SHERIDAN — Baristas communicate with customers through more than words. Sometimes, baristas communicate through the craft of latte art.
“It’s a way to communicate with customers if you’re busy,” Andi’s Coffee House owner and operator Dionne Hendrickson said. “It will make them smile.”
Hendrickson and her mother, Annie, opened Andi’s Coffee House two years ago to serve as a place for somewhere to relax and drink a cup of coffee. Dionne made it a point to go above and beyond, adding the special touch of latte art by recruiting a trainer from Billings to teach the staff how to create latte art. The trainer started the team, but practice continues to perfect the art.
“It’s also something you learn as you go,” Hendrickson said.
Latte art remains a mandatory staple for Hendrickson and her team, marking their work with a personal touch and also serving as the stamp of quality.
“Latte art is a barista’s mark of quality,” Hendrickson said. “That’s why we do it. It’s not necessary, but it’s something that says ‘I took my time and I did a good job.’”
Creating the art
The process of creating a latte starts with freshly ground espresso beans in a portafilter, or the hand held cup where grounds set to be filtered through. The grounds in the portafilter get evenly tamped. The portafilter attaches to the espresso machine, and hot water flows through the portafilter and grounds into small one-shot glasses. The barista then pours the espresso shots into the cup and steams the milk in a small metal pitcher. The color contrast makes the latte art more visible, but steaming the milk requires a careful hand as well.
“When you’re steaming the milk…you want small, microscopic bubbles. When (the steam wand) goes deeper into the milk, it integrates (the foam and liquid),” Hendrickson said. “It should look like white paint, and glossy like paint.”
Hendrickson tapped the pitcher on the counter and swirled the steamed milk around to ensure complete integration before pouring it into the cup of espresso.
“If the foam is separated from the liquid, it won’t have the right consistency to make latte art,” Hendrickson said.
She then tilted the mug filled with the espresso shots and poured the milk underneath the espresso to begin.
“You want the milk to go under the espresso to start, and as you get toward the top, you want to slide across the top,” Hendrickson said.
She said latte art is more visible with darker espresso and easier to make in smaller cups. If one pours correctly, it just happens.
“It just happens, if you’re doing it right,” Hendrickson said. “You’re doing your job right as a barista.”
Java Moon’s Jessica Hehn also dabbles in the latte art world, but taught herself how to create latte art through videos and lots of practice.
“I never worked with coffee until I came here,” Hehn said, who started at Java Moon five years ago and worked in the service industry before that. “I was pretty hesitant, but now I feel pretty confident.”
Hehn moves through the same latte-making tasks as Hendrickson, but instead of pouring the integrated milk underneath and on the side of the espresso, she started high and slow with the flow of milk, then moved closer and swirled quickly to create her work of art.
Not a latte drinker herself, Hehn enjoys making customers happy with her latte art.
“I do it for the customers, I don’t do it for myself,” Hehn said. “It’s fun. Customers like it.”
The birth of latte art
While many coffee blogs credit Espresso Vivace owner David Schomer as the creator of latte art, Schomer said in a CoffeeTalk article that he received his milk texturing techniques from Jack Kelly at Uptown espresso in Seattle in 1986. Another man, Luigi Lupi, hosts the website latteart.org, featuring his blog and offering courses in latte art in northern Italy. Lupi has taught 3,544 lessons and trained 869 baristas. Both Lupi and Schomer have been credited as the latte art creators or masters; both also offer education on how to create latte art.