Latte Art – The trainer’s perspective

I first saw latte art in 1998, at the iconic Zucca Caffe in Milan. I wasn’t working as a Barista at the time (not just because I was on holiday), but I did have a Krups espresso machine at home and my passion for coffee was developing. I watched the Barista at Zucca pour one rosetta after another and I was spellbound. I shot some video of him in action and when I returned to Melbourne, I started working on rosettas. Actually, I started work on anything but rosettas. I watched the video and tried to emulate that Barista, but couldn’t pour a rosetta to save myself.

Fast-forward 2 years, and I began working as a Barista. I tried to pour rosettas at work, but still couldn’t do it. It took me another 2 years of intermittent attempts before I realised my major error (not to mention the minor ones), and finally poured something that resembled a rosetta. My major error was that I had been trying to pour the rosetta back to front (or front to back, or near to far). Anyway, I was finally pouring rosettas.
One of my early rosettas.

My art from 2004

Five years on, and now I train people to pour rosettas. At the cafe, most of my staff get the hang of rosettas by just watching me. I don’t have to give them much instruction, unless they ask for it or I feel they really need it. The benefit of long-term exposure makes a big difference in being able to absorb information effectively, so having the same staff every day, month after month makes training easier.
The most important aspect of latte art that I do teach at work, is the need for well textured milk. In fact, I discourage my Baristas from pouring art unless their milk is well textured. In order to improve texturing skills, you need machine time. So, I don’t exclude staff from the machine because their skills aren’t exceptional. I ween new staff onto the machine, and let them improve their skills without the pressure of rush periods. If I sense that they need guidance, I’ll step in and assist.
In the classes that I teach, I have limited time to impart a lot of information. Not only that, but the students generally have very different skill levels. Some are very experienced, but I’ve also had some students who have never worked on an espresso machine before. So, it’s a challenge to be able to have each and every student leave the class with an improved skill set, no matter what experience they had before the class.
I give students some realistic expectations, as not everyone will be free pouring rosettas at the end of a class. However they do learn some great etching skills on top of improving their texturing. Pouring rosettas takes a lot of patience and practice. I break the pour down into different components and have students work on each component. The experienced Baristas tend to be more relaxed, and are more confident with their pouring technique. For them, it usually takes one or two points from an observer who can identify what’s not working. Those observations usually mean the difference between pouring weeds and pouring rosettas. I love being able to make a difference to a Barista’s skills by identifying something that isn’t working or is missing from their technique, no matter what level of experience they may have.
One of my recent pours.

My advice to any Barista who wants to improve their Latte Art (or any of their skills), is to look at what works in their own routine and also what doesn’t work. It’s a really simple principle but I keep going back to it. If I’m getting results that aren’t satisfying, then I change some aspect of what I’m doing until I identify what is producing the unwanted results, and then I try something else. To keep doing the same thing and expect a different result is insane. Even if I’m producing good results, I like to try something different from time to time, to see what else is possible.

There are plenty of resources available on the internet, and I use them to improve my skills. Here are a couple:
You Tube – Just search for Latte Art examples
The Coffeegeek Milk Frothing Guide

If you’re still struggling, find a trainer who can observe you and provide feedback that will make a difference. Be patient and keep practising.

5 thoughts on “Latte Art – The trainer’s perspective

  1. From one trainer to another, here’s a little guide I threw together for a public site awhile back.

    It’s very “back to basics” due to an overwhelming number of people wanting to learn latte art, and nothing else. It just doesn’t work that way, and I felt the need to emphasize why. Other than that, It just might help, or maybe give you some ideas.. if nothing else, maybe you’ll find it entertaining.

    Just found your blog. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

    Jason H.

  2. Jason,

    Your guide at tx-coffee is great.
    If you weren’t in Texas, I’d have thought you’d been to one of my classes. Your description of pouring from the shoulder is something I use in my classes 😉
    I admire your principle of latte art being reserved only for excellent coffee, not as a means of dressing-up a poorly produced espresso. However I also believe in the approach of wowing people with the latte art so that they get involved in the “Specialty Coffee” conversation. If people get interested in Specialty Coffee through latte art, then I think that’s a win. It’s my stealth approach of converting the masses to a better product:
    – Better beverages (taste & quality)
    – More satisfying to produce (better for the Barista)
    – Opportunities for education (informing Baristas and customers about what goes into the cup, from the cultivator to the roaster)
    – Better sales (stronger relationships through genuine interaction with customers creates loyalty)

    Yes, well produced espresso is essential and my goal also. I certainly focus on this with my staff. However, some people need to be educated the long way around, so I’m happy to give them the milk skills and then develop their interest in producing fine espresso (if that’s what it takes).

    Keep up the good work in Texas!

  3. For some reason, I find this post to be particularly sensational. Perhaps it is because the story is interesting, familiar and compelling, whilst the advice is succinct, correct and not obsessively technical.

    I’ll have to get you to give me some pointers at some stage. No doubt you will raise the bar for my regulars whilst you’re covering for me!



  4. Thanks Luca.

    My first week at First Pour was fun, even if it was quiet.
    Your regulars are regular because of what you bring to First Pour.
    I’ll have to be at my Geeky best! 😉

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