Scanning through another social media site this evening, and saw a friend wonder if latte art had "jumped the shark".
I like this question. He got some pretty good responses over there, but I'd like to see what you guys have to say.
So, what do you think? Is latte art still a good thing in our cafes, coffee events, and barista culture, or has it all gone horribly wrong?
with super auto espresso machines improving the way that they do, latte art could soon be the only thing that would separates a barista from the machine.
bring on the hate! HAHAHA! :)
Presentation is an important element of any culinary endeavor. However at times too much emphasis can be placed on doing a super complicated pour versus what's actually in the cup. Same as some restaurants placing more emphasis on elaborate presentation over ingredient quality. An equisite coffee pulled suberbly with a simple heart wins over the most complex dragon or butterfly or whatever pour with lackluster coffee pulled haphazardly anyday. In the end taste is what counts most not come look at my Mona Lisa!
If we're going to do latte art, I think these are my Theses:
If done, it should be done well. This means spending a little more time in the training phase before letting a new barista pour half-assed rosettas or wispy, misshapen hearts into the drinks of our customers. I would rather receive no art than watch a beginner wiggle their wrist haphazardly, only to end up with an amorphous blob on top of my cup.
If done, latte art must take a back seat to taste and service — and yet be interconnected to them. The drink must taste great, and be served immediately, which eliminates 3D cats. It's being served to a waiting customer, who probably doesn't want to watch someone poke around in it with a toothpick. Under-aerating milk for a "crisper" design is out, too — and any barista who takes a picture of his/her pour while the customer waits for their drink gets 20 lashes.
Aesthetic beauty trumps technicality. I'm a stickler for this in my shop: I'd rather a barista pour a nice, simple heart than a 15-layer "tulip" that looks more abstract than appealing. Latte art competitions (in which I participate) sometimes emphasize symmetry and complexity more than actual aesthetic appeal, but a customer will always prefer something that is graceful and romantic above something that is technically difficult but visually meh.
I write all of the above as a latte art enthusiast — find "kaffehaus" on Instagram to see the pours I'm quite proud of. It's fun, and it is one of the most striking ways to stand out against SB and other fast-food "lattes." But the extraction of the shot, and proper texture of the milk, and the entire customer experience are all foundational ingredients that need to be baked into the cake before we get too worried about the latte-art icing.
I think latte art is vital to quality focused coffee shops, as presentation is important as others have stated. I think most agree "over the top" designs are ridiculous to be serving customers, and that is almost always equates poor service. So when it comes to the actual practicality and efficiency of service, simple designs done well with drinks made to a high standard would, I think, be a general consensus.
Onto competitions - I am glad most, if not almost all, competitions seem to be of the free-pour variety, even though they rarely take into account taste which we say is most important. Another downside to these events is waste: lots of milk and espresso is tossed in the name of competition (and/or practice!). On the other side, I think the act of community-building these types of events create is vital to creating a strong coffee culture for both Baristas and consumers. Interested consumers get a glance into the world of coffee with something that would actually interest them. Many more consumers can easily get excited about latte art as opposed to a brewing competition. Baristas get to interact with other Baristas, roasters, cafe owners, etc. to continue their professional growth in an informal way.
Overall there will certainly be a continuing sway of opinion on what role latte art plays. Maybe for a while we experimented with new designs, concepts, 3D art, etc. Now we can look back and say "Sure, that's cool, but is it practical?" Then we can swing back to refining simple designs, executing a super nice, crisp heart in a capp to go.
In fact, the more I think about it I took a journey like that myself, after learning some of the basics, trying many-layered tulips, 20 rosettas in a cup (hah), butterflies, whatever. Soon I can back and wanted to perfect the rosetta and 3-layer tulip, then I wanted to perfect a layered heart. I don't want to take that journey away from anyone else who might want to travel it, so I have a hard time telling baristas interested in experimenting that they shouldn't do it at all, but I also want them executing quick simple designs for service and not wasting supplies practicing silly things. I guess we all have to find a happy medium.
I would say it hasn't gone horribly wrong, but maybe needed (needs) to be adjusted to make sure the focus is in the right place.
Just kind of threw this question out there and planned to sit down when I had a minute and contribute my thoughts. You made that easy.
+1 to everything so far. Well said, guys.
I'll only add a bit.
I help organize a monthly latte art throwdown, and really like that it brings baristas and coffee geeks from all over the area together to hang out. Events like ours can be the first step that a barista makes into the larger world of coffee outside their shop. That, I think, is latte art's real value - as a conversation starter.
There is at least one other benefit: it gives your customers another easy way to brag about your shop to their facebook/twitter/instagram friends. Free advertising?
It has gotten to be a bit much lately though. A latte with 3 rosettas crammed in there doesn't say "drink me" as much as it says "grandma's curtains".
I think if everyone just brings it back into perspective, it'll be fine: It isn't the meal, it's just a fancy garnish.
As Head Bean and Roast Master I don't claim or try to be great at latte art. I don't have the time to dedicate nor feel the need for learning and mastering complex pours. I do get a kick out of customers (not me) taking pictures when I present them with a nice simple heart or fern leaf (I wouldn't call it a rosetta;-). However the Month of October I do use the tip of thermometer to dip in the crema taking a couple extra seconds cuz' I always do jack-o-lanterns with eyes and a smile, they get lots of smiles comments! (Simple apple first)
In some cases I would say absolutely yes, latte art has gotten absurd.
I would have bet $50 that your pic was going to be that damn 3D cat. This is every bit as absurd though.
What? 3D "latte" art made with flavorless dry stiff cottonball milk foam isn't the way to go?!