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Sometimes I have to scratch my head in wonder (latte art vs espressoporn)
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MarkPrince
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Posted Fri Mar 28, 2014, 12:21am
Subject: Sometimes I have to scratch my head in wonder (latte art vs espressoporn)
 

Sometimes, I just can't figure out why people cannot understand this:

  1. It's virtually impossible to tell, visually, if a drink will taste good or not just by looking at a photograph of latte art.
  2. On the other hand, a photo or video of an espresso extraction can provide some clues as to the shot's quality (or lack thereof)

B above doesn't mean a photo of a nice looking espresso shot pull guarantees it will taste good. What it means is, you can take visual clues from the photo and make an initial judgement call on the potential for the shot to be good or bad. Blond shot? Probably bad. Deep rich crema, well formed, good timing on the shot? Chances are it could be good.

Since the inception of barista competitions, visual evaluation of a shot of espresso by technical judges has been part of the judging process. Why? because you can tell, visually, if a shot has the potential to be good or bad!. A good looking shot is not necessarily going to be a good tasting shot, but a bad looking extraction has a pretty damned fine chance of not tasting good (though not always).

Latte art, on the other hand, gives no visual clues whatsoever as to the quality of the espresso. None. It just means the barista can wiggle their hand, and create microfoam. Nothing else.

When I read tweets like this (and there's more but I can't be bothered to search for them) it frustrates me. I've gotten into rather epic twitter rants and arguments with latte articians (who almost never ever post espresso extraction photos, which makes me wonder... hrmmm) about why latte art needs to stop mattering so much, and the espresso in the cup, understanding the espresso process, and balance mean so much more. I argue that, at least when you see a photo of an espresso extraction, you get genuine indicators of how the shot is going to be. In turn, some argue that is BS, and (besides latte art being important) the only important things are Mojo and TDS numbers, timings, and the such.

When someone tells me that visual photographs (or videos) of an espresso extraction provides little to no clues as to a shot's quality, I hate to say this, but my immediate thought is, "you don't know very much about the espresso extraction process". When they say instead "I'd rather see latte art photos, at least they are a nice visual representation", the petty and short sighted in me thinks none of the shots they've ever pulled look like this, or like this, or like this, or even this.


On latte art, this happened to me once which was a big turning point in my appreciation of latte art. After that event, I turned sour on it all.

I also posted this Barista Creed: Seven Years Later which still many new baristas still seem to not quite get - the pursuit in culinary excellence in espresso and coffee should always, always have its first focus on the espresso and its taste. Not on pretty pictures. A great barista is one who knows how to use all their senses - sight, sound, smell, touch, hearing, to constantly learn from, and improve the espresso process. Doing this requires intimate knowledge of how espresso happens - what makes it happen, the chemical changes that take place, the pressures, the interaction of all the elements involved (the 4 Ms), yada yada. The whole "any machine, any grinder, any coffee" thing means if you are a true artisan, you should be able to approach an unfamiliar (but quality) coffee, an unfamiliar grinder, and an unfamiliar espresso machine, and within a few shot pulls, be able to pull a fantastic shot.

Instead people want to pour pretty pictures.

They aren't artisans in my books. They're picture framers. Of course, they could be artisans, but until they start talking more about balance, about process, about tasting, about nuance changes in brewing parameters and how it affected their pretty picture latte or cappuccino, I won't know the truth about them ;)

Anyway, rant over... for now :)

 
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emradguy
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Posted Fri Mar 28, 2014, 7:32am
Subject: Re: Sometimes I have to scratch my head in wonder (latte art vs espressoporn)
 

MarkPrince Said:

...the pursuit in culinary excellence in espresso and coffee should always, always have its first focus on the espresso and its taste. Not on pretty pictures. A great barista is one who knows how to use all their senses - sight, sound, smell, touch, hearing, to constantly learn from, and improve the espresso process. Doing this requires intimate knowledge of how espresso happens - what makes it happen, the chemical changes that take place, the pressures, the interaction of all the elements involved (the 4 Ms), yada yada. The whole "any machine, any grinder, any coffee" thing means if you are a true artisan, you should be able to approach an unfamiliar (but quality) coffee, an unfamiliar grinder, and an unfamiliar espresso machine, and within a few shot pulls, be able to pull a fantastic shot.

Posted March 28, 2014 link

AMEN!

Though one argument for microfoam quality being important...people like my wife, who like coffee tinted frothed milk.  She takes so much milk I can give her part of a sink shot (she doesn't take a whole shot in her latte - even if it's 16oz) and she'll be happy if the milk is done right.

and one argument for proper microfoam technique beign an art form...look at all the newbies, and even experienced people still struggling to get it right consistently.  It takes a lot of practice and determination to do proper microfoam consistently...and the learning curve for proper pouring is also very steep and very long.

 
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frcn
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Posted Fri Mar 28, 2014, 8:33am
Subject: Re: Sometimes I have to scratch my head in wonder (latte art vs espressoporn)
 

MarkPrince Said:

Sometimes, I just can't figure out why people cannot understand this:
It's virtually impossible to tell, visually, if a drink will taste good or not just by looking at a photograph of latte art.
On the other hand, a photo or video of an espresso extraction can provide some clues as to the shot's quality (or lack thereof)

Posted March 28, 2014 link

Since it is possible to pour latte art into a cup of brown ink, I really do not see how anyone knowledgeable about espresso would state that latte art signifies good espresso. Latte art is about presentation, pride, involvement, care, dedication, and so forth.

But finding people who don't understand some part of the process is not difficult. There was this one guy who said, vehemently, that backflushing a machine with 3-way valve was very bad and would void the warranty.

Bottom  line-  Espresso is a food product. You "eat" it, not look at it. If it looks nice, fine. But a sprig of parsley doesn't make a plate of warm excrement taste good.

 
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boar_d_laze
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Posted Fri Mar 28, 2014, 9:28am
Subject: Re: Sometimes I have to scratch my head in wonder (latte art vs espressoporn)
 

Great post.  +0.9944.

Latte art is entertainment.  It's important in the same way a certain level of presentation -- sugar work, for instance -- is important in food.  Worth mentioning that it is not only entertainment for the customer in a commercial establishment, it's also fun for the (cough) home barista (sorry, can't help myself) making latte for her/his significant, latte-loving, other.  

Porn-perfect pours tell you a fair amount about mano, but not much going beyond acceptably fresh/appropriately rested about miscela, and not much more about macinazione.  

What's the relationship between competence at latte art and competence at other barista skills?  The first is no guarantee of the second, but experience suggests at least some connection.  At the end of day though, palate, not eye, is the final judge.    

Last, a typo alert (it's nice to know that people read all your words):

... all their senses - sight, sound, smell, touch, hearing ...

Too much noise, not enough taste.    

Rich
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calblacksmith
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calblacksmith
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Posted Sun Mar 30, 2014, 6:00am
Subject: Re: Sometimes I have to scratch my head in wonder (latte art vs espressoporn)
 

Long ago, I gave up trying to make a pretty picture in my drinks. I am OK at a heart but I am always happy with how they taste, I might not get a framed photograph of a drink I poured but then they don't last long enough to take a pic anyway LOL!

 
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takeshi
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Posted Tue Apr 1, 2014, 1:00pm
Subject: Re: Sometimes I have to scratch my head in wonder (latte art vs espressoporn)
 

MarkPrince Said:

It's virtually impossible to tell, visually, if a drink will taste good or not just by looking at a photograph of latte art.

Posted March 28, 2014 link

True but if conditions are such that they can't create latte art I generally don't care for the latte.
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