About a month or so ago, my old editor at Poor Taste contacted me about writing a regular coffee column. Given my history with the corporate coffee industry, I jumped on the chance at looking deeper into coffee and digging through the world of independent shops and roasters.
Today, my first column was published and I couldn’t be more excited. I miss writing and I really miss food writing and I’m very happy to be doing it again.
When quality coffee comes into question, most thoughts turn instantly to taste and flavor. But major roasters have brought in a new and critical aspect – appearance. As many of the city’s major roasters are proving, it’s no longer enough to just produce a quality roast and delicious drink; the café experience is now defined by taste and presentation.
Beautiful latte art is becoming a new standard for craft coffee shops. Go to most of San Francisco’s roasters, and any milk-based drink will be adorned with foamy designs that range from leaves and branches to hearts and stars.
“People have come to expect it at any of the major roasters,” says Dennis Medina, a barista at Sightglass Coffee. “Latte art skills are expected for the job.” A prospective barista can’t qualify for a job at Sightglass unless they have knowledge and skills in latte art.
“It reminds someone that this cup of coffee is something to take notice of,” says Ritual Coffee Roasters barista Grant MacHamer. “[Latte art] makes it special. People tend to stop and take a look at it.”
While latte art is aesthetically pleasing, it is more than just a pretty presentation. As MacHamer says, it shows that the barista is making the drink right the first time and that they know what they’re doing. It shows that a barista can pull an accurately timed shot, perfectly froth the milk, and pour a delicious drink. An artfully poured milk-based drink is a testament to the barista’s skills. Latte art is not something for novices. Many baristas take their time to learn how to make those pretty leaves and swirls that mark the foam. And it is because of this that patrons are taking notice.
“It gives the whole experience,” says Medina. “It makes people feel better about paying that much for a craft cup of coffee.”
Though latte art may seem like it is practiced for customers’ sake, in many ways it’s not. The art gives baristas a chance to set themselves apart and learn a craft, not just a practice. As MacHamer explains, “the process makes it feel like more of a craft than an assembly line.”
The next time a barista presents a pristine latte with frothy designs, remember that it is not just art. It’s a craft, a delicious, delicious craft.