Learn how you can nail latte art using your espresso machine

Nailing latte art

It’s the stuff of instagram filters and barista courses. The ultimate in coffee skills, and the coffee lover’s status symbol: you’ve got it, it’s latte art. We’ve all been there, ogling a barista’s perfect leaf or heart shape, and wondered, how on earth did you just create that out of steamed milk? Can someone just show me how to make latte art? It may well be that you got inspired once, bought yourself a milk foamer or utilised that spout feature on your espresso machine, and set yourself to create your own latte art design, to be sorely disappointed when your ‘leaf’ looked more like a foamy blob. Maybe you searched a quick latte art tutorial to find it confusing or alluringly simple; and felt that it just didn’t work for you. We’ve been there. The abject failure compared to your glamorous expectations can be enough to make you throw out the milk foamer and never bother again. But rest assured: there is a way, albeit one that takes time, and we want to help you find your way to creating your own latte art designs!

The problem with most failed attempts at latte art is a lack of knowledge of the latte art basics: a good kit is required, as well as an awareness of the practice you need. It’s called coffee art for a reason: it requires practice and patience. Your first attempt at painting is certainly going to be vastly different to a seasoned artist’s, and latte art is no different. A latte art beginner will produce creations that look very different to a professional. But work your way up gradually using our step by step guide, and you’ll soon find your latte looking a bit less blobby, and a lot more leafy. In this article we’re going to break down how to develop your latte art, the kit you need to set yourself up for success, the techniques you need to regularly practice, and finally a few ideas for once you’re a bit more established, with no need to attend a latte art course!

The kit and ingredients

Firstly, we’re assuming you already have an idea of how to make a latte, having taken a look at our ‘how to make the perfect latte’ article. The information below expands upon the key method for latte creation and focuses on levelling up!

Milk and coffee

Surely all you need ingredients wise is milk and coffee, right? Well, technically yes – but the type of milk you’re using, as well as the coffee you’ve got, can make all the difference. Think of your milk and coffee as your canvas for creating a great painting. A4 scrapbook paper just won’t cut it when you’re aiming for a masterpiece, and for the best results (though remember, practice comes in too) neither will semi skimmed milk and instant! But we’re sure you knew that already.

For your milk you are going to want full fat, if using cow’s milk. Baristas have certainly been able to make this work with semi-skimmed, but it’s a lot more difficult due to the reduced fat content involved. Best go for more of a sure thing. If you’re going for plant based or non dairy ensure you purchase barista blend versions of your favourite milk. These have been created to match the fat content of a traditional whole milk. Why do we suggest full fat/barista blends? It’s all about the microfoam. A good foam is key to creating lasting latte art patterns, and high fat content creates a more stable foam at lower room temperatures.

When you’re pouring out your milk to create that gorgeous leaf shape your latte is going to cool very quickly; and you’re likely to lose a lot of heat in the process – so you need a milk that can keep its foam despite a lowered temperature.

Next up: coffee. Does it surprise you that we’re going to say a big no to instant? For the perfect latte art, you’re going to want espresso made with fresh ground beans, as per our how to make the perfect latte article. We don’t want an excess of water in our beverage as this reduces the ability of the milk to keep its foam while pouring. Equally, flavour is important too. Espresso is brewed with the exact quantity of ground beans to match the quantity of liquid; and it’s much easier to control the amount of coffee you’re including. Instant is highly concentrated and ordinarily designed to be weakened with lots of water; so adding the small amount of water required to avoid reducing milk foam is going to leave an extremely bitter flavour. Trust us – go with a well brewed espresso!

The kit to use

First off, you will need the key kit items outlined in our ‘how to make the perfect latte’ article, but specifically you will need an espresso machine with a built in steam wand. While an ordinary latte can be done without this, a steam wand with its own heat source is vital to getting your milk to the correct temperature, and to creating that velvety texture that good latte art relies on. You’ll also need a thermometer to ensure you’re getting your milk temperature just right.

