How to do latte art at home

LATTE LION: One of Fomchai Pranomum's designs.
LATTE LION: One of Fomchai Pranomum's designs.

Fomchai Pranomum of Uliveto Cafe in Sydney's Kings Cross has charmed hundreds of customers with his latte art.

His quirky drawings of animals, landscapes and even customers attract giggling groups armed with mobile phone cameras on a daily basis.

“I can't draw on paper but I can draw in coffee. It's very weird. And I write with my right hand but draw coffee with my left hand. It's crazy,” he says.

The Thai-born barista, who has also worked here in New Zealand, says patience, imagination and the ability to think on your feet are key.

“You have to do it very fast, very quick. It's about what you can create in that moment,” he says.

Latte art, which is made by pouring steamed milk into a shot of espresso to create patterns or pictures on the surface, originated in Italy hundreds of years ago.

However, it was David Schomer, founder of Seattle cafe and roastery Espresso Vivace, who popularised latte art in the late 1980s, perfecting the rosetta and heart designs that became the signature of his Capitol Hill espresso cart.

Mastering such designs takes a lot of practice, says Tuli Keidar, head roaster at Mecca espresso and a former barista.

Practice makes perfect ... Traditional latte art uses no tools, it's a matter of how the barista pours the milk.

“Good latte art requires well stretched milk and even those basic designs - a rosetta, a heart – take many months of practice and a lot of skill to make with well – with consistency and good contrast,” he says.

Having taken coffee culture by storm in the past quarter-century, latte art has since developed other techniques that are applied after the milk has been poured.

These include 'etching', which involves drawing on the surface of the coffee with a toothpick, skewer or other sharp tool, and 'stenciling', where a stencil is rested on the surface of the cup and cocoa or cinnamon powder is sprinkled over the stencil to form a design, image or word.

Unlike traditional latte art, which is done by free pouring, etching and stenciling doesn't rely on high quality milk or coffee.

“Great [traditional] latte art does actually require milk that's perfectly stretched and heated … The way I see it, if I send out a coffee with beautiful latte art, at least the customer knows the milk portion of this beverage has been executed perfectly,” Keidar says.

Award-winning barista and co-director of Sydney's The Grounds of Alexandria, Jack Hanna, says with traditional latte art, technique and taste are related.

“For us, latte art is important because it is the final step of a great coffee and being able to do that well ... reflects what we're trying to do behind the machine, which is consistently make great coffee,” he says.

A step-by-step guide

The basic tools for latte art are a wide-mouthed cup, a fresh shot of quality coffee, cold milk and a steaming wand. The most important elements, Hanna says, are quality coffee and well 'textured' or heated milk.

“For me a simple rosetta – or the 'fern', as everyone calls it – is one of my favourites. And the reason I say that is that consistently pouring a good rosetta is hard to do,” Hanna says.

1. Choose your milk. The best milk to work with is full cream, Hanna says. “If you use skim there's more protein and less fat so the foam separates a lot quicker, which makes it trickier. The same goes for soy.”

2. Extract your coffee. Make sure your coffee is good quality and has a rich crema. Crema refers to the tan-coloured layer of foam that forms on the surface of a fresh shot of espresso. “If you don't have crema you don't have a canvas to work with and you end up not having enough colour on top,” he says.

3. Steam your milk while the coffee is extracting. This is to make sure the milk will be ready as soon as the shot is finished. “If your coffee is sitting there too long, the crema starts to dissipate and the milk will start to separate as well, so pour as soon as possible," Hanna says.

To steam

Place the wand just below the surface of the milk and turn it on fully. Gradually bring the steam wand towards the surface of the milk by lowering the jug. Listen for the “kissing” sound – this is the sound of the air being introduced into the milk. The force of the steam should create a whirlpool.

“But it shouldn't be spinning horizontally,” Hanna says. “It needs to spin on an angle to make sure the foam is combining with the milk.” The milk is ready when the jug becomes too hot to touch.

4. Pour immediately, quickly and steadily, making small circular motions with the jug as you pour. The milk should cut through the crema, producing a brown surface colour. “The first part of your pour is about making sure the milk and the crema are mixed correctly,” Hanna says. “If you don't mix the crema well, which is like a foam, it's harder for the milk to cut through it.”

5. Start your design. When the cup is three-quarters full, bring the edge of the milk jug close to the lip of the cup as you pour. This will create a white dot of milk. “That white dot is the point where every design starts,” Hanna says.

6. Keeping the lip of the jug close to the cup, gently move the jug from side-to-side to create the leaves of the rosetta. Avoid “wiggling” the jug too early or too vigorously. “It really doesn't need to be that violent. It's a small hand movement,” Hanna says.

7. Finish the rosetta. When the cup is almost full, finish pouring by quickly moving the jug forward and cutting through the centre of the rosetta.

8. Finally, Hanna says, practice, practice, practice. “Persistence is key. If it's not good enough, do it again. That's our philosophy.”

- Good Food