It’s not difficult to describe the process of making perfect milk for coffee drinks, but the main idea lies in practice and conscious actions. I’ve been studying the properties of milk for 6 years, and I can tell you that it’s a very exciting and vivid process. Several years ago baristas took into account only the amount of fat in cow milk and how to steam it to make a beautiful latte art pattern. Nowadays we can work and experiment with soya, lactose-free, coconut, almond, rice, and buckwheat milk. There are even fans of banana milk among my guests. The structure of such milk is different. So, it requires new coffee equipment and techniques, which are improving very fast.
The idea of perfect milk isn’t merely to get the right milk structure for latte art. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to make a tasty cup of coffee, but it also depends on the way you steam the milk.
There are two stages of making milk silky and appropriate for latte art. First, you should make bubbles and then a crater in your pitcher. The position of the pitcher depends on the steamer of your coffee machine. It can have two or three holes through which the steam comes out and froths the milk. If you do everything correctly, the milk will be glossy. It’s very important to let the steam out before frothing the milk. Once you finish, don’t forget to clean the steamer with the cloth and let the steam out again. This will help to avoid scum. At times, you can use a special detergent to clean the steamer. It takes less than a minute to get the milk ready. It’s advisable to have a thermometer to check the right temperature. After a while, you’ll learn how to identify the correct condition visually and by touching the pitcher.
Sometimes our guests ask to add very hot milk to their coffee beverages. But the most appropriate temperature of milk for latte, cappuccino, or flat white should be a maximum of 65°C. It’s important because this way sweetness remains and the drink tastes softer and sweeter. Of course, tastes differ, but baristas have arguments for such temperature.
There are two approaches to telling the difference between cappuccino and latte. The most common one is the simple idea that the only difference is in the amount of milk. According to Italian traditions, cappuccino is a 250 ml beverage and latte is usually 340 ml. In these drinks, 25-30 ml is an espresso shot, while the rest is milk. We can also take into account Australian or New Zealand flat white, which is popular all over the world. It usually contains a double shot of espresso (40-45 ml) and about 150 ml of milk (less than for cappuccino). The beverage is about 200 ml.
The approach associated with the structure of milk is more modern and interesting. Very few baristas follow it because it requires a lot of effort and practice. For cappuccino, milk should be thicker, and this drink should contain more foam than latte. Milk for latte is usually stretchier, glossier, and silkier (smoother). But we shouldn’t forget that if the temperature and texture are right, it means that we can draw with the help of a pitcher. There are a number of standard latte art patterns like swan, heart, and rosetta. There are special latte art contests where Asian baristas are the best in the world in the free pour technique. I think their secret is in hard work. They make more complex and creative patterns.
Ten years ago latte was served in an Irish glass. It had layers of milk and coffee with thick foam. It was impossible to make a pattern on its surface. First, the milk was poured, then one shot of espresso was added. Nowadays everything is the exact opposite. Sometimes guests still ask to make an old-school latte, which brings positive memories back to them.
Imagine that the structure of milk is suitable for your future drink. So, you swirl an espresso in a cup, shake milk in a pitcher for bubbles to disappear, and start pouring. You should pour some milk in the center of the cup, then you start making circles in one direction with the pitcher. This will help you create a base for your future pattern. It’s very important to create an image of the latte art pattern in your mind just before you start making your beverage. You should be concentrated and calm. I recommend watching videos of Dritan Alsela on YouTube or Instagram in which he shows how to pour milk correctly and make simple patterns.
In coffee shops of the third wave, the cocoa drink is made the same way as cappuccino. First, you should mix cocoa with water or cold milk to make it homogeneous. Then you froth the milk the same way as for cappuccino and pour it making a latte art pattern on the surface of the drink. Latte art looks better and more contrasting on the cocoa drink than on coffee beverages. Here is a life hack: when you learn to pour latte art, you consume a lot of coffee and milk during this process because you need to train a lot, so it’s more cost-effective to use cocoa and mix milk with water. The result will be almost the same.
So, to become a great latte artist, you should love coffee and be an artist at heart. If you can draw, it can help you create beautiful images in your mind and then reproduce them on the surface of the drink. For any barista, latte art is a great way to improve their skills all the time. Championships can motivate and inspire, so I really recommend starting watching them on YouTube to stay informed, and then you can take part in them.
Besides, your guests will be happy with beautiful drinks, and they will definitely appreciate your efforts. They’ll become loyal to you, and this will help you continue doing what you love. In my case, it means being a barista and owner of a coffee shop.