Since working at Fellow, I’ve been on a wild journey to better my coffee skills and knowledge of the industry. I know how to make a great pour-over and good espresso, and I am relatively knowledgeable regarding coffee plant varieties and roasting techniques. Through it all, there has been one thing I’m far from mastering—latte art. It’s a unique art and a great way to impress your friends. So, I’m here to chronicle my journey from latte art novice to (hopefully), master. I mean, how hard can it be? It’s just some foam on top of espresso, right?
To be honest, there’s a huge learning curve. From having the perfect microfoam to swirling, titling, and lifting, it’s a lot to nail for one little cup of coffee. Despite the difficulty, I’ll give it my best with Eddy Steaming Pitcher and Monty Milk Art Cups coming along for the ride.
Who am I? My name is Liz Dyer, human guinea pig, and proud owner of a new espresso machine. I have worked in some of the best restaurants in the US with great coffee programs and have made a lot of espresso drinks in my life. But I always avoided latte art. In fact, I have quite the aversion to simply steaming milk. One of my first high school jobs was working as a barista. One day I was steaming milk, looked over my shoulder as the foam was rising in the pitcher, and overflowed onto my left hand, severely burning all my fingers. My hand is still scarred from the event 15 years later. Moving on…
I will be comparing Eddy and Monty with some “standard” cups in my kitchen to see if they really make the process easier. I’ve heard many times that for baristas especially, Eddy and Monty are a gift from the design gods. They’re so well-designed, in fact, that my co-worker and experienced barista, Hailie, said about Eddy, “I literally cried tears of joy when I first used it.” Now that’s an endorsement.
Mission Latte Art
Latte art expectations
I started off this task asking for tips and tricks from my espresso aficionado co-workers, followed by watching YouTube tutorials (one for steaming milk, one for latte art). Through my crash course, I learned some essential foundations:
- Crema: Have a nice crema on your espresso. The key to a thick, visible crema is fresh coffee. Monty’s parabolic slope helps lift crema to the top easily.
- Steaming: Properly steam your milk. You want a silky, thick microfoam, you barely want to see the bubbles. I found that filling Eddy to about the 6 oz mark on the inside of the pitcher provides a nice amount of room as you steam.
- To make microfoam, you want to hold your steaming wand at 40°, slide Eddy onto the steaming wand using its sharp front crease as a guide, and turn on the steam. Then, holding Eddy’s spout to the top of the wand like a joint, move the tip of the steaming wand halfway towards the middle of the pitcher, and tilt Eddy about a quarter turn to either side.
- Throughout the steaming process, just the tip of the steaming wand should be submerged in the milk. After a few seconds, a slight whirlpool will develop. The whirlpool is key to achieving a uniform and silky foam. When Eddy is too hot to touch (roughly between 100°F-130°F), stop steaming. Properly steamed milk will appear shiny and have the consistency of house paint.
- Pouring the Foundation: Unlike with “regular” cups, Monty features ceramic double-walls, which allows you to grip the cup with ease. Monty is insulated enough to not burn your hand while keeping your drink hotter, longer.
- When pouring the steamed milk into your espresso, tilt Monty on its side as you prepare to pour your steamed milk. Pour some milk into the middle of the espresso pool, filling Monty about halfway. Do not let the milk hit the sides of the mug. This will provide enough density for your art to sit on top of.
- Pouring the Art: Eddy’s sharp front crease and fluted spout allows for better control when pouring your art.
- Keep Monty tilted on its side, set Eddy’s pour spout to Monty’s lip. Start pouring slowly then speed up faster and faster as you get closer to the top, tilting Monty upright as it fills up. This process will create a “Monk’s Head,” which looks like a heart with a rounded bottom. Pouring faster as you go along is key to making latte art. Pouring slowly will create a sinkhole in your drink, which will pull the foam to the bottom of the cup.
- Pouring a Heart: This last move will turn your Monk’s Head into a heart. When Monty is sitting upright and is almost full, lift Eddy up a few inches, and helicopter your pour across the middle of the cup, creating a heart shape. Be sure to have a controlled, light pour. Pouring too heavily high above the cup will also result in a sinkhole.
Education in Action
Execution: steaming whirlpool, pouring milk base, beginning of Monk's Head
Each time I tried my hand at latte art, I followed the same general structure. First, I ground my beans and pulled the espresso shot into Monty. I put the espresso aside and then steamed my milk accordingly. My first attempt at steaming milk felt like beginner’s luck. The milk ended up silky, thick, and looked similar to wall paint. Using Eddy for the first time was great. I felt safe from milk overflow due to my teenaged milk steaming trauma. The handle’s angle provided a significant amount of space between my oversized knuckles and the pitcher.
When pulling espresso, every single shot emerged beautifully. Full crema at the top with espresso sitting comfortably at the bottom of the parabolic slope. What can I say? I have fresh coffee (thanks, Atmos!).
But everything failed when I started pouring. I didn’t place the pour spout near the lip of the cup enough. I also took too much time between steaming the milk and pouring, which separated the foam and milk in the pitcher. This separation resulted in a cup full of hot milk, leaving all the foam in the pitcher. This could’ve been avoided if I swirled the milk in the pitcher prior to pouring. Lessons learned.
Take two. And three. And four. And more.
I used various sizes of Monty to gauge if one was easier than another. I started to favor the cortado size. The mouth was just wide enough, and its small size forced me to control my pour a bit more than with the larger cappuccino and latte cups. The small size also gave me enough wiggle room to practice without wasting large quantities of milk and coffee.
To take a break from Monty, I wanted to compare my experience with some “normal” mugs from my cupboard. Despite the fact that my first few attempts with both cups resulted in a literal hot mess, after getting the groove a bit, I noticed a huge difference between Monty and your standard coffee cup. The foam would sink more often with my standard mug. With Monty, I noticed foam was lifting to the top even when I poured somewhat sloppily. All my reasonably executed latte art happened when I used the cappuccino and cortado sizes—due to their wider mouth-to-depth ratio.
The most consistent experience I had was steaming with Eddy. I hit the ground running. That pitcher is fantastic. Seriously, throw out all your other steaming pitchers. The sharp front crease provided great direction when I was getting my whirlpool rolling. Every single time I steamed milk during this trial, I had thick, silky foam that coated the back of a spoon. I’ve never had such an easy time steaming milk.
Reality: Latte art take two vs. latte art take nine
After rolling with the same song and dance for a few days, I found that I was actually getting better! Definitely not good, but much better than where I started. In my defense, every single person I spoke to when researching said the same thing—there’s a HUGE learning curve. Boy were they right. Much like learning a new language, riding a bike, or painting, latte art is a product of muscle memory and practice. I went through a pound of coffee and over a half gallon of milk in three days and I’m still far from professional. But I’m getting there. Maybe in the next couple of weeks I’ll get the hang of it and post an update accordingly. Like the saying goes, practice really does make perfect.