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latte art also cappuccino art

noun [uncountable]

a pattern made on or with the milk froth on the surface of a cup of coffee

'The Japanese barista's 3-D latte art isn't something you're going to run into at Starbucks (and you'd probably get a confused look if you asked your green-aproned barista to make your drink with a 3-D giraffe on top).'

MSNNow 23rd May 2013

If you'd like to see some interesting works of art, don't bother going to the Louvre or Tate Modern, simply rock up in a good coffee bar and order a frothy cuppa. In a new craze dubbed latte art, skilled baristas can adorn your cappuccino or latte with something rather beautiful to look at.

classic examples of latte art are patterns such as hearts, rosettes and ferns, but designs can be much more complicated …

Latte art, also sometimes described for self-explanatory reasons as cappuccino art, is a pattern or miniature sculpture produced within the froth that tops off milky coffee drinks such as cappuccino or latte. If you'd like to visualize what I'm talking about, check out these amazing examples at the link in this article.

Latte art is formed by mixing crema (the technical term for the liquid formed from coffee oil and water) and microfoam (the foam produced when air is passed through milk using a steam wand on an espresso machine). Since neither of these substances are stable (coffee dissipates and foam becomes liquid milk), latte art needs to be admired and appreciated as soon as it's completed, the careful designs simply 'dissolving' after a few minutes!

There are two varieties of latte art – one in which the foam is sculpted into a 3D pattern, and the other, more common approach, of 'etching' a pattern in the froth as the milk hits the surface of the coffee. The latter can be achieved by very carefully manipulating the flow of milk from a jug, a technique dubbed 'free pouring', or by using a tool to create a pattern after the milk is poured in. Classic examples of latte art are patterns such as hearts, rosettes and ferns, but designs can be much more complicated, and include cartoon characters, intricate portraits, or even 3D animals. Some more serious 'latte artists' sometimes use coloured syrups to 'paint' on the coffee and bring a vibrant twist to this unusual form of artwork.

Background – latte art

Latte art, like the coffee drinks that inspired it, originated in Italy, but was developed and popularized in the US in the 1990s by David Shomer, owner of Seattle coffee shop Espresso Vivace. Shomer is a renowned coffee expert who is famous for his coffee-related innovations.

The British English coffee lexicon has broadened considerably in the 21st century, adopting Italian terms like latte, cappuccino, mocha etc as part of everyday vocabulary - words which would have seemed sophisticated and only of marginal use as little as twenty-five years ago. Big international coffee chains like Starbucks have played a role in this, now appearing on most UK high streets and persuading the Brits that there's more to life than their beloved cup of tea! Via the US, coffee terminology has also been augmented with terms based on English, such as skinny, which describes a latte made with skimmed milk. In addition we've seen new Italian-English blends pop up, such as babyccino, a combination of baby and cappuccino which refers to a small cup of milk froth designed for small children tagging along with their parents in coffee bars.

Another relatively new expression featuring the word latte is latte factor, which is a way of describing the familiar principle that a series of small purchases can, over time, build up to more significant expenditure. The expression was based on the idea that buying a coffee (latte) or other snack/drink on the way to work may seem insignificant, but when taken over a number of weeks and months can actually turn out to be rather expensive.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 15th July 2013.

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