Art in a Cup
by Bruce Milletto

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Creating Art from a Pitcher of Milk

Bruce Milletto
President, Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup
Founder, American Barista & Coffee School

When you order a cappuccino at your favorite coffeehouse, does the barista present you with a drink that you don’t even look at before you start sipping, or do you receive one that looks so beautiful that you stare at it in admiration and think twice before drinking it? If you are fortunate enough to get the latter, you have been introduced to the world of Fancy Art Pours, also known as Caffe Latte Art.

Latte Art is no longer the property of Italian baristas. American baristas have risen to the challenge and are learning how to combine the perfect espresso extraction with properly textured milk to create a gourmet presentation that wows customers and increases business.

Where did latte art come from? To the best of my knowledge, Italy. Twelve years ago I was on assignment for the now defunct Seattle coffee magazine, “Café Olé.” I showed Roger Sandon, the magazine’s publisher, some photographs I had taken on my numerous trips to Italy, one of which depicted a fancy heart pour in a cappuccino.

I took the picture when I visited Verona and some Italian friends told me I must witness firsthand a particular barista who made beautiful free pours. As I watched the barista work, I was amazed as I saw drink after drink come across the marble bar, each with beautiful design in the milk. I asked him if I could photograph him in action. The following month “Café Olé.” did a two-page spread entitled “Café d’ Italia,” and a closeup I took of a beautiful rosetta was included in the piece.

A year or so later I ran into David Schomer of Seattle’s Espresso Vivace. He told me it was this very photo (with the name of the coffee bar visible on the side of the cup) that motivated him go to Italy, find this bar and learn how to pour latte art. As most of us know, he went on to produce a very good basic video instructing baristas on how to make these pours. This video became required viewing for the baristas in my coffee operations — my goal was to have each barista learn how to make at least one fancy pour. The result was phenomenal. The cappuccinos served at the coffee bar I owned near the University of Oregon were rated the best in town by the local paper.

I will never forget the feeling I got one Saturday morning while sitting in my coffee bar pretending to read the paper. Saturday was like finals for us at Bar Primavera. Each barista had the opportunity to come in and practice during slow times, but on this particular Saturday he or she had to master at least one pour. When drinks were presented to customers that morning, each and every one made comments like “Wow! I don’t even want to drink this because it’s so beautiful!”

This type of marketing costs nothing except the time you invest in training, and I can think of few things you can do inside your coffee bar that will make a bigger impact on the quality and presentation of your cappuccinos and lattes. Beautiful drink presentation shows your customers that you strive for perfection in your operation, and when they leave your store the resulting word-of-mouth advertising you will receive from serving these beautiful drinks is well worth the investment in training.

A Sense of Pride
There are many reasons you should insist your baristas learn fancy art pours. In addition to the marketing bang you will receive, you will also be assured your baristas are steaming milk properly, a necessary component of latte art. Your customers will soon figure out the difference between the drinks you serve with wonderful wet foam mixed with a rich shot of espresso and the ones served by the large chains with dry large-celled foam scooped on top of the coffee that is buried below.

Being able to make these pours gives most baristas a gigantic sense of pride. It makes their job more fun, interesting and challenging, and with each pour they see themselves getting better and better. When teaching your baristas to pour latte art, you must always remind them that they should never sacrifice shot quality. However, it is usually the case that once the pride of making these pours is instilled in the barista he or she will also become fanatical about pulling the perfect shot.

More than a decade has passed since I took the photo in Verona, Italy. Today, Caffe Latte Art contests are held at most coffee industry trade shows. A serious barista will understand latte art is part of his craft, what will set him and the coffee bar in which he works apart from the competition. It is unlikely that anytime soon you will be able to walk into a big chain store and receive this sort of care and perfection. A simple fancy pour projects quality and promotes your status as an independent coffee retailer who cares.

And Now, Extreme Baristas
I recently spent time in Portland shooting a film about a new breed of intense and dedicated barista. It was a joy to work with these young baristas who were so passionate about their craft and their pours. Each had taken the basics of latte art and come up with their own innovations. The inspired pours I saw would make even the most talented of Italian baristas drop their jaws. These baristas are no longer satisfied with the basics; they are intent on creating new designs, winning fancy pour contests, or, if nothing else, seeing the look on the face of one of their customers as they present to them not just a cappuccino, but a work of art in a cup.

So who cares about fancy pours? Most everyone, and if you are an owner or barista in our industry, you must. At the Bellissimo tradeshow booth we have a TV showing nothing but scenes of coffee intermingled with scenes of art pours. People come to a dead stop, grab a friend and say, “Wow! Look at this!”

The more “Wows!” you hear from your customers inside the walls of your coffee bar the more pride you will generate in your baristas. In addition, more dollars will flow to your bottom line…this I promise.

Advanced Barista Training: Extreme Pours is available from Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup at a sale price of $59.95. Click here to order.

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