Above all of your machine itself, however, the most important piece of kit you’ll need is the humble steel milk jug. Easy right? Just buy any old milk jug. Not true: there are a few important features of a milk jug that will help you towards your latte art dreams. A good milk jug needs a wide neck that will encourage the ‘whirlpool’ effect when you start steaming. You’ll also need to think about the capacity of the jug. This is entirely dependent on how much drink you’re making – we assume you’ll just be going for the one average mug full of latte, so a 12oz mug would suit you.

Your milk should ideally reach up to where the spout begins, about ⅓ capacity of the jug. This gives enough space for your frother/steam wand to enter the jug and not overflow when the milk has aerated, but enough milk to get a decent quantity of foam to facilitate your latte art. You’re also going to want to make sure the pitcher is indeed made of steel, as steel will help your milk get up to the temperature it needs to when frothing.

If you’re concerned about handling very hot steel you can purchase teflon coated pitchers which retain heat, but won’t burn your fingers! Spouts are worth thinking about: there’s more than one type! More complex art designs warrant narrow spouts to allow more control over design, however are harder to use. We recommend a wide spout to start with as this will allow you to create tulips, hearts and leaves most easily. Finally, while some milk pitchers come without a handle, we recommend buying a handled one to start with to give you more control.

So to summarise: 12oz, steel, wide spout, and a handle! Those are your key criteria for the best start when foaming milk.

Let’s get to the method

As we said earlier, we’ll assume you already have an idea of how to make the perfect latte, having read our latte article. If you’re making a latte with latte art in mind, however, there’s a bit more to the process. There are three parts: foaming your milk, pulling your espresso, and pouring your milk. Here we’re assuming you’d like a leaf pattern. This takes lots of practice, but with consistent attention the method below, you’ll find yourself making patterns in no time!

  1. Pull a fabulous espresso and add to your coffee cup. You can see our top tips on pulling an espresso here. 
  2. Pour cold milk (around 180ml) into your steel pitcher. You could also add an extra level of cold by keeping the pitcher in your fridge for about 20 minutes beforehand.
  3. Begin heating your milk using your steam wand, angling your jug at a slight tilt and placing your steam wand in the lower right corner of the jug just a few centimetres from the top of the milk. Keep it there for a few seconds then plunge it to the bottom of the jug, not to the point of touching any edges of the jug but not far off. The point here is to create the magical ‘whirlpool’ effect which breaks down bubbles and creates the necessary microfoam to make latte art with. Continue until your milk reaches about 60 degrees celsius. 
  4. Tap your pitcher to remove any large bubbles from the beverage surface. Now’s the time we get latte art-ing!
  5. Slowly pour a very thin stream of milk from about 5cm away, into the middle of your espresso. Too wide a stream and you will break the crema of the espresso and hide any effect art was going to have. Pour slowly, moving the jug from side to side until you can see a pattern beginning to form, moving the jug slowly further away from the cup for the pattern to begin forming across the width of the cup. Once you have created a leaf pattern, run the milk stream through the middle. Quick movements will create a flowery pattern, while slower movements will create more of a leaf shape. You want to use about half the milk in your jug here.
  6. Once you have created your pattern move the milk pouring it to the side of the cup to fill the rest of the mug. It may look a bit blobby on your first go- but persevere! You’ll get there!

Stepping it up

We recommend keeping trying with the above ‘leaf’ method until you’ve nailed it, which will give you confidence to try out some of our alternative options below.

Heart shape:

Pour your milk into the centre of your espresso as per step 5. At this point begin pouring your milk side to side in your cup, continuing until you have a big circle in the middle. Move your jug forward and continue pouring onto the same spot until your mug is full. Finish by pouring in a straight line through the middle. 

Flower shape:

Begin your pour about 2-3cm from the edge of the cup. When your cup is filled half way gently shake your wrist back and forth while moving the jug itself backwards. 

And there you have it!

Nailing latte art isn’t an easy process, but one that takes a great deal of practice. We recommend, alongside following our guidance, watching online videos to view the process visually. You’ll be creating beautiful designs before you know it!

Making a latte

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