Latte art seems to be one of those little things that people either absolutly love or feel completely indifferent toward. Personally I’m on the love side, the first time I saw latte art was on a training session and they had a DVD/Video showing latte art on and it mesmerised me, and initially spurred me to be better at being a barista. Little did I know how far I truely had to come from that point.
I learnt a lot that day, not only about basic latte art, but how to appreciate an espresso asis, and just how much cleaning could be done to a coffee machine.
So I crafted away at latte art for a good long time without the aid of a spouted jug, started to pour sloppy rosettas and hearts etc and customers rarely commented or acknowledged the work that has gone into it, however the few people that did comment on it made me feel pretty good, which spurred me to continue and to nagg my boss to get me a motta jug.
Anyway, back to the original point. “Why do it?” some of my less than eager co-workers ask, for me its fun to challenge myself a bit, its also nice for customers who have never seen it before to see the magic that is forming a rosetta or tulip on a cup. And for the odd customer that is familiar with 3rd wave coffee its nice to surprise people when they stop at a motorway services to get a latte with art ontop. So part of it is for the customer, it creates another sensory pleasure. Not only does the drink smell, taste and feel nice in the mouth but it also looks pretty.
That said, I have to admit there are self-serving reasons to put that extra bit of effort into the drink. Firstly, it keeps things interesting, you can challenge coworkers to pour certain patterns and engage with customers a bit more (including asking them what they would like to see you pour). Also if a drink goes out and isn’t up to standard (because mistakes a made from once in a while), people are generally more likely to be nice about it, as the latte art shows that some effort has been made (Obviously, if a bad shot is noticed before hand then it shouldn’t leave the bar but some slip through the net now and then).
A slight pullback now, I don’t think latte art should be poured at the expence of the drinks quality, for instance, it’s totally possible to pour an obviously attrocious shot and pour art ontop of it, but why? All this does is make your drink akin to the Starwars new trilogy(1-3) lots of form, very little substance. And there are times when latte art isn’t appropriate, for instance if you have 20 people waiting for their drinks, don’t bother pouring tulips on waves or double rosettas just get on and make it, pour a bloody heart or a quick rosetta and move on to the next drink, or you’ll never get anything out and just end up with a queue of angry customers.
Latte art has a few uses other than the superficial cup in itself. It creates a talking point, for a small shop competing with the big chains its a real unique selling point. To people working within the big chains who have an interest in coffee it creates a stepping stone across that rather large ravine. And for anyone attempting it, it forces microfoam instead of textureless froth, which even on failed attempts is a rare occurance in the afformentioned chains and a proper microfoam is worth 100x more than the latte art occurance.
At the end of the day, I don’t expect latte art all the time, but when I get it it is special and I think the barista and comment on it. I will continue to pour latte art when I can and hope to get better at it, I don’t get stressed over it however, if something gets messed up then I just let it go, and certainly wouldn’tmake someone wait for me to pour a design I’m happy with over the course of multiple attempts. I’ll also encourage my co-workers to pour latte art as it keeps them interested in making drinks better and keeps the milk nicely foamed rather than flat or frothed.
It shouldn’t, however, be used as a yardstick to measure a barista either. Some people just can’t pour latte art, but still produce brilliantly textured milk and should be commended and not felt a ‘lesser’ barista simply because they don’t have a certain skill.
At the end of the day I think its an incredibly useful tool for the front-end of the industry. It can inspire baristas to do better and to learn more and it creates a talking point with the general public.