The ABC’s of Latte Art To Help You Pour Like A Pro

I get the question all the time.

“How long did it take you to learn latte art?”

To everybody who asks, I say the same thing–okay, no–I don’t really say anything. I shirk the question with a sheepish smile, passing off their drink as if to say, “get outta here ya big lug.” I still feel like I’m learning latte art, and, in reality, we all are, from the beginner to the barista champion.

One of Runabout Coffee’s core values is experimentation because specialty coffee isn’t as much about perfecting as it is about practicing. Every barista is in a perpetual state of learning, growing, experimenting. Even especially the pros need practice.

So, if perfection isn’t the goal, but practice is, we are free to get started. And, what better place to get started than with the ABCs?

When practicing latte art, look for Aeration, Balance, and Contrast.

Aeration

How is the milk steamed? Well steamed milk should look velvety and akin to wet paint with little-to-no bubbles.

When training, I don’t bother talking about latte art as it is often an unnecessary distraction to what’s more important: well steamed and aerated milk. When the milk is steamed properly, latte art is one hundred million times easier to perform. Poor milk makes it hard to pour milk.

Troubleshooting Tips: If the milk is aerated too much–if it’s chunky, bubbly, or too foamy–you’ll end up with kind of a blob of milk on top. If the milk isn’t aerated enough, you won’t get the foam you’ll need to sit it on top of the crema.

So, first and foremost, make sure you know how to steam milk. PROPERLY. Check out our post, Five (all too) Common Mistakes When Steaming Milk For A Latte.

Balance

Does the foam art fill the surface of the milk? Is the art centered and symmetrical?

When pouring for latte art, follow the low-high-low principle. Start pouring with the pitcher close to the cup (low) and quickly raise it so gravity helps the milk dive beneath the crema (high). When the cup is about 2/3 full, bring the pitcher back down to push the foam on top of the crema (low).

Troubleshooting Tips: If you begin pouring the art too early on the second “low” stage, you’ll lose contrast or the design will be too large. If you begin pouring too late, the art will be too small.

If you’re problem is that your art is crooked or unbalanced, try resting the bottom edge of the cup on the counter as you pour.

Contrast

Is there clear contrast where the foam sits in the crema?

Beautiful contrast in latte art is…well…beautiful. And, if you’ve aerated the milk properly and have achieved well-balanced art, you’ve likely got a contrast that’ll wow the customer. In general, you want a clear contrast with two tones and defined lines.

Troubleshooting Tips: Make sure you’re following the low-high-low pour principle and work on timing that second “low” pour.

Invest in a quality steam pitcher, keeping in mind that the spouts have varying degrees of acuteness.

FINAL (BONUS) TIP:

Peruse through Instagram hashtags like #latteartevideo to lazily train your eye to see what quality art looks like and how it’s achieved. While you’re at it, don’t forget to look out for these ABC’s of latte art!


What have been the most useful tips you’ve received for pouring latte art?

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