By Ciera Miller
Some people swear by cold brew, others by drip, and still more by the Italian espresso. Espresso drinks range from cappuccinos to lattes, macchiatos to americanos. In some places, the foam on espressos get drawn in, pictures of flowers and designs and sometimes even people (depending on the skill of your barista). This is most commonly known as latte art. But why and how did coffee makers come up with the idea for espresso and then, latte art?
It all started in Venice in the late 19th century. The Italian people loved coffee, ever since its beans sailed across the Mediterranean and made a name for itself, complete with milk. Around it emerged a coffee etiquette that still thrives in Italy to this day, like having milk with coffee but only in the morning and never with or after meals, having pure espresso in the afternoon, and usually having a sit down (with your barista or a friend) with your coffee because to-go cups are basically nonexistent in Italy. But in the late 1800s, the working class in Italy didn’t have much time to just sit and wait for their drip coffee to brew, which could take up to five or ten minutes, and then hang around while drinking. They needed an “express” option, the express line of coffee, if you will. And that’s where espresso comes in.
In 1884, Angelo Moriondo thought up the design of a coffee press that accelerated coffee creation using a steam press, and although he had good intentions, his invention didn’t do much to speed the process. Fastforward about twenty years into the future and see Luigi Bezzera with his own design built off what Moriondo had. It pushed water and steam at a very high temperature and pressure, very quickly, through a serving of ground coffee. Because of its swift working, it earned the name “espresso”, which means fast in Italian. But Bezzera’s design was inconsistent because it used an open flame, and a flame is not a reliable source of consistent heat. So Desiderio Pavoni stepped in to help. He introduced a pressure release system that further quickened the speed of coffee production, but added to the semi-burnt taste of coffee. However, this didn’t bother the Italian coffee drinkers as much and at 1906 World Fair in Milan, the two men introduced their machine and their invention thrived.
But that wasn’t the end for espresso. It grew very much in popularity within the next forty years, and yet shrunk in the size of the machine. It also still tasted a little burnt, but post-World War II, Achille Gaggia managed to solve that problem. He added a lever to the espresso machines that heightened pressure and standardized the water volume so that the coffee grounds were no longer being overcooked, so they no longer tasted burnt in the espresso. This also produced a foamy topping for the coffee, which didn’t go unnoticed by the coffee connoisseurs. They were very suspicious of the “scum” on top of their coffee, but Gaggia managed to convince them it was a beautiful “caffe creme”, which of course made it sound much fancier than it was, but the Italian people accepted it. And as espresso moved through the world, others accepted its beauty too, and began adding to it in the form of art.
Of course, latte art began in Italy, in the 1980s, around the same time it appeared in America. Luigi Lupi was the leader of the art at Cafe Mateki in Italy, and David Schomer at Espresso Vivace in Seattle. But although Lupi was creating the art, it was Schomer who popularized it after seeing Lupi’s heart designs on the Internet in the early 1990s. From there emerged tulips, animals, faces, and now, some people can create 3D designs because of their skill. The art is made up with a combination of the “caffe creme”, or crema, and sweet milk foam, which are both steamed by baristas and blended together later. They start with the milk and then the crema to get just the right design that we admire, snap to social media, and recommend for other coffee and art lovers to enjoy.
It takes a steady hand and a good eye to draw in the espresso with the spout of mixing cup, but the art isn’t limited to just baristas. Anyone can learn how to express themselves in their espresso, it just takes a little practice and of course, an espresso machine. And you don’t have to travel to Italy or Seattle to learn because latte art has spread across not only the world within the last twenty years, but also across the Internet. There are videos everywhere teaching coffee aficionados how to draw in their coffees and cafes just for people to learn and have a nice cuppa while they’re at it. There’s even worldwide competitions for the new contemporary art. Although I don’t think I’ll ever participate in any of those competitions, I know I can’t wait to learn how to draw tulips in my own home-brewed latte on a nice Sunday morning.
Sources: The Long History of the Espresso Machine, Italy’s Coffee Culture Brims with Rituals and Mysterious Rules, Vivace’s David Schomer — not Starbucks — ‘made coffee huge in Seattle’, Luigi Lupi – Latte Art Founder & InventorLatte Art, Latte Art,Jack Kennard (Photo Source)