Jenni Uusilehto

History and Basics of Latte Art

The history of latte art goes back centuries. Once you have mastered the fundamentals, all latte art designs can basically be made by etching or free pouring. 

How to make professional latte art

The hallmarks of professional latte art are pattern definition and symmetry, good contrast and glossy sheen without visible bubbles. To create a design, you need to master the basic barista skills – the espresso must be good and the milk crafted to silky smooth microfoam.

The most classic latte art designs are the heart and the leaf-like rosetta. More experienced baristas are also able to produce swans and tulips, both of which are variations of the two basic designs.

”Once you’ve mastered the key techniques, you can generate endless new designs by varying the traditional patterns,” says Roman Kolpaktsi, barista instructor from the Barista Association of Finland

Free pouring is a technique where the design is created by pouring milk on the coffee from a specific height and moving the pitcher to combine the milk foam and crema. In etching, the milk and crema remain more clearly separate from each other and the pattern is completed with an etching pen.'

”You can have endless fun with latte art. It’s great to see people get excited about coffee and come up with amazing patterns,” Kolpaktsi says.


From history of latte art to social media

Coffee was first turned into visual art a few decades ago in Italy, the birthplace of the popular milk-based espresso drinks, but the credit for making latte art mainstream belongs to US coffee shops. Cups of coffee decorated with patterns were popularised in the US in the late 1980s and early 1990s and soon began their spread around the world.

In the 2000s latte art also reached Australia and the Nordic countries. Today, the biggest boom is taking place in Asia, with Asian baristas doing particularly well at world championships for latte art.
”Asian baristas have a really strong work ethic, and they’re persistent and motivated to get to the top,” says barista instructor Kolpaktsi.

According to Kolpaktsi, the popularity of latte art has grown hand in hand with consumers’ overall increase in coffee awareness. Today’s consumers have learned to insist on quality in coffee. 

”A great-tasting drink that’s delivered fast and has good pattern definition is a sign of a professional barista who values their work, ingredients and customers,” Kolpaktsi says. 

The rise of social media is also bound to have played a role in making latte art a worldwide phenomenon. There is now a much bigger focus on drink presentation as customers love sharing pictures of beautiful cups of coffee online. 

There are almost three million Instagram posts with the hashtag #latteart, and on YouTube the most popular latte art videos have been viewed almost five million times. Barista championship winners gain popularity in social media and inspire other baristas around the world.

Story behind Caffeinated Zebra latte art by Caleb Cha

The Korean-born Australian barista Caleb Cha's creation ”Caffeinated Zebra” charmed the audience as well as the judges at the 2015 World Latte Art Championship (WLAC) event, with his Caffeinated Zebra latte art and two other designs making him winner of the WLAC title.

Baristas are judged based on technical skills as well as creativity in the competition. The designs are only limited by imagination.

”It’s always difficult to create a new pattern that’s never been seen before. But I value those priceless efforts more than repeating the same pours,” says Cha.

It takes hundreds of hours to perfect a new design. For the WLAC, Cha replicated 300 cups a day for seven weeks – more than 14,000 cups of coffee in total.

”I love the process that’s completed when the pattern is transferred from your imagination into the cup,” Cha says.