Ever wonder how your local barista gets those lovely little designs in the foam of your latte? Every time I see a pretty heart or rosetta in my drink, it instantly puts a smile on my face. This is called Latte Art.
Latte art uses steamed milk and a shot of espresso to make patterns or designs on the top of a latte. Most often, the steamed milk is poured into the shot of espresso but it can also be done by simply drawing on the foam itself.
David Schomer of the coffee house, Espresso Vivace, brought latte art to Seattle, Washington in the 1980s. Mr. Schomer says that the key to the beautiful designs is the development of “microfoam” by Jack Kelly of Uptown Espresso in 1986. Microfoam is the combination of creama and milk foam and its velvety texture allows for designs to be created into the espresso shot.
Scientifically, latte art is the mixture of the two colloids, crema (the emulsion of coffee oil and water) and microfoam. Neither of these are stable because crema will dissolve into espresso and the microfoam will separate into dry foam and milk. Thus, this beautiful art will only last minutes.
To make the art, the espresso shot must have the creamy brown surface on top “the crema”. Once the milk is poured in, the foam will rise to meet the crema from the shot, a contrast is created and art if formed! The milk must be poured perfectly into the espresso and the pattern will rise to the surface. A pattern can be designed with a stick once the foam has risen to the top as well. So next time you see latte art on your coffee, take a second to smile and enjoy this little luxury.