Eat and Drink
New York Coffee Festival's Latte art 'throwdowns' pit barista against barista
Who can make the best latte in three minutes time?
That’s the question a series of “latte art throwdowns” — pitting some of the country's most accomplished baristas against one another — will answer at the third annual New York Coffee Festival, taking place this weekend at the Metropolitan Pavilion at 125 W. 18th St.
“You’re looking for symmetry, you’re looking for a full pour, but not an over-pour, and contrast,” or a defined pattern, said Jeffrey Young, the festival’s founder, of the judges’ criteria. “What this is testing is the barista’s real skills under pressure, as they are in a cafe.”
Latte art comes in three flavors, Young explained. There’s free pour latte art, the product of a barista pouring steamed milk into a cup of espresso “all in one go” to create motifs like leaves, ferns and swans. There’s etching, “where you’re taking the coffee and actually drawing, using the coffee as a painting medium” to illustrate celebrities’ faces and other complex forms, Young said. And then there’s the “unicorn” style, which uses foods and spices like beets, turmeric and matcha to color beverages and make them “bright and vibrant.”
But latte art is more than a pretty picture, Young added: “There’s actually a technical reason why latte art makes coffee tastes better: effectively, it’s texturing milk ... in such a way that the bubbles are a small as possible. Just like with fine champagne, the smaller the bubbles, the more appealing the mouthfeel is.” Young describes that texture as “velvety.”
Gone are the days when a barista could blast milk with a steamer and then plop a dollop of foam on top of your cappuccino, the coffee expert said. In the industry and among customers, latte art now “demonstrates that [a coffee shop] is an establishment of quality.”
The latte art competitions at the New York Coffee Festival — a three-day event featuring coffee tastings, interactive workshops, demonstrations, street food and live music for industry professionals and coffee lovers — attract massive crowds, according to Young.
Size up some of the contenders with a look at their past work below: