latte art

What does it say about speciality coffee that the SCAE has a very well supported annual latte art competition but no brewed coffee competition?[1]

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.

[1] 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.

5 thoughts on “latte art

  1. I completely agree, Latte Art is a completely superflous part of the barista’s set of skills. It DOES have a use though, it does help engage with customers who are less into the coffee scene, which is probably why it’s given credence by the SCAE over brewed coffee, the same conundrum could be said for Signature Drinks.

    It’s high time for a brewed coffee competition further than Ibrik. And though us coffee geeks can find it interesting, the point of the competitions is to engage the wider audience in speciality coffee and this is probably why there is less investment in it.

  2. Às a barista, working in on a hotel, I believe, as I think many coffee people do so, we work to stimulate, as much as we can, the senses of everyone we are suppose to serve coffee beverages. And that represents the opportunity to “balance” what we know about cofee potencials.

  3. hot air,hot milk&hot coffee says:

    Your right,
    but as you well know, this is what has attracted many barista’s into the game that is, possiblely drew you in also. Most people who apply this kind of dedication to detail and presentation often will do the same with every aspect of the process.
    Bring on brew-times but like everything, trends come and go. i’m not saying its a fad, but it is the next step in progression.
    So as we learn more, our direction changes, but don’t forget that the icing on the cake has made the general masses apprecicate what it is you are trying to achieve.

    keep sharing, if you want things to progress.

  4. Tumi Ferrer says:

    I guess that the idea of a latte art championship was pretty bold at the time, letting people actually focus on one specific factor which makes a coffee drink good.

    Latte art is still a much more fun competition to watch for someone not working with coffee, rather than WBC. Something that triggers an affection in coffee newcomers of tomorrow. Same thing with Coffee in good spirits, its aim being to revive the Irish coffee.

    I think that adding more competitions is only a natural and positive step, in approaching coffee making, experience, both visual and in taste.

    I hope people aren’t suggesting that the latte art championship is getting obsolete, but I agree, more competitions seem to be in order.

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