Nothing makes your morning brighter than getting a beautifully crafted leaf in your coffee. This delightful garnish motivates many coffee drinkers to get their coffee made at a coffee house. Many shops have mastered latte art, with baristas throwing designs like hearts and leaves into their drinks.
Even though baristas have plenty of equipment, all you need to make latte art is properly steamed milk. While it requires a lot of practice, it’s possible to make latte art at home. By understanding the basics of steaming milk, you can start crafting your own designs in no time.
Latte art may seem like it requires some sort of special machinery, it’s actually just the result of carefully of pouring foam into espresso. The contrast between the white of the milk and the brown of the coffee make the art.
Latte art has been around in some form since at least the 1960s, and has exploded in popularity over the past couple decades. In order to make art, you need milk with rich, dense foam. Then it’s all about pouring your milk in slowly and evenly, resulting in a nice layering of the white milk and the dark coffee. The most important part of latte art is the milk.
What Kind of Coffee You Need
Generally, you make latte art with espresso. The top layer of espresso, the crema, is what the milk folds with to create the art effect. Having a thick crema from a medium or long pulled espresso shot is the best way to get latte art. However, you can still use drip coffee, or even black tea to make latte art. It just won’t be as pronounced.
How To Properly Steam Milk
Steamed milk is the primary ingredient in good latte art. Getting a perfectly dense, rich foamy texture in your milk will let you smoothly pour into your espresso shot. The foam usually gathers at the back of your steaming pitcher as you pour, letting you work it into a beautiful heart or leaf.
To get this perfect balance of milk and foam, you’ll need to practice steaming your milk. All sorts things factor into how well your milk will steam from how large your pitcher is to how much pressure you use. So take a few tries to practice, and make sure that you understand the fundamentals of steaming milk.
The Equipment You Need
The first thing you need is a coffee maker, preferably an espresso machine. While you can use drip coffee for latte art, espresso just makes it so much easier. Plus, it’s a much more satisfying drink, and can save you a few dollars every day. You can get some cheap machines, but going for a machine with at least 9 bars of pressure will ensure an evenly pulled shot of espresso every time.
You’ll need a pitcher with a handle to steam the milk. If you try to use a container without the handle, you’ll burn your hands. Make sure your pitcher has a spout or indent to make pouring you milk as seamless as possible. You’ll also want a thermometer, though you can also just feel the bottom of the pitcher if you’re comfortable getting your hand hot.
Of course, you’ll want a steam wand. Fortunately, nearly every espresso machine on the market comes with a steam wand, making this step easy. However, if you’re trying to steam milk for drip coffee or have an espresso machine without a steam wand, you can purchase a standalone wand.
Once you have all the materials you need, you’re ready to start steaming. Fill up your pitcher with about 8 ounces of milk, or 1 cup if it isn’t labeled, put in your thermometer, and submerge the steam wand. Lightly turn on the steam wand, warming up your milk while keeping the wand submerged.
It depends on the milk and your steam pressure, but milk generally makes the best foam between 70 and 110 degrees. Keep your wand on low until you get to 70 degrees.
Once you’re at the right temperature, you want to crank up your steam. If you have a lower pressure wand, you’ll need to go to the maximum pressure, but if you have a higher pressure, you’ll want to hold back. A good indicator that you have the right pressure is that your milk is gently swirling in your pitcher.
To make the actual foam, you’ll need to carefully lower your pitcher, keeping your steam wand straight up and down. You’ll hear a light snapping noise when the steam wand reaches the surface. This is the sound of air being incorporated into the milk, and you’ll want about 3 or for of these snaps per second. Keep doing this until you reach 100 or 110 degrees.
Incorporate the foam
Next you’ll want to incorporate the foam into the milk. Submerge your steam wand again and get that gentle swirl. This will mix the foam into the milk, giving you an even, aerated milk rather than a layer of foam on top of your milk. Generally, you’ll want to stop steaming your milk at about 140 degrees.
The most common temperature for coffee houses to steam milk to is between 150 and 160 degrees. This pasteurized the milk without burning it, but it also affects the flavor. Milk is sweetest around 135, so some people like to stop steaming earlier, while others want their drink to stay hot well after they stop drinking, so they steam for longer.
The important thing to remember for making latte art is that you need enough time for making foam and incorporating the milk. If you plan on having cooler milk, make sure to more heavily aerate your milk, and start incorporating the foam at around 90 degrees. If you want hotter milk, you also want less foam, since the heat will naturally texturize the milk.
Many people have a misconception that the foam in a latte is supposed to sit on top of the milk. That’s because it will separate from the milk after few minutes, but it’s actually one homogenous consistency when it’s being poured. You want about 8 fluid ounces of cold milk to steam into 10 fluid ounces of hot milk, having a nice, dense, even texture all the way through.
What Milk is Best for Latte Art
Of course, there are a few options when it comes to which milk you choose. Dairy works best because of its fat-sugar ratio, but some people prefer nonfat and non-dairy drinks.
Whole milk and 2% milk are probably what’s in your latte when you order at a coffee shop. These milks steam the easiest, have the most decadent textures, and make the most extravagant latte art. If you want an easy time practicing latte art at home, opt for whole milk.
Nonfat milk has a different ratio of fat than whole milk, making it harder to steam. If you have a steam wand with a high enough pressure, you may not even need to aerate nonfat milk. The heat alone will texturize it, so you’ll have to experiment to find the right method.
Non-dairy drinks are a great way to let more people enjoy the rich flavor of espresso. Steaming non-dairy milk at home mostly depends on the brand. Sweetened almond milk and soy milk will generally texturize more easily than unsweetened alternatives, but each brand has a different feel in the pitcher.
Steaming Milk Without a Steam Wand
If you want to practice your latte art at home but don’t have a steam wand, there are a couple of options available for texturizing your milk.
If you have none of the equipment necessary, you can actually aerate your milk by hand. Simply put some milk into a covered container and shake. Remove the lid and microwave for no more than 40 seconds. Be careful, of course, because it’ll be very hot. Using a glove, you can now pour the milk into your coffee. This won’t yield very good results, but is a great way to start practicing your latte art.
With a frother
You can use a frothing wand to texturize you milk, too. Milk frothers have a small ribbon of wire that is spun by a motor, letting you aerate milk. With this method, you’ll want to heat up your milk first, then alternate between frothing the surface of the milk and submerging the frother to incorporate. This method actually works quite well to make latte art.
Making Your Favorite Drinks At Home
As a coffee lover, it’s only natural to try to make your favorite drinks at home. We watch baristas carefully make each drink and wish we had the same skill at home. By practicing pulling shots, steaming milk, and making latte art, you can craft your own drinks with espresso bar quality, making it that much easier to enrich your day with a great cup of coffee.