by Kathryn Wallace
Ever wondered how an espresso is transformed into a work of art?
I’ve been working as a barista in trendy coffee shops in NYC for the last three years and the following are steps in creating an art-worthy latte:
There are three very important steps in creating the best latte: the quality of the espresso extraction, steaming the milk, and the pour.
- A good way to quickly determine your espresso extraction is based on the timing your espresso shot is pulled. If your shot starts dripping before 6-7 seconds, there is a strong indicator that your grinds are too coarse. If your shot starts pulling after 7 seconds, your grinds are probably too fine. You can adjust the grinds on your grinder (every grinder is different in their adjustments). The time the shot pulls and how many grams you want going in and out of the extraction will all be based on your pallet preference and the bean.
Over all you want a well-balanced espresso shot: not too bitter and not too watered down. In other terms, under-extracted and over-extracted. Under-extracted will have more of an acidic taste where it leaves your mouth salivating at the corner of your mouth. The color of the shot will most likely be very dark and “short”, meaning that not enough water went through the beans. Over-extracted will have a watery taste as well as if seeming that it is not “strong enough”. The contrast definition of the shot will also have more of a blonde color to it and the tasting notes will be different based on the bean type and blends.
- The steaming of the milk is the next part in creating a latte. Not only for the latte art (visual appeal) but also for the taste. I don’t know many people who want their first sip of coffee to be pure foam, scorching hot, or lukewarm.
When steaming the milk, you first want to pour the milk right below the dimple on the inside of your milk pitcher.
- Place the steam wand at the center of you pitcher and lean it towards you while the tip of the pitcher leans on the wand.
- Holding your pitcher with one hand, submerge the tip of the wand under desired milk so as not to initially add too much air and therefore creating a lot of bubbles.
- Turn the steamer on and you want to create a mini whirlwind with the milk. If you hear a high pitch screeching sound, add more air little by little. The milk should be just a little hotter than your hand is able to withstand. Some people have different methods on how they hold their pitcher, but I believe you will get the most accurate result if you maintain contact with the pitcher the whole time while steaming. That way you will feel the rise in heat and know that if it is too hot for your hand, then it will be too hot for your month.
- After you find the right temperature, turn the steamer off before removing your pitcher with milk.
- Tamp the pitcher on the counter a few times to remove any excess bubbles. Your milk should look like wet white paint, if it looks a bit chunky I recommend that you heat up a secondary pitcher with the steam wand and transfer the milk.
- When transferring the milk, leave the last centimeter of milk at the bottom of your initial pitcher. Doing this you will remove some of the excess foam and have more silky milk in your second pitcher.
- Pouring the best latte is all about timing, speed, and precision.
While holding the cup in one hand with the handle facing towards you, and the pitcher in the other hand, slant the cup towards you and slowly start pouring the steamed milk into the espresso.
Pro tip: The higher your hold the pitcher from the cup, the milk will sink directly under the espresso.
When initially pouring, you want a slow, thin stream of milk stirring the espresso in a circle-like fashion. While you pour, you are trying to eliminate the white milk streaks in the espresso.
Once the milk is mixed well with the espresso, creating a caramel colored foundation, tilt the cup towards you and start pouring the streamed milk to create your micro-foam latte art.
Enjoy making your own latte and practice creating your own artistic designs!