This article covers some golden rules and understandings that I believe can help you get started .
The Espresso Base
Make sure your espresso is pouring like honey. The aim is to have a perfect crema to pour onto, think of it like the canvas your about to paint on. Rich, smooth and even is what you're chasing with your crema. Great latte art should have a strong contrast between the background (the crema) and the foreground (your art), not a wishy washy finish where your pattern will get lost.
Tip: A double ristretto is often the espresso base of choice - more crema and less volume than a full double espresso shot allowing more time for you to pour your masterpiece!
This can be a matter of opinion between baristas, but generally a good, fresh full cream milk heated to between 50-55 degrees Celsius is the key. Any hotter and and the proteins in the milk begin to denature and the texture of the milk begins to change. The consistency of the heated milk should be like thin wet paint. Not too foamy or dense, this will just make it too hard to achieve contrast and definition of your patterns.
Tip: Try and create a whirlpool action in your milk when it is heating and only allow a small amount of aeration at this time - you don't want bubbles!
The Milk Jug
Again, this is a matter of opinion between baristas but find a good, solid milk jug that has a comfortable handle and most importantly a rolled spout that is conducive to latte art. You really need to master the art of control when pouring, so try as many style of jugs as you can until you find the fit for you. Some great brands of milk jugs include Motta, Ilsa and Espro.
If your a beginner, the pour can take a while to master. You need to start to feel how the milk leaves the jug and with what action you have applied. Depending upon what pattern you are pouring will determine your pouring action. The quality of your milk will also influence your pouring action. I guess this is why latte art takes practice! Remember to try any keep your crema together, not washed out by the milk and your milk shiny and pliable. Baristas often spin and split their milk into a second jug until they are happy with the texture and consistency of the milk, making the pour easier.
Latte art is judged upon contrast (as discussed), symmetry, definition and difficulty. Patterns can be "free poured" or "Etched or Assisted". Free pouring is exactly that, the pattern is free poured with no use of any tools (latte art pens to etch, stencils, syrups or toppings etc) where as etching or assisted latte art means the barista has used these, or any combination of these tools to help create their pattern.
Free pouring is a skill that has to be mastered, because often a free poured pattern makes a great base for etching techniques to be applied. The best pattern to start of learning to free pour is the Love Heart., followed by a Rosetta. Once these two are mastered, a Tulip (pictured above) and a Swan is often next. From here let your imagination run wild! I found a great article by theendearingdesigner.com that demonstrates where latte art can be taken and might help inspire you to get started.
Practice, Practice & Practice some more! Good Luck :)
At The Coffee Training Co. we offer beginner latte art classes for both home and industry baristas who are comfortable preparing the espresso menu and want to start mastering this skill.
Article by Brent Deller - Training Manager, The Coffee Training Co.