Art on the Clock

Obama Latte

Obama Latte

The longest part of my day is waiting for the espresso to extract through the portafilter, milk steamed and ready to complete the drink.

Our little café uses about eleven bags of coffee a day. This high volume commands a quick result as there can sometimes be lines out the door. When I make coffee all of the art that appears once I’ve finished pouring, is purely accidental.

Coffee art has never been a huge factor in the quality of my coffee. When I venture to cafes on the weekend, I admire the creaminess of the froth and the rich earthy colours of the crema. The art has a tendency to make me feel guilty when I stick a spoon in to mix my sugar.

Nevertheless, people always thank me for the odd leaf and slanted heart, as if I have individualized the coffee instead of handing over something taken off the production line.

Over the years coffee art has become a culture in itself. 2007 World Latte Art champion Jack Hanna explained that “it used to affect [him] a lot to see [his] hard work just ‘destroyed’.” How easily the spoon can swirl away Hanna’s perfect rosettas and a quick sip can erase the coffee formerly known as art. Any hard work going to waste would be challenging to see.

Yet he has adopted a new attitude, “taken more of a big picture approach now.” Hanna would rather see his customers “enjoy their experience” than dance around the art, impeding the enjoyment of the actual coffee.

World Barista Judge, Justin Metcalf commented in The Age that the creativity on top of lattes does not “constitute whether it’s a good coffee or not.” Metcalf went on to slam Melbourne’s coffee adding that “people [in Melbourne] are still far more interested in the texture of the milk and whether it’s got a pattern on top.”

The art is in place as a reminder to customers that effort is mandatory in order to make an enjoyable beverage. In order to produce the art, the crema needs to be the right colour and the milk needs to be frothed in a way that houses the creativity. If a barista has taken the time to learn to draw on a beverage then they have also taken the time to see how the crema will react. Bad tasting crema and poorly steamed milk does not react well and the art will not look tasty.

My customers love a random heart, even Jackson Pollock style designs, I always get a compliment. As a barista, it is nice to be appreciated not only for the art, but for the effort as a whole. As a customer it is nice to know that a white heart on top of my latte has been made especially for me, even if I do turn it into a blob once I add the sugars.

Yes my ‘art’ is completely coincidental, but it does make customers aware of the long hours baristas spend on their feet producing something that helps you get through the day.

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3 Responses to “Art on the Clock”


  1. 1 David September 9, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    it is hard to destroy a baristas’ coffee art. especially if they meant it. the way they’ve swayed the jug from side to side, to produce what looks like a heart or a silver fern. it is quite pleasant to see it as you reach for the cup. even better when you see it in action.

    on the other hand, people should remember it is a beverage. the quality of the design should be appreciated for a moment, perhaps a even two, if it’s quite the rembrandt. however, the quality of the coffee… well, there’s the real art.

    • 2 Meghan September 9, 2009 at 9:03 pm

      well put, and I agree full heartedly. Yes, the art has a time limit, but instead of just being made into a gimmick, perhaps it can stand for that reminder as well. I think I would have trouble ruining the picture of Obama above, it’s pretty amazing, although if it was a picture of the last president, I’d scull it without a hint of guilt.

  2. 3 Petar September 13, 2009 at 2:57 am

    Art can come in different forms, some are meant to last for ages, such as the Aboriginal rock art in the Kakadu which has stood the test of time for many thousands of years, through to paintings and frescos which last for some hundreds of years, and then we have musical performance, which lasts fleetingly, for but a mere moment, but the memory of which can last for a lifetime… If you happen to enjy that sort of thing… ;o)

    Coffee art should only be done by those so trained in the Art and for whom it is effortless, where it takes but a few moments to create a masterpiece. It should then be appreciated for the moment in which it was created, but remember, the MAIN point of coffee is the administering of Caffeine directly into the bloodstream :o) Sitting idly by and admiring the prettiness of the artwork, while the heat escapes rendering the coffee a tepid pool of bean oils and stagnant milk froth would ruin the experience entirely.

    That’s my $0.02 ;o)

    Love the blog Megs :oD Keep up the fine work ;o)


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