Despite the outrageous price of my coffee addiction (and the fact that I am perfectly capable of making a great cup of coffee at home) I can’t help but treat myself every once and awhile to a perfectly foamy latte at my favorite neighborhood coffee spot.
My husband – which I am still getting used to referring to Michael as – and I have been frequenting Cusp in Park Slope since we moved to the neighborhood. The staff are super friendly, the coffee is nice and strong, and their crepes are amazing. What more could you ask for? Well, if you are me, you also ask them to teach you how to make lattes with designs in them!
Latte art has gotten huge in New York during recent years. It seems like nowadays any coffee shop you order from is going to hand you a drink with a flower, heart or face swirled into your foamed milk. I’m certainly not complaining, and am instead happy to learn the tricks of the trade from my favorite baristas.
How to Make a Perfect Latte + Latte Art
Make the perfect espresso! A couple of things to remember: use the best coffee beans you can afford, use good-tasting water and preheat your cup. Grind your coffee and pull an espresso shot directly into the cup using a machine.
Now for the latte!
Add your milk of choice to a stainless-steel jug, leaving room at the top for the hot milk to expand, and place the tip of the steam wand a little bit under the surface of the milk. Keep the tip of the steamer in the liquid, and tilt the jug, circulating the milk, until your liquid has doubled in size. You can also make sure that the milk is hot enough – the ideal temperature is 150ºF.
Slowly swirl the milk in the jug, and then super slowly, start to pour into your cup, about an inch away from the rim. Once you have poured in half of the hot milk, gently shake the jug back and fourth as you pour the remainder, now moving in the opposite direction. Visually, the first half of the milk creates the large bottom of the flower, and as you shake the milk and pull backwards, the flower and leaves form and fill up the cup. OR try out a heart, like the last picture above.
For me, this new skill is definitely going to require a ton of practice, and I may never have the skills of my talented barista. And I seriously doubt that any consumers of my homemade lattes are going to take a sip and say, “Wow, she was definitely taught by a Brooklyn barista!” Back in the day, as in the 1400s, many artists went to learn from even greater, well-known artists, and usually left these apprentices with considerable skill and the influence of their mighty teacher. The Venetian painter Jacopo Bellini went to work under the great Gentile da Fabriano, and was so touched by his teacher that he named one of his sons after him! Flattering as it is, I probably couldn’t get away with naming any future children “coffee.”
Gentile da Fabriano is most well-known for his beautiful work, Adoration of the Magi, which he completed in 1423. Hanging in the Uffizi today, this triptych shows a subject that was very popular at the time, especially among wealthy Florentines, who wanted to get around the city’s sumptuary laws at the time. The Renaissance in Florence was all about luxury, but laws at the time limited the show of wealth in public, since it usually tended towards extreme excess. By commissioning a religious work showing great wealth – in this particular scene, kings and wealthy men are shown visiting the Christ child after his birth and showering him with jewels and extravagant gifts – patrons were able to display their wealth in a way that was more accepted by the church.
I am specifically reminded of the work of Gentile da Fabriano in Jacopo Bellini’s Virgin of Humility Adorned by Leonello d’ Este (a donor), which might have even been attributed to Gentile for awhile. Take a look at the background behind the Virgin – it looks just like the windy Venetian landscape that Gentile used in the background of Adoration of the Magi. Coincidence? I think not. Happy caffeinating! So fitting for a Monday, right?
Featured art: Gentile da Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi, 1423, oil on panel
Jacopo Bellini, Madonna of Humility Adorned by Leonello d’Este, c. 1440-1441, oil on panel