Making a cup of coffee has come a long way from cracking open a can of Maxwell’s, measuring it into the ‘ole drip maker, dumping tap water into the marked chamber, and flicking the switch. Now with espresso machines easily surpassing the $1000 price point and a blossoming home roasting movement, making coffee drinks has been elevated to an art form. Take a closer look at what the barista is doing in your local coffeehouse or take a field trip to Starbucks. Drinks like Capuccino, Café Americano, and Lattes rely on 2 ingredients: 1. Top quality espresso 2. Varying degrees of steamed frothy milk.
If you’re a diehard caffeine addict who thinks that anything beyond plain coffee is a waste of money, you should know one thing…espresso isn’t just for high brow foodies with cash to burn. Tossing back espresso shots is like tossing back tequila…for a more pleasurable experience, you either need to mix it with something or upgrade the quality. Lattes are a great example of this in the coffee world.
At first glance, the concept is nothing earth shattering. Espresso and steamed milk foam are mixed together and served. But the quality of the espresso shot and how it’s mixed with the foam make a huge difference in taste and appearance.
In addition to grinding quality dark roasted beans, the resulting espresso produces a creamy brown foam of its own called crema. Producing the right consistency and amounts of this crema requires skill.
Making the Proper Steamed Milk Foam
Developing steamed milk results from introducing steam to the milk until a certain amount of froth is created. Too much foam yields a totally white surface producing cappuccino, while not enough creates a homogenous light-brown surface with no foam or patterning. The milk should be shiny, slightly thick, and have very small uniform bubbles giving it the consistency of whipped marshmallows rather than light foam.
Making Latte Art
Creating latte art starts with how this steamed milk is poured into the espresso shots. The pouring technique influences the contrast between the white foam from the milk as it rises to meet the reddish brown surface of the shot.
The most common design is the rosetta resembling a flower pattern. This design is usually poured while keeping the cup tilted in one direction. As the milk is poured straight into the cup, the foam begins to surface on one side (due to the tilt). The barista then moves the pitcher from side to side as he levels the cup, and finishes by making a quick strike through the previously poured pattern. This “strike” creates the stem portion of the flower design, and bends the poured zig-zag into a flower shape.
Other possible designs range from simple geometric shapes to complicated drawings such as crosshatched patterns, apples, hearts, animals, and flowers. Some can be done with a single pour, others require multiple pours, and still others call for etches in the design after pouring, usually with a coffee stirrer.