or the top layer of your espresso. As you pour, follow the flow of the milk foam until the pitcher’s spout is directly in the center of the drink, and keep pouring until the cup is full.
When you’ve run out of room for milk in the beverage, raise the milk above the latte — close to the height you started your pour — and pour a thin line of milk straight through the foam to finish the design and add a clean, sharp tip to the bottom of the image.
Here’s the good news: once you’ve mastered the heart, you’ll have no trouble at all learning to top your coffee with a tulip.
Because this design is actually just a series of hearts, you’ll want to begin with the same step: by adding a stream of milk to your espresso from just a few inches above the tilted cup, still moving the pitcher in careful circles until the coffee reaches the edge.
The key to crafting a tulip is to imagine your cup is divided into three sections: a bottom, middle, and top. Visualizing your drink in pieces will come in handy when it’s time to begin creating the image.
Begin creating the first piece of your tulip between the bottom and middle sections of your cup, wiggling the pitcher back and forth. When a small white shape appears, stop your pour, and begin creating the next piece of the design between the top and middle of your cup. When the second foam shape appears, stop the pour, and add the last piece of the tulip at the top of the cup.
Once your cup is full and every piece of your tulip is formed, raise the pitcher above the latte and swipe a thin stream of milk down the middle of the tulip to complete the image.
Last but certainly not least in our guide to latte art is the always lovely rosetta.
Resembling a leaf or a vine, this foam design requires a slightly more aggressive approach as you add the steamed milk to the tilted cup. While you’ll still need to pour the milk slowly, you should start with your pitcher’s spout as close to the crema as you can get it, wiggling the pitcher from side to side in tiny squiggles as the base of the rosetta begins to form in the coffee.
Once the base has formed, begin to shift the stream of milk from the bottom of the cup to the top, continuing to wiggle as you move. When you reach the top of the cup, dip the spout into the coffee and let the last piece of your design form, then lift the milk above your cup and finish off the design by running a small stream of milk down the middle of your artwork.
If your first attempt at the artwork on your home-brewed latte looks nothing like the foamy picture on the drink you get from your favorite shop, don’t be discouraged — try again! Remember, achieving the perfect cup pour is a skill that has to be developed, and it will take lots of practice before your latte art rivals that of your favorite barista. Here are a few helpful things to keep in mind as you practice your pours.
Pouring Too Fast or Too Slow
Though you’re eager to kickstart your morning with a good cup of coffee, make sure to slow down as you add steamed milk to your cup. A fast pour may fill the cup too soon and leave little to no room for a design, or even worse, break the layer of crema on the coffee, making the final foamy image less than impressive.
On the other hand, a too-slow pour makes the milk disappear below the surface of your espresso, totally erasing your design.
It’s going to take some trial and error to add your milk at the perfect speed, so be patient as you figure out what works best for your latte.
Too Much Arm Movement
Though all latte art requires movement, it’s important to remember that when you create your milk foam image, you want your movement to be smooth and gentle, using mostly your wrist to control the pitcher. More careful movements also make it easier to control the flow of the milk into the coffee.
Mastering milk is the most time-consuming step of the process, but it’s perhaps the most significant. The key to making shop-worthy latte art is a great microfoam, so take the time to master the steaming process before tackling art.
Because it’s the steamed milk that creates the art itself, your milk must be just foamy enough to stay intact on your latte, but not so big and bubbly that it overwhelms the coffee. Too many bubbles may mean you’re letting too much air into the liquid as you steam, and too few bubbles will break the crema immediately, leaving your drink with no surface for a design to sit on.
It’s also crucial to keep an eye on the temperature of your milk. Hotter milk is harder to control while pouring, which means your art may not turn out exactly as you hoped. The ideal temperature of milk for a latte is around 150 degrees, but in case you don’t have a thermometer nearby, use your hand as an indicator. If the pitcher becomes too hot to hold or touch, the milk’s temperature may be too high for your latte art.
Your favorite barista didn’t master the tulip or rosetta on day one, and chances are, you won’t, either.
Like any other skill, learning to make latte art is a process that requires both patience and perseverance, so you’ll need to fire up the espresso maker and get your steaming wand ready to go as often as possible, and before long, you’ll be pouring like a pro!