The crema is literally a blank canvas awaiting your brush, or in our case, our milk pitcher. You can go wild, unleashing your imagination to draw dragons, unicorns, or a rose-crowned swan. But where do we start?
When pouring latte art, having a solid grasp of the basics is something so critical. There are 4 basic latte art patterns one must first learn how to pour. These 4 patterns are the foundations of any advanced designs. Learn them, master them, and you’ll be set up for some smooth sailing along the latte art high seas!
In today’s Latte Art Lab session, we’ll break them down alongside pictures of my pours. I’ll also offer some variations of these basic patterns to spice up your practice sessions.
1. Solid Heart
The most important basic pattern, the numero uno on our list is the heart shape. The heart is literally the heart, the foundation of pouring latte art.
When I first started learning latte art, it took me one whole month to learn how to pour the solid heart design. Oh yes, I absolutely wanted to move on to more advanced patterns, but I knew I had to get a hang of this before anything else. Still though, one month – gah – I’m sure you’ll learn it much quicker than I did.
Sure, I’ll admit the heart doesn’t look very fancy or impressive, but as a beginner you learn everything about pouring latte art from this one humble design. That includes:
- How to hold the cup
- How to grip the milk pitcher
- How to position your pouring arm
- How low or high you should move your pitcher.
Most importantly, you learn key factors about steaming milk:
- How to steam your milk to the perfect, silky texture
- How to know if your milk is too thick or thin
If you’ve steamed your milk right, it will glide out across the surface of the crema like butter. If the milk’s too thin, your pattern will break; if it’s too thick it will clump up. Milk is the number one most important factor when it comes to latte art. If you can steam milk to pour a silky, velvety heart shape, you’ll be able to pour more advanced patterns easily.
Nailing the heart is like unlocking the first gate to latte art: you open up the entire playing field. It feels so satisfying once you unlock this achievement!
Once you finally get that elusive pour right, try one of these alternative pours that build on the basic, solid heart.
As the milk glides out of the pitcher into the cup, rhythmically rock your pitcher side to side. This will form a heart shape made up of fine lines, instead of one solid patch of white.
This one is really difficult. It’s a heart shape where the white of the milk forms the outline of a heart. The inside of the heart is empty, and just takes up the beige/brown colour of the crema.
2. Simple Tulip
A simple tulip (such as a three-stack tulip) is good practice for a continual (but not continuous) pour.
- For a heart or a rosetta, once the milk starts flowing, you keep going. There is no stopping until the cup is full and the pattern is complete. That’s a continuous pour.
- A tulip, on the other hand, has a stop-start-stop-start motion. That’s a continual pour. Continual means an interrupted pour – a repeated pour but with breaks in between.
You’re pouring the first base layer, then you lift the milk pitcher which cuts off the flow of milk. Then, you lower the pitcher, start the milk flowing again to form the second layer.
When it comes to advanced designs, expect a LOT of starts and stops. So, getting the muscle memory of stopping and repositioning the milk pitcher here, early in your practice, will help you heaps.
A tulip is also the most common pattern baristas pour in busy cafes – it strikes that balance between being fast yet pretty.
After learning the heart, I was able to pour the rosetta and swan. Yet, I remember that I could not, for the love of my life, pour a tulip. Some people will have more trouble with a continual pour than others. So you do you – no need to follow this guide in chronological order. Feel free to jump to the rosetta or even learn it alongside the tulip.
A stacked tulip is when you try to push as many layers as humanly possible into your cup before it overflows. Latte artists love having fun challenges with each other to see who can pour more layers. I’ve seen baristas who’ve managed to push 12 or 13 stacks into their tulip pour. That’s wild! My record is only about 8 or 9 stacks.
Remember the rippled heart from before? A winged tulip is simply a tulip with a rippled heart as its base layer. It looks like a beautiful wing fanning out.
Also called a fern or leaf sometimes.
For a rosetta, you need to wiggle your milk pitcher side to side to force rippled lines to flow out, then, still wiggling, you need to pull back your pitcher towards the top of the cup to form the ‘stem’ of the rosetta. Lastly, you need to hold it at the top and create a small heart before lifting and cutting through the stem.
Now do see why I placed so much emphasis on the basic heart earlier? We’re starting to build upon the earlier patterns to progress further. And once you master the rosetta, you’ll be able to build on it, and form even more complex patterns.
Pouring a rosetta teaches you firm control over your side-to-side wiggling action. Because it’s a continuous pour, there is little room for error. You can correct a tulip as you stop and start the next stack. For a rosetta, you can’t stop, so you are forced to be very precise in your movements to create a symmetrical pattern. Symmetry is very important for a rosetta to look good.
Another huge thing you learn is line definition. You need to have clean, clearly visible lines that are distinct from each other. If your milk is steamed too thick and with too much foam, you can wiggle your pitcher all you like, but you’ll find you can’t separate the lines and get it to look nice. The next time you steam milk, you’ll know to inject less air. It’s a positive feedback cycle that’ll keep helping you improve and refine your technique.
Instead of wiggling your milk pitcher side to side at a fast tempo, a slowsetta is created when you slide your pitcher side to side slowly. The movement has to be very steady and controlled. The result is a beautiful rosetta with wide, open leaves.
This is one of the hardest advanced patterns out there. Professional latte artists can do up to 5 rosettas in one cup. It’s very difficult to get a clean definition for each and every rosetta stem, because as the cup fills up, surface tension increases which restricts the ability of milk to glide out smoothly. The pour control is next level. If you successfully master this pattern, though, trust me, all the advanced animal patterns will become super easy for you.
The last one up on our list today is the swan. Congrats – here, you start inching into advanced territory. I would call the swan latte art a ‘bridge’ pattern – it’s a design that bridges the gap between the basics and the more advanced. An intermediate pattern, if you will.
A swan puts everything you’ve learnt from the previous patterns to use. The body of the swan is a rosetta, and the head is a heart shape. The optional base layer is derived from a tulip’s base layer. You can think of it as your final challenge, your final test before the doors open to the advanced realm of rabbits, seahorses, hummingbirds and almost every other advanced latte art designs.
You’re also introduced to the first steps of foam drawing. To form the neck of the swan, you’re using the combination of milk and foam to draw out that curved line.
It’s definitely more wet foam than dry foam, as you need to still have milk left in the pitcher to form the head and cut through it.
A swan is my personal favourite pattern to draw, because it’s a very intuitive pattern that just flows out once you get the hang of it. It’s also a very impressive design that shows great mastery over milk quality and pouring technique. Plus, it doesn’t take long to pour a swan, so I can still serve it to my customers during busy periods.
An alternate swan where instead of wiggling to form a rosetta body, you stack tulips and cut through to form the body. Then you reposition your pitcher to draw the neck and head. It’s only a teeny bit harder than a regular swan. A fun variation that keeps your skills sharp and on point!
Double Winged Swan
Two separate rosetta stems make up the two unfurled wings to the left and right of the swan. The body, neck and head sit in between the wings. It’s a stunning, majestic latte art design that really adds a fancy flair.
Choosing Your Pour
If you’re curious as to how a sharp spout fares against a round spout for latte art, check out my other Latte Art Lab Guide on that. The milk pitcher you’re using does make a difference. I look at the 2 most common spout shapes and analyze what latte art patterns they’re most suited for. Click here to read that article.
The only thing left now is to go and get practicing! Drop some pictures below in the comments and share them with us. I can’t wait to see how you’re getting along.