Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Latte art is a pet peeve for me really. I can pour with the best of them, and really, anyone can with enough time and repetition. Latte art isn't that hard and contrary to Jon's comment in the video, you don't need particularly good or well executed espresso. In fact, you can have some pretty average milk and still pull off a decent rosetta.
As someone who is very passionate about the cup taste, it is a frustration that latte art often becomes the focus of many the barista and customer. I know that within a single training session, most people can pour latte art but it will take close to a thousand pulls to really build a feel for good espresso. Sure, triple rosettas, pac man breathing fire, it's all novel at first but after a while, it isn't as rewarding as a straight shot drinker showing appreciation over the cup flavor.
I taught myself how to pour latte art with a mostly trial and error approach. I had never seen it except in some Schomer print article. I had not found the forums or the online community obsessed with latte art and the (new at the time) bottomless portafilter until later. The comments from customers were warm and reassuring, sometimes humorous. 'Did you see this?' being curious and 'I thought he only poured those for me but he pours them for everyone' being my favorite.
After a bit of time, customers became accommodated to the art and you could pour five in a cup and nobody would bat an eye. In fact, I would get taken aback when someone actually mentioned the latte art.
It is in this that I believe latte art has it's limits. It's the bare minimum, in my opinion because it is a visual aspect not essential to cup flavor. I rue the shops that post latte art on the walls because it is almost a statement of evolution and that the customer base has not moved beyond that point. When everyone in shop is pouring art everyday, you don't need photos to make the point. Maybe I am thinking too deeply.
Of the few shops here in Cambridge that have a barista or two pouring latte art, maybe two actually have sharp (or even ever changed the) blades on the grinders and use a proper dosing technique with a real tamper that actually fits the basket. So as I simultaneously condemn latte art I also realize it is rarer than it should be.
By the way, if anyone wants a latte art class, let me know ;-)