Some coffee devotees are crazy about latte art and consider it an essential part of presentation, while others see it as an unnecessary distraction from the basics. Whatever your thoughts are on the foamy pastime, there’s no denying that it takes practice, skill and a steady hand to master.
As with most skills, it seems the key to nailing latte art is to have a set of quality basic tools to start with. These include a decent espresso machine for the perfect-consistency crema, followed by a robustly steamed microfoam that can hold its own and of course, the precision, imagination and plain guts of a top-notch barista.
So, after stumbling upon an Instagram post for a zero-waste, dairy-free latte art smackdown in my home city of Manchester, I couldn’t resist a real-time peek at the processes involved.
Held at Atkinsons Coffee Roasters in the food market hall Mackie Mayor, the latte art smackdown was sponsored by the Swedish kings of dairy milk alternatives Oatly, Atkinsons and the manufacturer of their super-sleek espresso machines, Sanremo.
The premise of the latte art contest was simple, fifteen contestants step up to play off against each other in the first rounds, quarter, semi-finals and then the grand final round, which was between the Manchester winner and that of its satellite events on the same evening in London and Bristol.
The challenge was apparently heightened because oat milk, the barista explained, is more difficult to work with than dairy. No pressure, then.
The nature of latte art means there’s limited scope for intricate designs, so detail takes a back seat to striking simplicity, patterns and symmetry. As a result, tonight’s rounds were guided by typical latte art designs, including a five-layer leaf and the infamous swan, which inspired an air of dread behind the machines during the quarter finals.
A freepouring round decided the winner, which was settled by the judges pointing at their preferred cup after each pour-off. Everyone put in a great effort in Manchester and the worthy winner Kristina (a barista from Manchester’s Takk, in the red jumper) missed out to London on the grand prize of a paid trip to Amsterdam Coffee Festival. Better luck next time, MCR!
Atkinson’s Coffee put on a unique and energetic event, while keeping things low-key and relaxed on a Thursday night. Freebies given away through the night included cartons of chocolate Oatly, vegan pizza from Honest Crust and cocktails made by the baristas at Atkinson’s using the waste from the smackdown. Fun, sustainable and tasty – what’s not to love? Sign us up for the next one.
All images were taken by and are property of Greg Bennett, for usage requests, please contact email@example.com