The darling of Instagrammers everywhere, latte art has become a ubiquitous part of the specialty coffee experience. Baristas pride themselves on their ability to pour towering tulips or graceful swans, and customers have come to expect that their favorite drinks should not only taste great, but look great too.
The Eyeball's Appetite
The phrase “You eat with your eyes first,” has been bandied about in the culinary world for ages, and a quick Google search of the phrase turns up enough results to make one’s head spin. But the bottom line is that our visual perception of food can affect the way we perceive flavor, and the nicer something looks, the more likely we are to think it tastes better than a more drably dressed serving of an otherwise identical dish.
A well poured rosetta can be an indicator of a quality beverage as much as the coffee itself.
In the coffee world, we often create that elevated visual experience using latte art. And a well poured rosetta can be an indicator of a quality beverage as much as the coffee itself.
Judge the Coffee by its Cover
Now the particularly coffee-geeky among you may recall a few years back when Barista Hustle published an article asking whether latte art actually makes coffee taste worse. This unleashed a flood of follow up experiments, blog posts, and debate about the real value of latte art. I even replicated the Barista Hustle experiment myself (with inconclusive results). But despite the scrutiny and skepticism, latte art remains a fixture, a skill generally perceived as essential to the modern specialty coffee barista.
All in all, it was never up for debate that well-executed latte art is just really cool.
A large part of that, I believe, is simply due to that idea of eating with your eyes. Appearances really do matter, whether for a single guests’ enjoyment or a social media post that could reach thousands of people. All in all, it was never up for debate that well-executed latte art is just really cool.
Beyond just appearances though, latte art is also representative of the barista’s craft. A skilled barista can make latte art look effortless (we call it “sprezzatura”), but that picture-perfect drink is the culmination of hours and hours of practice steaming and pouring to get the milk just right, to master the flow of milk from pitcher to cup, and to do it all quickly enough to keep their guests happy. So that pretty pour isn’t just saying “This is going to be tasty,” but also “Your barista knows their stuff.”
That pretty pour isn’t just saying “This is going to be tasty,” but also “Your barista knows their stuff.”
Speaking as a barista myself, my favorite thing about latte art is getting to share something I’m proud of creating with someone who is going to enjoy it. I’ve seen little kids giggling at the tiny flower in their hot cocoa, at-home coffee enthusiasts having a ball learning how to pour from their friends behind the bar and how a simple heart poured in a to-go cup can bring a smile to someone having a rough day.
Latte art makes people happy. Who can argue with that?