What does it say about speciality coffee that the SCAE has a very well supported annual latte art competition but no brewed coffee competition?
Barista competition season has had me thinking – has the collective consciousness finally moved on from that unwritten judgment of pouring traditional cappuccinos? Don’t know what I’m talking about?
Let me rewind to Copenhagen ’08, a simpler time. John Muli, the Kenyan barista champion, poured traditional cappuccinos. However, he made a really clear point of saying to the judges that it was an active choice to do so, and that he was actually very good at latte art.
That he felt it necessary to justify it speaks volumes about what latte art has meant, and maybe still does mean. It was one very visible symbol of inclusion, a third wave hallmark, almost like a secret handshake. It was something WE did, and THEY didn’t etc.
It seems to me the waning of the fascination with latte art is perhaps coinciding with the upswing in popularity for filter coffee. We are spending more time and energy now actually bigging up the coffee, terroir, nuances. We are getting excited about “the coffee” unlike the last decade or so where it seemed an inordinate amount of time was spent glorifying milk.
Even the prototypical 5/6oz cappuccino is, when looked at objectively, a milk drink. Coffee flavoured milk. So much time and effort was spent on the minutae of microfoam (I too was that soldier), and on from that latte art, ever more intricate latte art.
Of course latte art is by no means obsolete, nor is it worthless. When I want some coffee flavoured milk, I’ll admit I do like it to be visually appealing, personally I’m a kind of heart / tulip guy – simple, not too difficult to achieve a pleasing symmetry. However, I really have to draw the line with wave hearts, swans, dragons, double, triple rosettas etc. They are ugly. Always. Regardless of how much skill is involved. That they even exist seems an aberration, an excessive amount of technique misdirected.
What does it mean that the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe has an annual Latte Art competition, yet no brewed coffee competition? I think it is starting to appear anachronistic, and like a lot of misdirected effort.
 It is of course an inevitability that a brewed coffee competition will materialize. The World Aeropress Championships (in its 3rd year) and even Ireland's BrewHaHa (in its first year) speak to this rising tide. Whether in these guises, or a hybrid or something new, no doubt in the next couple of years it will happen.