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When Baristas Became Artists

When Baristas Became Artists inploi Team | 02.05.2017

At what point did art in coffee become a cultural phenomenon? We explore the history of Latte art and the rise of cafe culture worldwide. 

The culture of coffee has recently taken over the world, with new creative ways surfacing to make the entire experience of ordering a coffee unique and addictive. Granted it is extremely pleasant to consume your favourite hot beverage during your coffee break, it is even more enjoyable to be surprised with a foamy heart in your cup. These intricate designs combined with the soft smoke that bring the sweet scent of the Latte to your senses is one of the best-known ways to combine creativity with coffee making. 

coffee art

One is compelled to ask oneself how baristas achieve these mesmerising coffee based canvases. In fact, latte art is created by methodically pouring steamed milk into a shot of espresso resulting in a pattern on the surface of the drink. This method called free pouring is most commonly used. An additional way of creating latte art is called 'etching', a method to elaborate the foam with utensils, such as a toothpick. Although the espresso and the development of microfoam were well widespread throughout the world, rumour has it that the first person to truly make use of their artistic potential in coffee making was David Schomer who popularised the concept of latte art in Seattle during the 80s and 90s. He created the first rosette shape inspired by a photo in 1992, and the heart shape became Schomer’s Espresso Vivace’s signature design.

The latte art industry is well established and even has its own local and international competitions. Here in the UK, we have a Latte Art Championship that takes place in early December at La Marzocco's ‘Out Of The Box’ event in London. There, baristas compete against each other to produce the most intricate and unique patterns and hopefully represent the country in a worldwide championship. UK Latte Art Champion for five years running and a finalist at the World Latte Art Championship 2016, Dhan Tamang is passionate about the coffee industry and works with the satisfaction that he is able to draw smiles in his customers thanks to his art. 

coffee art

This competition is looking for the best at combining talent and expertise and entering it should not be taken lightly. In fact, baristas have to produce a unique pattern, followed by two identical free-pour lattes and two identically designed lattes - all which is only for the preliminary round. South Korean winner of the World Latte Art Championship 2016 amazed everyone with his silky angels and lively recreation of Tinkerbell.

coffee artist

Latte art has earned its place in peoples’ lives, but what is its true significance? Can a coffee shop be guaranteed to make more profit if it promises latte art? An article was published in the August 2015 Journal of Sensory Studies, discussing how latte art could influence our perception of the coffee’s value and taste. The striking conclusion of this study was that people were willing to pay more for a drink with art and that rounded designs were more likely to please customers as angular shapes were associated with a more bitter taste. Latte art can thus distract customers from more important aspects such as taste and quality. 

Latte art shows no sign of stopping as it keeps spreading and evolving. 3D latte art has seen the light in Japan and examples can be seen on social media: with cats, giraffes or even cartoon characters seeing the light, anything is possible. Such masterpieces are bound to attract attention and could influence people's decision to visit a specific coffee shop. Who could resist a kitten floating in a coffee bath? A barista named Kazuki Yamamoto is father to many 3D latte art creations that would make virtually anyone long for their childhood days just to order one of those adorable creatures. Time will tell how far baristas will go to express their creativity.  

coffee art

Many agree that this new dimension to coffee making, with the hard work that goes behind it, can be regarded as a culinary art. With coffee being part of our culture for hundreds of years, many baristas have gone on a mission to make one of the pillars of our everyday life that bit more special, through a touch of art.

Photo credit: Ve Handojo, Dhan Tamang, World Latte Art Championship, Kazuki Yamamoto

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