Latte art is a method of preparing coffee created by pouring steamed milk into a shot of espresso and resulting in a pattern or design on the surface of the resulting latte. It can also be created or embellished by simply “drawing” in the top layer of foam. Latte art is particularly difficult to create consistently, due to the demanding conditions required of both the espresso shot and milk.This, in turn, is limited by the experience of the barista and quality of the espresso machine. The pour itself, then, becomes the last challenge for the latte artist.
Latte art requires first producing espresso with crema and microfoam, and then combining these to make latte art. See microfoam: procedure for how microfoam is made; this article concentrates on the latte art once the foam is made.
Before the milk is added, the espresso shot must have a creamy brown surface, an emulsion known as crema. As the white foam from the milk rises to meet the red/brown surface of the shot, a contrast is created and the design emerges. As the milk is poured, the foam separates from the liquid and rises to the top. If the milk and espresso shot are “just right,” and the pitcher is moved during the pour, the foam will rise to create a pattern on the surface. Alternatively, a pattern may be etched with a stick after the milk has been poured, rather than during the pour.
Some controversy exists within the coffee community as to whether or not there is excessive focus on latte art amongst baristas. The argument is that too much focus on the superficial appearance of a drink leads some to ignore more important issues, such as taste. This is especially relevant with new baristas.