Though there is much scope for the subjective approach with latte art – as with all art – there are a few rules and practises that almost universally apply – and form the basis for any artistic flourish you might want to unleash once you’ve mastered them.
Lets start with your MILK
The key to steaming milk is getting the right texture and heat transfer. You don’t want to inject too much air into the milk – the best textured foam for latte art is smooth and creamy (a microfoam – i.e. no big bubbles!). It can also be easier to get the right texture from using whole milk.
One way to prevent overheating the milk is to keep the milk chilled until just before you need it, as you can afford to spend a little more time steaming cold milk without the risk of scalding it. You can use a thermometer to avoid this – or you can use your fingers as a gauge: if you can’t hold them under the pitcher for more than 3 seconds this is about the right temperature – the optimal temperature for better pouring foam is around 60-70ºC.
The nitty gritty of STEAMING
- Using a stainless steel jug with a spout, pour your milk in the jug so it reaches just under the point where the spout starts to protrude the jug
- Submerge the wand tip about a centimetre underneath the milk
- Hold your jug on a slight angle with the wand just left of centre, to get a swirling motion
- Using your left hand turn the steam wand straight on in one movement (not too weak or too strong as it can be harder to turn off once you’ve begun steaming)
- Stretch the milk by keeping the steamer just beneath the milk surface so that it hisses but doesn’t ‘screech’ painfully – you will have to lower your jug to maintain the wand at the correct depth
- While doing this the milk should be whirl pooling in an anticlockwise direction
- Don’t overstretch it – remember the aim is to get it smooth & velvety with microbubbles instead of big bubbles
- Heat transfer can now be observed by tapping repetitively on the bottom of the jug – when you can hold your fingers on the jug over 3 seconds it’s time to turn the steam wand off
- If the milk threatens to overflow the jug you can straighten your jug and submerge the wand a little more to release the liveliness of the milk at the top of your jug.
- Once wand is removed you can blend your milk by swirling the jug to gloss it up and spread the texture evenly throughout the jug.
- Always keep blending your milk until you are ready to start pouring.
- Milk must be well blended and of a steady full flow before you pour.
- Begin pour low to avoid splashing coffee crema.
- Raise your crema as you pour.
- Depending on the style you’re going for, you might need to alter one of the “three P’s”, i.e. the pace (slow or fast pour), the proximity (how close jug is to cup) and the position (whether you pour into the centre, front, back etc. of the cup).
- Hold your cup on a slight angle in your left hand (left side up) or leave flat on the bench.
- Move your jug spout to the centre of the cup and start to pour. As the milk flows slowly raise your jug away from the cup. The detail holds back texture to ensure you can raise the crema and not fill the cup full of white.
- When the cup is 1 cm from being full, go back down quickly towards the crema. Now let the texture out of your jug by slightly tilting it forwards. White texture should start for a white circle in the centre of your cup. Allow this to happen until the cup is full.
- Follow the first two steps of the CIRCLE.
- Now when you return down towards the crema encourage the texture out slightly more aggressively.
- When you are a moment before the finish of your pour, glide your jug through the centre of the circle and flick at the point your milk hits the end of the circle.
- Instead of starting centrally, this time begin towards one end of the cup.
- When your pour is one third through, begin to tip your jug slightly and wiggle your wrist from left to right while moving the pour to the other side of your cup. This should fill your cup most of the way to the top.
- The final part is driving your pour back though the pattern laid on your cup to create the centre line of your FERN.
Probably the most important thing with creating lattes and latte art is practise, practise, practise!! If you get better at the texturing it will make the pouring relatively easier. You can always try experimenting with a drop of detergent in water so you don’t end up wasting heaps of coffee/milk! Of course, a good latte or flat white comes down to other things too, from having quality fresh beans to having a machine that provides you with the steam power you need.