Latte art is a decorative pattern created with foamed on top of a latte or other espresso drink. The white foam from the milk can be manipulated into the espresso to create swirls, patterns and even simple words. Espresso drinks, including lattes, mochas and cappuccinos, are well suited for latte art.
A latte is a coffee drink created with espresso, steamed milk and foam. The drink typically has one or more shots of espresso, steamed milk and a layer of foam on top, with milk making up the main volume of the drink. A cappuccino consists of one-third espresso, one-third milk and one-third foam, the same components as a latte but in different proportions. A mocha is similar to a latte, but chocolate is added. Flavored syrups such as caramel, mint or berry can also be added to a latte, mocha or cappuccino.
During the steaming process as the cold milk heats up, foam develops. The quality of the foam is critical for creating latte art. One could argue that making an espresso drink is an art in itself, and steaming the milk is a major component. It should be frothy and creamy but not full of large bubbles. Getting the foam right requires training and practice, and an espresso machine that includes a steam wand.
When creating latte art, the espresso shots are poured into the cup first, combined with chocolate or any other desired flavorings. The foamed milk is poured in next. The foam can be held back with a large spoon. A skilled barista can pour the milk from under the foam by adjusting the angle of the milk pitcher.
Adding the foam is where the latte art component comes in. By manipulating the final stream of the foamy milk from the pitcher, the barista essentially draws or etches an image or pattern on top of the latte. The contrast between the brown espresso and the white milk foam creates the design. Leaves, hearts, Christmas trees, snowflakes and spirals are common examples of latte art; the possibilities are only limited by the skill and creativity of the barista.
There are also latte art competitions, wherein the best baristas come together to display their skills and creativity. The competitors are judged on the complexity and aesthetics of their final designs as well as the time it takes to create them. Latte art and the competitions they inspire are increasingly a part of coffee culture. There is even a World Latte Art Championship wherein the top baristas in the world come together to compete.