Art from coffee foam

Mai Samih , Wednesday 13 Oct 2021

A group of artists has been organising courses to help people create using coffee foam, reports Mai Samih

From left: conventional latte art 3D method Abbadi, Abbadi and two Saudi colleagues judging the 2019 Barista competition in Saudi Arabia

When you go to a café for a cup of cappuccino or latte, you may find an interesting image drawn in the foam on the top of the cup. 

This type of art is called latte art, or the art of decorating coffee using foam. It is a method of preparing a cup of espresso and then pouring foam into the cup to make a pattern or design. It has been developing in Egypt for some time, and now there are academies like Latte Art Egypt that help people to learn how to do it and even participate in international competitions. 

“The art of coffee decoration appeared in Seattle in the 1980s and 1990s. The first person to practise it was David Schomer, the godfather of all those who love this art,” said Moamen Abbadi, a trainer and one of the founders of Latte Art Egypt. 

Schomer was the first person to design a cup of latte with a heart design in the foam in Seattle in 1989. In 1992, he came up with the Rosetta design. He was the first to organise workshops and competitions in the field. 

Schomer later met Luigi Lupi, who was also interested in latte art in Italy, and the two men teamed up to develop this art on an international basis, Abadi said, who is also an accredited quality assurance evaluator for the Specialty Coffee Association and the American Coffee Quality Institute.

In 2015, Abbadi and friend Ahmed Bahaa established Latte Art Egypt. “We wanted to develop the skills of Egyptian baristas and enhance their skills in one of the most important aspects of coffee making, namely latte art,” he said. “Because of the many challenges we faced, we had to build a team to help us to achieve our goals,” adding that this team then became part of the latte art family. 

Most of the events organised by Abbadi and his group are currently online because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Latte art is an important part of coffee preparation. There is an Arabic proverb that says that ‘the eye eats before the mouth,’ and this is what this art is all about: making unique shapes to attract the eye using certain techniques with coffee foam,” Abbadi said.

There is more than one method of doing so. One method consists of the free pouring of milk foam, which is the most common one and is done by pouring milk foam from a milk frother directly into a cup of espresso. By stirring in a certain way, the design appears on top of the foam. Another method involves drawing and uses both the technique of free pouring and using a latte art pen to draw shapes on the foam. Then there is the 3D art method, making 3D shapes using concentrated foam.

“We are unable to determine exactly when this art appeared in Egypt, but what is certain is that latte art started to appear at the beginning of the 2000s, albeit in a limited manner,” Abbadi said. “It has now reached an extremely advanced level, and there are now many artists in the field. It has become very important to the extent that baristas applying for jobs are asked whether they can draw on coffee during job interviews, and there are now international competitions with standards and protocols to choose the best latte artist, some of which I have participated in as a competitor and judge like the Latte Art Competition in Saudi Arabia,” he added.

There are also specialised trainers in the field of latte art. These use criteria to judge a design like the proportion of a drawing to the size of a cup, the diversity and intensity of the colours, and the harmony between the angles of a design, to name a few, Abbadi commented.

He listed what it takes to be a good latte artist. “To be a professional latte artist, you have to learn skills like the basics of preparing coffee and foaming milk. You should have a passion for drawing in general; the more you have this passion, the more you become creative,” he said, adding that a trainee must understand the importance of quality, which should always come before the beauty of a drawing.

Regarding Latte Art Egypt’s courses, Abbadi said that “by the end of the first part of the course, trainees should have acquired skills like being familiar with the tools used for latte art, being able to foam milk, to make espresso and to draw essential designs like a heart and a tulip. By the end of the second level, a trainee will be able to design more complex designs that require calculated movements while drawing and having the ability to control the foam coming out of a milk frother while pouring it and being aware of the standards of the designs.”

 “By the third and last level, he should be able to make designs that are inspired by certain shapes and master the skill of moving a frother in the different angles of a cup while practising free pouring and drawing or a mixture of techniques as well as acquiring speed, efficiency and flexibility.” 

“In my opinion, the courses are not for anyone, just those who really have a passion for designing because it is not easy and it needs practice to master this art and move to the next level,” Abbadi said, adding that the courses are mostly attended by baristas who are already specialised in preparing coffee and want to develop their skills.

“Our aim in Latte Art Egypt is to develop the level of Egyptian baristas and the coffee industry in Egypt in general and to make them more professional and internationally competitive using professional and scientific methods.” They have worked hard to develop themselves as professional trainers after attending international courses in the field, he said.

Abbadi has a trainer certificate from the International Specialty Coffee Association, as well as a certificate as a quality evaluator from the American Coffee Quality Institute. 

Members of Latte Art Egypt have participated in many competitions as competitors or judges inside and outside Egypt, including the 2016 Barista Competition in Egypt and the 2018 Latte Art Competition in Saudi Arabia, in which Abbadi was awarded first place.

“After Latte Art Egypt fostered the idea of developing this art, it was given more attention and quickly spread in Egypt. This enabled us to get jobs inside and outside Egypt just for mastering this art,” he said.

But despite such successes, certain challenges persist. “We need more intellectual and financial support from people in Egypt who should give our field some respect and consider it as a science and not just a job. I hope that in the future there will be a specialised academy with suitable equipment that will help us to teach coffee-decorating courses in general, especially latte art,” he said. 

This will help them organise more courses and competitions on a periodical basis that will develop the skills of participants and help them to compete internationally. “We aim to build one of the largest academies in the Middle East in which everything concerning coffee will be taught, from harvesting beans to decorating a cup of coffee,” Abbadi concluded.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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