If you're a lover of coffee drinks with milk, then it's safe to assume that at some point you've been handed a cup, looked at the formation made by the combination of coffee and milk and thought to yourself, "how did they do that?"
Here are a few facts about latte art that just might make you respect that cup even more.
Recently I had my own chance to try my hand at doing latte art. Let's put it this way: it's not at all easy. Good baristas might make it look simple, but after making something that looked more like a deformed blowfish, I have a newfound respect for cute hearts in milk foam.
Who started latte art?
Although milk and coffee have been consumed together in Europe for centuries, legend has it that David Schomer started the US latte art craze in the mid 1980s. However, a guy in Italy named Luigi Lupi was doing the same thing around the same time. Whoever did the latte art first, there's no denying that Schomer became an expert on it, he even wrote a book about it. In a 1994 article in Coffee Talk he outlines how he developed the heart shape:
"I worked at pulling the action away from the back of the cup, sneaking milk down the sides to form swirls and hoping white foam would appear as a heart at the center. This pattern had been perfected by the fall of 1989."
Latte art is all about the science of milk.
You can't make latte art by pouring in regular milk to coffee, now can you? No, the reason that you can make shapes in coffee has to do with science. To make what's known as "microfoam," which is what's poured into your cup, baristas add steam to the milk and rapidly heat it, thereby altering the physical characteristics of the milk, in scientific terms called "denaturing."
Milk is made up of fat, sugar and proteins. When you steam the milk, the fat breaks down and the sugars break down as well, into smaller, simpler sugars, which actually make the milk taste sweeter.
Then comes the question of pouring milk into the espresso, which is where the physics come into play. The barista pours so as to get the milk in first, and then finish with the foam, in order to create the design.
You can go to a latte art training!
If you're interested, here's a great slideshow of the step-by-step process to make latte art. Obviously you'll need access to an espresso machine, and a lot of time and patience. Of course, you can always go the latte art school route; many cafes around the world offer latte art courses.
Christian Ullrich finishing his design at the World Latte Art Championships.
There are latte art championships.
Oh yes, there are a few different ones, including a national US and a world version. This year a guy named Christian Ullrich from Germany was the winner, with his designer latte art being a turtle.
And there's even 3D latte art.
A barista by the name of Kazuki Yamamoto (you can follow him and his latte art designs on Twitter) made the internet go crazy last year with his 3D designs of cats, giraffes, even a Snoopy. Proof that if you have the time and the creativity, you really can do anything.
Watch him finish up a little milk foam octopus:
(Image credits: atichart wongubon/Shutterstock; Mark; Austin Uphoff; Alice Gao for Serious Eats; Sprudge; Kazuki Yamamoto)