It’s that time again. The fans are filling in their brackets. The 64 competitors are preparing for the opening head-to-head elimination matches. This year’s contest
is being billed as a “Tournament for the Ages.”
It’s the Coffee Fest Latte Art Championships being held in San Diego this weekend, June 3rd, 4th & 5th.
If you are unfamiliar with “Barista Art”, (which I am sure most of you are familiar) you are in for a taste treat as much for the venturesome eyes as for the discerning palate.
Barista artists mold their intricate and astonishingly detailed creations from the foam atop freshly drawn lattes. That startlingly beautiful works of art could be quickly rendered
in this unique “medium” is just another affirmation that there are no bounds to what the creative consciousness can imagine and then produce, regardless the resources. Akin to
building sandcastles or chalking sidewalks, these are fleeting artistic creations of the moment, amazements to be appreciated briefly before being slurped away and existing as only
a memory of an exquisite “happening” shared between artist-barista and art lover-coffee drinker. (Though, thankfully, they are often preserved in photographs.
MonkDrew, a 7-year deviant and real life Barista, is a leading barista artist and founded dA’s Baristas Group; Creating
art on a daily basis at Caffee Etc. in Hollywood CA, he’ll be competing in San Diego and hopes to see any coffee loving deviants who happen to be in the San Diego area there pulling for
him as he goes for the gold. He lists his artist’s “tools of the trade” as “Porter filters, coffee beans, pitchers , milk, tamper, cups, and one badass espresso machine.”
Occupying a most unique niche in the Culinary Arts, it has to be the most eclectic dish on the menu: part performance art, part foam sculpting, part photographic capture, and part breakfast –
what better way to start a morning with the arts.
What is the origin of Latte Art? Who started it? And where and when and WHY?
Latte art can be traced back to the creation of the espresso machine. Let me define "free pour latte art": latte art that is created by carefully pouring properly steamed milk into properly extracted espresso to make shapes. (Ex: Hearts, Rosettas, Tulips and Swans)
But as for free poured latte art, it is an American invention, Seattle to be more exact. In the cafe Espresso Vivace, the heart was created in the mid 80's. It was the first free poured design and in the early 90's the Rosetta was created. As for why latte art was created I am not sure if it was a great mistake or a stoke of genius to keep ahead of the competition, but either way I am grateful.
How did you get into it? Do you have any formal or informal art training?
The cafe I first worked at didn't do latte art, at all, nor did they seem to value it, so my introduction into latte art is very odd. I actually approach being a Barista like I approach Martial Arts, the only art form other than Latte art I have ever had any success in. In truth I have no formal training with Latte Art, and believe it or not, I learned how to do it through watching YouTube; lots and lots of YouTube. One Barista in particular has inspired me the most, an Australian Barista names Scottie Callaghan. So after a month of trial and error, mainly error, I created my first Rosetta. Although I have come a long way since then, I still have a great deal to learn.
Now I am preparing for the Latte Art Championship at Coffee Fest in San Diego, and am nervous that my informal beginnings might prove less than adequate, but am hopeful that I may have something to contribute to the coffee world.
What are some of the responses you have gotten when serving up your lattes/works of art?
When I make latte art for some one I get mixed responses, some don't even notice, others say something like, "Wow that's neat," or my favorite is when they take a picture and put it up on Twitter or Facebook. I normally get the picture taking when I write a girl's name in a heart.
Do people express feelings of guilt or regret for drinking down your mini-masterpieces?
Although I get mixed responses from my latte art the most common is the "It's so pretty I don't want to drink it."
How is a “coffee person” different from a non-coffee-drinker? Is there a definite “café consciousness” in a coffee drinker vs. someone more at home in a fast food joint or a fine restaurant?
The difference between a Cafe Goer and a non-Cafe goer is a Cafe goer will know what they want to drink before they even leave home, where as a non-Cafe goer will need more time to decide on a beverage to there liking.
How did the idea of latte artist competitions come about?
Well when ever you get people with egos like we baristas, you will definitely get the question of who is the best. So in short I have no clue.
Any time a new avenue for artistic expression is pioneered, a little more life-affirming light shines on our world. Do you think Latte Art will last as an enduring niche in the art world, like sand sculptures and serenity gardens and origami?
I think latte art has a long life ahead of it. There are more and more coffee houses that are now requiring latte art before they even interview.
What new design creations are you working on? Will something new and mind-blowing be unveiled at the Coffee Fest Latte Art Competition in San Diego?
I am currently working on a couple of new ideas, a Dark Heart, and a Fleur De Lis, and am still perfecting a couple of old ones, Winged Heart and Snow Flake, all of which are free pour. I still like my etched designs but right now I am focusing on my free pour. I am currently working on these but I am unsure if they will be up to par by the time the competition comes around.
What’s the ultimate design you’d like to one day perfect?
Wait I have to choose just one? I want to perfect any and all designs.
Have you given any thought to culinary art collaborations with cake decorators or haute cuisine designers?
From noir movie diners to old west campfires, coffee has always been iconic as an instant mood-setter. What mood do you think is expressed and captured in your latte pieces? Is there a generationally specific or simply eternally human meme in play with the act of coffee-drinking or the identity of being a coffee drinker?
I haven't really given any thought to collaborating with any other culinary mediums. The mood I am setting with my latte art is all dependent on the design I am using. Some times I want the "aww that's cute" (Ex: Heart with their name or Teddy Bear Latte) and if I want a laugh I'll use some thing silly (Ex: Phallus Latte) and some times I'll geek out (Ex: Tri-Force Latte or Rebel Alliance Latte) but my standard is the "Wow that's Cool" (Ex: Lion Latte or Scorpion Latte or a traditional free poured design). People have been imbibing coffee since the 1400s when the first coffee house opened in Constantinople, so I don't think coffee is going any were... except my stomach.