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Learning latte art with steamed soapy water [video]

Postby Abe Carmeli on Thu Jun 12, 2008 8:38 am

Jamming with Scott Rao

Scott Rao is the author of the much praised The Professional Barista's Handbook, and last week, I had the pleasure of spending a morning with him, in my kitchen, playing with coffee. We started with drip and went through a few coffees, some fresh, some frozen, and a batch that was sitting in Scott's car for three days baking in 100 degrees heat.

We tried a few parameters on the Technovorm, modifying the soaking time, using a spoon to stir the wet coffee bed, and modifying the grind settings from one extreme to the other to see its effect on taste. The flavors ranged from chicken broth (the baked beans) to a watered down Yemen (Stumptown's Yemen Hariri).

Scott mentioned in passing the other day that he can teach anyone how to pour latte art in 15 minutes. I made a mental note of it, and when we met again in my kitchen, I challenged him to take me as a subject. I make maybe 10 cappas a year, as I do not enjoy milk, and I managed to wean my guests of milk drinks altogether when they come for a visit. So, pouring latte art was never something I tried to master. My steaming is almost as bad as my latte art, for the same reasons.

So off we went with our quick steaming and latte challenge.

Learn how to steam without using milk

UPDATE: New video demonstration, thanks Scott and John!


Milk is expensive. The following method, as taught by Scott, does not use milk and yet is an excellent way to learn how to steam: Instead of milk, use very cold water, and drop a TINY drop of liquid soap into the pitcher. Do not stir it - start steaming immediately. The following picture is the result. Could you guess from the picture that it isn't milk?

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Soap Steaming

Scott's book covers beautifully steaming techniques, and there is enough written about it on this site. The tip that stuck in my head from our session was the importance of creating a vortex in the 2nd stage of steaming (after stretching is completed). It is important that the vortex sucks in all the residual bubbles on the milk surface. If it doesn't, move the pitcher slightly until it does.

Latte Pouring

After mastering soap dish steaming, we moved to milk and latte pouring. In the first latte pour session, I was loosely holding the pitcher handle while Scott was doing the pouring. I then moved to using water to practice the motions of pouring a few times on my own. After that was done, I was ready for milk. A quick steaming session, a nervous pour, and the result is below. A pathetic Rosetta by all counts, but Rosetta it is. And the time? From a Philistine to a nervous latte artist wannabe in less than 15 minutes. I am keeping my day job, but I'm mighty proud of that little leaf, an achievement worthy of Charlie Brown.

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My first try at a Rosetta - Could Charlie Brown do a Better Job?
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Postby cai42 on Sun Jun 29, 2008 2:10 am

Abe,

I think every post deserves at least one response and considering 17 days have past I feel it is my responsibility to break this silence. I'm impressed with your artwork. But don't get too excited by this comment since I never tried it and probably never will. All that time and effort spent for something that lasts but a few seconds and then is swallowed. Charlie Brown would indeed be in awe of your first effort.

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Postby matthyx on Sun Jun 29, 2008 5:35 am

Hi Abe, the tip to use soapy water instead of milk to practice steaming is awesome ! Please thank Scott for this advice :D
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Postby HB on Sun Jun 29, 2008 10:29 am

cai42 wrote:I think every post deserves at least one response and considering 17 days have past I feel it is my responsibility to break this silence.

I've wanted to say something. Really, after seeing Abe's photo, it seemed just too easy. But could not think of a witty retort to Abe's earlier barb in the Buyer's Guide to the Expobar Brewtus. :lol:

HB wrote:Please humor me by not asking if it was supposed to be a rosetta or a heart. :?

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Abe Carmeli wrote:Dan, that's one hell of an onion.
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Postby cannonfodder on Sun Jun 29, 2008 10:48 pm

I never thought of using soap. When I was working on getting temperature by touch and sound I would use water. When I do my steaming time tests for bench reviews I will also use properly chilled water and frozen pitchers. Like you say, milk is expensive. I would love to get a 15 minute latte art lesson.
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Postby Chert on Sun Jun 29, 2008 11:07 pm

Abe Carmeli wrote:The tip that stuck in my head from our session was the importance of creating a vortex in the 2nd stage of steaming (after stretching is completed). It is important that the vortex sucks in all the residual bubbles on the milk surface. If it doesn't, move the pitcher slightly until it does.


I shall see if this will enable me to get some consistent microfoam for the daily cappuccino. But if I actually manage a lovely heart or - and I can't imagine this - a rosetta that I intend then I may lose the skill of pouring random Rorschach cappas. ( I don't think anyone would post such, but there are some interesting randomness in crema/milk mixtures.)
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Postby pauljolly65 on Mon Jun 30, 2008 12:48 am

Abe, you should be proud. That's far better than the creeping white ivy I've planted in several cappas. And to learn it in only 15 minutes! Well done!
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Postby bigabeano on Tue Jul 22, 2008 4:19 pm

I'm at Verve in Santa Cruz today (instantly made my top-10 list of U.S. coffee shops) and Matt, one of the baristi here, was commenting on the soapy water trick. Turns out he read it as pouring latte art with soapy water, which somehow I tried only once, unsuccessfully. But Matt is right: it works. So that's yet another way to practice latte art and save a lot of milk and money.
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Postby Abe Carmeli on Tue Jul 22, 2008 4:43 pm

bigabeano wrote:I'm at Verve in Santa Cruz today (instantly made my top-10 list of U.S. coffee shops) and Matt, one of the baristi here, was commenting on the soapy water trick. Turns out he read it as pouring latte art with soapy water, which somehow I tried only once, unsuccessfully. But Matt is right: it works. So that's yet another way to practice latte art and save a lot of milk and money.
Scott


Nice! Apparently, misreading is underrated. Now all we need to find is a substitute for coffee. How bout instant coffee for the latte art practice?
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Postby cpl593h on Tue Jul 22, 2008 5:25 pm

Hm, instant might work - it does foam up a little (don't ask me how I know), so at a high concentration it should do the trick. For folks with a single boiler, instant coffee and soap foam could be a tremendous time saver, sparing the downtime between steam and extract.

-Matt from Verve
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