What Is Latte Art?

 Last Updated August 30, 2020

It goes by many names: coffee art, barista art and coffee designs. But what is latte art? The short answer — it’s steamed milk passed through espresso in order to make patterns.

But the long answer is much more interesting as latte art is the only drink in which creativity can be consumed. Literally. How else can you drink a heart, tulip or a dragon if not on coffee art? It would be difficult to say the least, and definitely not as tasty! Today  we’re explaining everything you need to know.

how is latte art made

How Is It Made?

Ever since the 1980s when latte art first took to popularity in the coffee houses and cafes around the world, only the upper echelon of baristas could produce coffee art in their drinks. But how did they make it? It all began with two things, the espresso shot and perfectly steamed milk.

As coffee making technology improved with the introduction of pistol driven espresso machines, baristas learned how to incorporate steamed milk into the traditional Italian espresso. This fusion of flavours allowed for a sweeter beverage but also for the production of ‘microfoamed milk’, which is the end result of milk exposed to high-powered steam.

Baristas soon learned through a process of accidental discovery that patterns could be made in coffees with this new technique. The espresso could act as a canvas to the barista while the milk took the role of paint. These techniques improved as time pasted and today modern baristas are judged on their latte art making abilities. There are now two main forms coffee art, ‘free pour art’ and ‘etching’. You can learn how to make latte art here

Free Pour Latte Art

Think of free pour art as the more technical of the two. It involves the pouring of milk straight from a jug into a cup of espresso. While the milk is flowing into the cup a combination of wrist and hand movements are used to bend and shape the way the milk flows into the coffee. As a result creative patterns start to form like the ones below:

coffee art

Free pour latte art requires hand dexterity, practise and patience to learn. Practise is the key word here as it takes hundreds of coffees to master. But when it’s done right latte art can make the average coffee taste amazing. The two basic form of free pour art are the Heart and the Rosetta, most advanced technique such as the Swan and Wave Tulip build upon these fundamentals.

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Etching Latte Art

If free pour art requires technical skills, etching requires true artistic talent. Etching is the practise of literally drawing on a coffee with a thin rod, such as a toothpick, in order to create images in the coffee. Baristas skilled in etching can create anything from faces, portraits to anime characters. I’ve even seen some crazy 3D Pikachu art floating around the Internet! Just have a look and the patterns below. Now that’s real art.

what is latte art

So You Want To Learn Latte Art?

If these two styles have caught your fancy I recommend visiting the basics section of this site in order to learn the fundamentals of coffee making first. Because in order to make latte art you have to be able to product perfect milk and quality espresso shots. Once you become familiar with the fundamentals move your way up to the beginner coffee art guide and progress from there. For those looking to create latte art at home but are lacking a cappuccino machine like these or latte maker, check out the links just mentioned for some recommendations. If you just want to make great milk, check out our best milk frother guide. 

I’m here to help you on your journey, so if you’re having any troubles or just want to talk coffee, leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Happy coffee making!


About The Author 

Ivan Bez

Ivan is the founder of Latte Art Guide and a barista with 7+ years of experience. He loves coffee and aims to help people improve their coffee making skills.


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