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Coffee art is more than just fanciful foam on top of your daily caffeinated beverage. It is actually a highly nuanced form of coded communication, a legally binding agreement between the barista and the customer. Well, sort of.
Coffee art is formed when the barista pours milky, wet foam onto an existing latte, and then uses tools to form designs that are aesthetically pleasing. Foam art is mercurial in nature, because it requires a barista who is skilled at both coffee creation and coffee design.
Perhaps the idea of designer coffee is too intentional for you. If so, then you probably don’t live in Portland or Seattle. We Pacific Northwest types like to don our flannels and beards (natural or store-bought) only if a steaming, particularly sourced caffeinated beverage is promised upon our exiting the house.
If you still can’t fathom the idea of an edible picture on top of your coffee, just ask yourself this; does it spark joy when I stare into the eyes of my favorite barista and ask for a latte, and receive some free art in return? The answer will always be a resounding, “yes.” Now let’s see where all this coffee art business comes from.
The Origins of Coffee Art
When espresso and the combination of crema and microfoam were introduced to the planet Earth, an explosion of international experimentation began. In the United States, it seems that the multi-talented city of Seattle first developed coffee art back in the late 1960s and 1990s.
David Schomer, owner of the coffee shop Espresso Vivace, is credited with the popularization of playful foam antics and often silly creations. Schomer created the rosette pattern in 1992, a period of Nirvana and flannel-clad angst, under the influence of photographs from Cafe Mateki in Italy. Schomer then created a class called “Caffe Latte Art.”
There are many coffee art competitions on an international and local scale. The most notable is the World Latte Art Championship. Competition held in Shanghai, China! This championship and other competitive venues for coffee art award their competitors based on their creativity, technique, and overall performance.
There are different types of coffee art with which the dedicated barista can decorate your caffeinated beverage.
The most popular form is the “free pour,” in which the pattern is created during the pour itself. This requires a steady hand and a natural attentiveness to the temperature of the coffee, as well as the temperament of the customer.
The second type of coffee art is produced by a technique called “etching.” This is a cruder method in which the barista takes a slim stirrer and etches a design of their choosing into the pre-existing foam on top of your beverage.
With either of these techniques, absolutely beautiful works of art can often be produced. Types of designs known to grace the surface of lattes everywhere include flora, fauna, hearts, faces, and in cases of extreme foam, multi-dimensional husky dogs!
The reception of a piece of foam art on your latte means you are the recipient of a very important mission, the instructions of which are included in the coffee art itself. It is important that you follow these instructions very carefully, otherwise the entire world could blow up. The question is; can you decode it? Remember, a flower is not just a flower, people!
Of course, we’re kidding. Coffee art is a wonderful little gift made especially for you to enjoy — as if your morning or afternoon coffee could get any better!
The only thing more enjoyable than receiving a special piece of coffee art is, perhaps, learning how to create them yourself! There is, after all, only one Picasso, but there are many baristas. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to contribute to the wonderful world of coffee art!