Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Art on your coffee

Beautiful designs can add charm to the top of your daily latte, says Ghada Abdel-Kader

Al-Ahram Weekly

Latte art has become very popular in many countries, and Egypt is no exception. Baristas and coffee shops now pay special attention to art, creativity and new innovations. Latte art is about preparing coffee by pouring steamed milk into a shot of espresso and making patterns or designs in the foam topping on the drinks. It not only shows the baristas’ artistic talent, but also makes the latte look more appealing.

“Latte art is easy to understand, but the difficulty is to master it,” said Italian barista trainer Helena Oliviero. “It lies in controlling the pouring. It needs a lot of practice.” Oliviero formerly led a coffee-making and latte art training course at a Barista Training Academy in Cairo. She also works in Florence in Italy and is herself a well-known barista, an Italian word meaning a man or a woman who prepares and serves espresso-based coffee drinks.

Though the idea of latte art originally came from Italy, it was popularised and developed in the United States by entrepreneur David Schomer. The founder of latte art in Italy was the famous Italian barista trainer Luigi Lupi. Lupi trained the Italian barista Chiara Bergonzi, the three-times world latte art champion. He also won second prize at the world competition in Melbourne in Australia.

“These people are our models,” Oliviero said.

According to Oliviero, baristas should first learn how to properly steam milk and decrease the chances of scalding it. “It’s like our ink, if we were writers. Also, the spout of the pitcher is important, that’s like our brushes.”

“The course was very useful for me. I gained experience and found out more about the latest techniques,” said Ahmed Al-Sayed, 28, the manager of a cafe at the Al-Gama’a Plaza Mall in Mansoura. Al-Sayed has been working as a barista for the past 10 years.

“We learned more about the origin of coffee, as well as its characteristics such as age, bean variety, roast-profile, the quality of coffee beans and how to store it properly to maximise the coffee’s freshness and flavour,” explained Mohamed Mahmoud, manager of the café in the Al-Rowad Club in 10th of Ramadan City, who has been working for six years in the world of coffee. “We also had more information about the new innovations and techniques of latte art.”

Al-Sayed and Mahmoud took their barista professional course for five intensive days at the Barista Training Academy in Cairo.
“You can draw various shapes or patterns on hot drinks like latte, cappuccino, espresso, mocha, hot chocolate, or cold drinks with different sauces like chocolate, strawberry, caramel and blueberry. In the case of fresh juices, you can draw the top with sauce and garnish the glass with fresh fruits,” explained Al-Sayed.

Mahmoud agreed and said that latte art is like painting. It depends on a highly skilled and experienced barista. “I can draw on Nescafé and cocoa, not only espresso, by using chocolate sauce, or on juices and juice latte,” he said. Al-Sayed said anyone can attend the training course and get a certificate at the end from the famous Barista Academy in Italy.

“In latte art, there are three main techniques: free-pouring, etching and surface decoration,” explained Oliviero.

Free-pouring is more skilful, spontaneous and difficult to master. It depends mainly on the barista’s skills in pouring milk on the coffee without using any type of measuring device. Hearts, roses, tulips and their combinations are done by free-pouring, she added.

Oliviero believes that the foaming of the cream is essential and only well-done milk can be used to write or design latte art.

Though a beautifully designed latte doesn’t make your coffee taste better, it can give you a special sense of joy.

“Usually, I teach the movements to make hearts and rosettes. They are the basis of all latte art. The tulip, for instance, is a succession of hearts one inside the other, and the swan is a rosette for the feathers and a heart for the head,” she added.

“The basic patterns are essential, but then it’s up to everyone’s imagination to make a piece of art.”

Etching is a combination of free-pouring and the use of a metal pen that finishes the drawing. Patterns range from simple to complicated shapes such as cross-hatching and images of flowers and animals such as peacocks, bears, dogs, cats and lions.

Decoration is done with toppings or food colouring. Often it is just painted on the white surface of the beverage, but it can be a combination of free-pouring and etching.

“Once a barista knows the exact movements and techniques of latte art he can draw whatever he likes. The shapes or the drawings differ from one barista to another. It is our magical touch and the final finish,” adds Al-Sayed.

Baristas have to follow certain rules in order to gain a good reputation. “A barista has to make sure the place and his tools are clean. The milk has to be fresh, full cream and pasteurised to give a glossy shine on the surface and a smooth, velvet foam. The coffee beans have to be high quality. Choose the proper grind size of bean. Size can lead to the difference between a delicious and an unpleasant, bitter cup of coffee. The proper dose for one shot should be around seven grams,” Al-Sayed said.

“Coffee should be stored in its protective packaging in a dry place away from light, moisture, heat and air. This will keep it fresher longer. To get the most out of your coffee, grind the coffee beans just prior to the time of brewing,” adds Mahmoud.

A good espresso machine is also the name of the game. All machines use boilers containing a heating element that ensures the correct water temperature and pressure. A cup of espresso takes 30 ml of water to make. The process of steaming and frothing the milk involves heating the milk while simultaneously injecting air into it to prepare it for use in an espresso.

“The goal of steaming and frothing the milk is to create foam and boil the milk at the same time. This is the barista’s magic touch,” said Al-Sayed.

“A latte is different from a cappuccino although they are made from the same ingredients of espresso, milk and foam, but the quantity and standard vary. A latte is made up of 1/3 espresso, 1/3 hot milk and 1/3 foam, while a cappuccino is 2/3 milk and 1/3 espresso with a thin layer of foam.”

“Baristas use tools for drawing latte art. Latte art pitchers have long, narrow spouts, and the best have a little flange or flare at the pouring lip. A latte art pen, a stainless steel tool, can be used to shape beautiful coffee patterns,” explained Mahmoud.

In one coffee shop in Cairo this week, resident Heba Salaheddin was sitting taking her favourite drink, a large mug of hot chocolate. “Chocolate is my favourite. But I also like cappuccino with a lot of foam and shapes on the surface,” she said.

Salaheddin has a nice memory of a piece of latte art. “On my last birthday, my friends made a big surprise for me. They invited me to a well-known coffee shop and instead of presenting me with a birthday cake they gave me a large-size hot chocolate with my name on it and a lot of hearts. It was a lovely surprise!”

add comment

  • follow us on