If you are a true coffee lover, making a cup in the morning (or any time of day) is something you always look forward to. The grinding of the beans, the pour of the espresso, and the frothing of the milk are all part of your daily ritual.
I always felt that something was always lacking when making a latte at home. No matter what roast, what machine, or what milk I used, it was always missing something. I hopped around to a couple of coffee shops in my neighbourhood like a detective. I finally figured out what it was. Nothing beats a latte with the most exquisite design on top. Even though you are going to sip it up anyways, latte art can always bring a smile to your face.
After figuring this out, I was determined to make my own latte art at home. After struggling through the process on my own, I compiled a guide to help you through the process. Here I dive into all the different components to create latte art at home.
How to Make Latte Art
Even if you are a great artist, there are factors to look out for when creating latte art. The three main components to creating latte art are:
1. Foaming the milk
2. Pulling Espresso Shot
Step 1: Foaming the Milk to Perfection
To make the foam stiff enough to stay in shape, you must start with cold milk. We recommend the milk to be around 55 and 62 degrees C. There also needs to be enough milk in the pitcher so the milk does not scald too quickly. Another great tip we have is to place your pitcher in the refrigerator or freezer before using. This gives you much more control when steaming the milk. It also helps with the firmness and stability of the foam. In other words, it gives you a bit of time to create your masterpiece. Another tip we have is to use a liquid thermometer. You can remove the milk from the steamer when it reaches just below boiling. This is the perfect temperature to keep your latte hot while drawing. Any temperature above that will scald the milk and give it a burnt taste.
After pouring your cold milk into your cooled pitcher, place the steam wand at the bottom of the pitcher. After turning it on, raise the wand slowly towards the surface of the milk. The milk will continue to bubble and rise. Make sure to keep the pitcher to stay about 1 cm below the surface of the milk. This is to help the wand create small airy bubbles, instead of big ones. This creates the smoothest foam to top your drink.
After the milk reaches the desired temperature, you can turn off the steam. Make sure to give the milk a couple of seconds to rest. Then after that, swirl the milk in the pitcher with good force. This gives the milk a creamier texture. If you see any bubbles, you can tap it on the counter a couple of times before swirling again.
It may seem like a lot but getting the right foam for your latte is essential to sit atop your hot cup of espresso.
Step 2: Pulling the Espresso Shot
As soon as you start to foam your milk, you should start to pull your espresso. This gives it time to pull while you get your foam ready. This will get you set up for a perfect canvas. To get the perfect richness of coffee in your latte, we recommend a shot between 6-9 grams of ground espresso depending on your taste. We also recommend an ample amount of pressure to tamp the grinds. We suggest about 30-40 lbs. to pack the grounds. This keeps the grinds close together, letting the water extract the most flavour from the beans. If the grinds are too loose, the water flows too fast, and the espresso is weak. We are looking for a slow and even pull.
Pulling the espresso shot may seem easy, bet there is some thought that needs to go into pulling the shot. The optimal time for pulling a single shot is between 20-25 seconds. A shot that is pulled less tends to be more bitter. A shot that is pulled more tends to be sweeter.
After the shot is pulled, you can pour the shot into your cup of choice. Make sure to not let your freshly pulled espresso sit more than 10 seconds before adding your milk. This is because it will start to cool and die. Believe it or not, and espresso can die. There is a significant taste difference in dead espresso. As espresso sits and cools openly, there are chemical reactions that happen. The aromatic oils inside the coffee that gives it that taste we all love, start to oxide. Anyways, enough with all the sciency stuff, the main takeaway is to not let your espresso die. This was a huge mistake I made in the beginning. I found that mastering the foam technique before pulling any espresso led to a lot less waste.
Step 3: Pouring the Milk
When pouring the milk, everything matters. The height, position and speed affect the way the milk sits on your expresso.
To begin, start pouring your milk a bit high until the cup is about half full. This is just to get the milk that sits below the espresso. After about half full, start to lower your pour. This makes the foam appear and start to sit on top. Make sure to pour at a steady speed. If you pour too fast, the milk will break up that beautiful coffee layer. If you pour too slow, the foam will lay in the back of your pitcher. We also suggest holding the pitcher at a 45-degree angle. I found that you can also rest the pitcher on the cup to give you more control. This is only when you are lowering the pour.
The coffee layer is called the crema. We found that swirling the milk slowly as you pour sets up the crema for your design. This also helps to mix the coffee with the milk. When you drink it is smooth and creamy. If you do not do this, there is a stark contrast from the taste of the coffee to the foamy milk.
When you start pouring, pour in the centre, then move around the cup to create your canvas. Once the cup reaches around two-thirds, bring the pitcher closest to the centre and pour fast. This will push your design to the proper spot and create a nice canvas for your design.
Rosetta Pattern: To create this leafy design, pour the milk as you move the pitcher from side to side. After the foam appears to begin to move the pitcher sideways and backwards, then create a straight line through the pattern. Quicker movements will give you more leaves, slower ones will give you thicker
Heart Design: To create a design that can capture any coffee lover’s heart, pour the milk side to side in the area you want to draw. Then move the milk forward and continue to pour a big blob of foam. Then quickly draw a straight line forward to create the heart.
Flower Pattern: This is similar to the heart shape, but when the cup is about halfway, shake the pitcher back and forth slowly while moving backwards. To get the most clarity, try to shake your wrist side to side instead of your hand.
Others: To create other designs I found creating a blank canvas, then using latte art tools gives you the cutest designs. With these tools, you can create designs that traditional latte art is not able to. Here are the Best Latte Art Pens of 2020 to help you channel your inner Picasso. These small detailed tools can be your paintbrush. I found that they are perfect for creating eyes and small details on your drawing.
Mistakes to Avoid
Some common mistakes to avoid while creating latte art is adding too much air in your milk. When creating a latte macrofoam is better to create art.
Some also create too little air in the milk. A good tell-tale sign of this is the loud screaming of your steamer. All you need to do is slightly loft the tip of the wand to the surface.
Another mistake is waiting too long to pour. The coffee can smell your hesitation. It can start to separate into layers and create a blobby design.
Final Words of Advice
Practice, practice, practice. Latte art is an art, and it can take some time to master. I found that practising each step first helped me waste a lot less coffee. The process moves super quickly, so be sure to be comfortable with each step first. There are many tools to help you achieve the perfect topping for your cup of coffee. With these tips, you can be your barista at home. These final touches to your coffee can brighten any day, and impress anyone that comes over.