We have students in our coffee art classes all the time who look at our coffee art DVD playing on the big screens as they walk in and comment, “Surely nobody has time for coffee art in a busy café!” (I wonder why they have come to such a class if they did not truly think that coffee art was worth learning or that it was realistic in a busy café).

To such comments, we always use the espresso bars we used to own as an example. We used to own four of the busiest espresso bars in Brisbane and whilst the new baristas may not have been up to executing mind-blowing coffee art, the more experienced ones certainly were. In one of our cafes we had such a good team working for us that every coffee, whether they were “drink-in” coffees or takeaways, were in some way decorated. (At this point, a big shout out to Jasson, Jerry and Suzie who really were ahead of their time).

I’m not talking about the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper being created on top of our coffees but as simple flower, random “swirl” or fireworks pattern were de rigueur even when we were pumping through 200 coffees per hour. Coffee Art can become second nature for a barista with enough practice and dedication.

You don’t need to have artistic flare necessarily but you need an eye for what works well in what situations to be good at it. Often it depends on what your coffee looks like on top after you pour it as to what pattern may work well on it. For example if the coffee has a vague strip of white creamy froth on the top of the brown coffee, a few swirls from side to side as you move down the strip with your milk thermometer will create a knockout pattern that will make even the most crusty customer go “Wow”. And this one doesn’t take more than 0.5 seconds to create. Another example of the above is where your coffee has a nice circular patch of creamy white froth in the middle of it. Any number of simple flowers will work well with a few strikes of the thermometer. I know one that involves doing a few anticlockwise loops around the perimeter of the white and brown with your thermometer that will turn that white “blob” into a great little flower and the time it takes is probably 1 second.

A 1 second investment to me is worth the time and effort. If I win a customer over who has the choice of getting swill next door from Bert’s Kebab Shop and getting cool-looking coffee from me and get him coming back twice a day, I can make $5 from him per day and over a week, $25 and over a year over $1000. He will be more likely to come back if I present him with good tasting coffee with a pretty coffee art design on it as it will brighten up his day (if only for a few seconds) and make him smile. And then occasionally when I am not busy I can make him a truly special design by investing maybe a whole five seconds. Shock horror to some baristas who would prefer to spend it texting their mates but a dedicated barista will see an opportunity and use it to further create.

If I know how to freepour, I can pour a rosetta straight out of the jug by jiggling my wrist. Some baristas think it is the holy grail of coffee making. I don’t, but it is a cool way of doing fast coffee art and gee it looks good. I like doing rosettes on takeaways when the line is 10 deep but I won’t do it on every coffee as it becomes boring after a while.

Coffee art is not only the sign of a good barista, but it is the sign of one who takes pride in their work. A person who hacks out a few horrible looking chair legs of the same size and hammers them onto a tabletop can make a workable table but it takes a craftsman to turn the wood and fashion it into something that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional. The barista is ultimately a craftsman too (albeit one that must first understand the science behind extraction and texturing to be truly great).

The barista who executes coffee art, like the artisan craftsman, is to be admired but my point is that it is not rocket science to learn. Just as long as you invest time to practice. Those 20-second decorations will soon become 5-second decorations that will soon become 1-second decorations. And then you will be a truly valuable barista for any café owner.

© 2009 Barista Brothers.

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