Have you ever looked down at your latte and found a beautiful design etched into it? I didn’t used to think about latte art very much, if at all. But as I’ve been looking more into coffee and exploring its many different aspects, I’ve learned that latte art is where coffee’s creative side truly shines. These charming drawings and designs add a bit of sparkle to an otherwise everyday, mundane item.
We often talk about ways to make our daily routines more beautiful — not only aesthetically, but spiritually. I used to grapple with how mindfulness and spirituality fit together with aesthetics: how could I combine my desire to enjoy beautiful material items — or, something like the simple, frivolous pleasure of latte art! — with my desire for connecting deeper with my inner essence and surrounding universe. The answer? Happily, I’ve found it’s pretty straightforward: the two can co-exist seamlessly, as long as we’re enjoying ourselves while staying true to our values, principles, and gut feelings.
I’m learning that part of life’s fun is allowing myself to revel in superficialities, like an awesome nail polish color I just found, or a beautiful mug spotted in the window of a street-side boutique. I think it’s possible to be fulfilled spiritually, while also acknowledging our desires for aesthetic pleasure. Let us also not forget that it’s a great privilege to have the freedom of time to linger over shiny things, or ooh-and-awe at a stellar drawing impeccably rendered on the surface of an espresso.
Even latte art itself has not been free of issues inherent in superficial, surface art: even today, there are many baristas who are apprehensive about latte art’s increasing prominence in coffee culture. Will the emphasis placed on these enticing pictures outshine the actual taste of the drink? Will baristas focus more effort on their artistic skills than on their ability to make an outstanding beverage? Or, to put it in a broader context, will style trump substance as it so frequently does in other industries?
The answer, of course, depends on the individual barista, the choice of ingredients, and the cafe’s overall commitment (or, lack thereof) to high quality coffee — in regards to both taste and appearance. The ideal, for me, is to have an equally high standard in both realms.
The high-achieving folks behind Soma understood this, too, as they worked tirelessly to create an eco friendly design from which to filter and serve our daily water — a design both pragmatic and beautiful in appearance.
A quick survey of latte art shows that there are two main methods of execution: free pouring and etching. The latter consists of drawing figures and shapes in the liquid’s surface using a stick; the former uses a specific pouring method to create designs with microfoam (from steamed milk). Each, understandably, requires patience and practice. Most coffee shops in America make their latte art via free pouring, which demands a steady hand, a slow pour, and well-timed shakes executed close to the drink’s surface.
While it’s pretty hypnotizing to watch the free pouring latte art being made, I’m a bigger fan of etching, which seems to me a more personalized form, allowing the latte artist to display their own personal style. From drawings of customer’s heads, to flowers and people, there are virtually no limits to what one can create with a stick, microfoam, and proper coffee base — providing it can fit within the canvas of a coffee mug!
Let me tell you from first-hand experience: there’s nothing more frivolously fun than drinking your face! And if you’re not a coffee drinker, never fear: latte art can be done with different types of drinks, including matcha lattes. As long as the drink can handle a decent amount of microfoam, we’re able to create beautiful designs within it!
A cup of coffee can be just a cup of coffee — or, it can be a work of art. Whether we value style, substance, or both, appreciating art in all its myriad forms is a workout for both our spirits and minds. Taking time to enjoy the lighter aspects of life can prove enormously fulfilling: after all, light hearts let deep minds run free.