Baristas and Lattes: Skills or Art?

I have to say that I wasn’t expecting it, which is really how it always goes and why I continually find myself loving my craft; once again I found myself confused and inspired due to over stimulation, this time around from Coffee Fest Seattle. (I’ll write a blog about my thoughts and reflections post-Coffee Fest Seattle some other time.)

My focus for Coffee Fest weekend this October was latte “art”, more specifically the set of skills we promote as an industry. As covered in Ryan Soeder’s editorial on Why Not? Coffee, a well prepared and presented beverage can immediately convey a certain level of quality to a consumer. But my concern is not that we present the quality, but that we present a craft and skill set. Through out the weekend, I had the privilege of both competing in the New World Latte Art Competition, judging a latte “art” throw-down, and converse with many competitors from both competitions. It came as a surprise to me when a fellow competitor, whom I have great respect and admiration for, approached me critiquing my latte “art” approach; which I will clarify later. The critique was that conventional latte “art” designs were superior to designs with more creativity, depth, complexity and difficulty due to the fact that they weren’t “busy” and they were easier to execute. Now, I know that this ball has been thrown around a few times and that some of you have been around the block; but when did latte ART become a set standard? While I was judging the latte art competition, some of the judge’s critiques reflected the difference of shot extraction with points being knocked off from competitors being almost entirely based on the flecking of the shot and how it influenced color infusion and contrast in their design. There were beautiful, balanced, well executed rosettas that were scored below “average” because there was a slight flecking on the top right. Other scoring was dependent on whether or not the “artists” was able to approach the pour in a different way, a tulip instead of a rosetta with a heart; the judging was based on the baristas skills not the baristas presentation of their expression through “art”. As a barista and as a competitor, I found these judges very difficult to work or agree with.

Contrary to my counterpart, I chose to practice and pour in competition complex, delicate, difficult pours. My goal with the latte art competition was to find a pour that the judges couldn’t argue with; one that possessed aesthetic beauty, balance, color infusion, definition and contrast; as well as something that showcases the ART that comes into what latte ARTISTS are able to accomplish in something as simple as a cup of coffee. I had posted a discussion on Twitter that asked whether or not a traditonal latte art pour (rosetta, heart, tulip) posessed more artistic attributes than say a wave rosetta with a 3-layer tulip w/ imposed rosetta and a tulip tossed on the side.(Obviously that’s a loaded statement, or at least I think it is.) Point being, “art” isn’t about a set standard or execution through that standard; it’s about the expression; not the colors and forms the artist chose to use for the exhibit, but how the exhibit conveys creative expressions. I firmly believe that the profession of being a barista, and the baristas that choose to represent and further that profession; are more artists and craftsmen than skilled workers. I believe that’s the next step for baristas and it’s the aspect that our industry needs to support.

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One Comment on “Baristas and Lattes: Skills or Art?”

  1. nicely
    11/07/2010 at 7:58 am #

    I clearly struck a chord. I can’t wait to see what you start laying down. Looking forward to seeing your ART. Pour on playa! 🙂

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