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Coffee 101

12 Minutes

Latte Art Troubleshooting


GUEST WRITER 2 May 2011

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When it comes to latte art, there are always a few myths worth

debunking right away. My personal favourites are the variations on


the theme that steamed milk somehow magically changes the
flavour of your espresso: either the espresso will surely taste
amazing because the drink has latte art, or the espresso will fade
completely into a milk-drenched abyss.

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1/2

At the first few shops where I worked in Seattle and Boston, hardly
any time at all was spent training me on espresso, but the owners
were sure to show me how to pour latte art. It was only in 2006,
when I tasted my first straight shots of espresso, that I understood
how important that ingredient is to the drink. And when I look back
on the latte art itself, it was never great. In order to prepare the
very best looking latte art, a well-pulled espresso is a key
component.
On the flip side, while many of us obsess over tasting our espressos
every 15 minutes while on the clock, most of our consumers do
not. However, they can absolutely tell the difference when their
drink whether its a macchiato or a non-fat mocha tastes
funny. Its the baristas job to ensure that everyone coming into a
caf enjoys any beverage on the menu, which means making a
concerted effort with each drink to secure that it is the best it can
be.
Frequently when Im working bar shifts, I silently tell myself, I am
going to make the next customer the best cup of coffee theyve
had in their life. The customers job is simply to come back and
repeat the process again and again, thereby paying for the whole
relationship to continue. Milk is simply an additional ingredient that
needs to be treated with care on its own, and combined with

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espresso in a way that is customer-forward.


The next latte art myth is that of the wiggle. Everyone always wants
to wiggle his or her wrists, shaking a latte out into a wispy rosetta
at the last second. In fact, training books, videos and discussions of
latte art on the internet frequently refer to wiggling as the default
latte art pour method.
I, too, once believed that latte art was all about a wiggle. Then, one
day in 2007, I went to my first ever Specialty Coffee Association of
America Skill Building Workshop, and was asked to demonstrate my
prowess at latte art. If you can imagine the latte art disaster that
followed I was gently directed to try something different by my
instructor, Aaron Ultimo, now of Ultimo Coffee in Philadelphia. By
maintaining steady hand movements and focusing on the milks
pace, proximity and positioning, he said, you the barista can
control where and how the drinks pour from the pitcher and into
the cup. The three Ps have now become a regular part of my
trainings, and something I remember as one of my most
instrumental moments learning about coffee.
Finally, lets talk about extra hot lattes. If you are currently serving
extra hot drinks to your customers, please put down this article,
head to your espresso machine, and steam up some milk to 180+
degrees F. Smell it, taste it and think about it. Compare it to your
normal drink temperatures (which I dont recommend heating
much over 140 degrees F while steaming, 165 once rested. Many
cafs steam their milk up to 20 degrees lower than that). Does it
taste like something you want to serve to customers? Probably
hopefully not. Ultimately, its up to whomever determines your
cafs policy, but so far no student at TampCamp has left feeling
particularly warm and fuzzy about tasting or smelling that milk
again. Also, your latte art will never look as good when you are
serving drinks at high temperatures, simply because the microfoam

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bubbles youve been trying to achieve will begin to break down on


their own, forming much larger pockets of air.
Instead, I recommend pre-heating any ceramic or travel mugs like
crazy, filling them with hot water two or three times, to raise the
temperature the customer perceives is coming from the drink. Try
it it really works. For to-go drinks, we can all share a white lie:
call that drink out extra hot when youve steamed it only as far as
youre willing to go. So far, despite serving thousands of drinks, Ive
had no more coffees come back than I can count on one hand.
More often, customers come back to ask why the drink tasted so
much better than it usually does. If the timing is right, and I think
the customer is ready to learn, Ill let them in on my secret. Im
always wary to educate the customer that Ive made the drink
differently than they expected, especially if they are undercaffeinated!
Now that Ive gotten those myths out of the way, we can move on
to the task at hand: troubleshooting your latte art. So youve gotten
a few good pours out, but things still arent perfect all the time.
Why is that? Weve taken some photographs to demonstrate
common issues that happen while pouring, especially as you first
learn latte art. If youve never poured latte art before, you may
want to check out Bellissimos Extreme Pours DVD. The
fundamental information from the video is really sound. Then come
back and use this to troubleshoot as you pour!
1. This is probably the most common looking first-time pour design.
One thing thats really great about this pour is its definition,
meaning how dark the crema is compared to how white the foam in
the design looks. When the barista first poured the drink, he
poured from a good distance (proximity), at a slow enough speed
to cut into the crema without washing it out (pace), and directly
into the center of the crema so no milk would break the surface

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tension (positioning). The flaw in this pour came right as the barista
moved in to make the rosettas leaves. While he moved in nice,
steady movements from side to side, the barista was too far from
the surface of the liquid (by about one-third to one-half of an
inch), which made the leaves look less symmetrical as some of the
milk sank through the surface, while other parts floated nicely on
top. For the next pour, if the barista moves in and almost touches
the surface as he moves from side to side, the leaves will appear
much more symmetrically.
2. What happens when a baristas milk is over-aerated? This! Now
you know. When steamed milk has a little too much air, designs will
become washed out as the foam is hard to control and washes out
the crema at the start of the pour. Thats why the definition for this
heart isnt as clear as the design in photo number one. As for the
pour itself, the barista most likely followed the steps correctly, but
simply needs to re-steam or edit his milk for better results (Ill
explain in the next paragraph), as the foam washed out the design
when the pour began.
One way you can check how foamy milk will be is by spinning, or
rotating it in the pitcher to see how much it sticks to the sides, and
to see if there are visible bubbles in the foam. The more bubbles
you can see, the less likely the milk will pour well or taste good.
(Another good way to verify your milks quality is to taste it!) That
milk will be very sticky to the inside of the pitcher, leaving a foamy
residue as you spin. The best milk looks like wet paint, shiny and
smooth on the surface, and sticks slightly. When youve overaerated just a touch, sometimes its best to pour a tiny bit out
before you start your latte art pour. Be careful to pour over the
pitchers side or with a big, fast dip, because foam rises and settles
to the surface of your pitcher after steaming. This process, along
with firmly tapping your pitcher to remove any untoward bubbles, is

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called grooming.
3. Of course, over-aerateds cousin is under-aerated milk. Here,
the lines of the rosetta are wispy and thin because there wasnt
enough foam in the pitcher to create surface tension with the
espresso. You can also see a gray- brown, marbled texture in the
definition, due to the milk being so watery that it broke the crema
at the start of the pour. So while over-steaming is clearly the
enemy to great latte art, under-steaming really isnt a friend either.
How can it be fixed? One trick is to simply let your milk rest a bit
longer than usual, which will allow for more foam to come to the
surface of the pitcher. Re-steaming your milk is definitely not
recommended, since its already at a peak temperature (and weve
tasted that over-steamed milk, right?) As for the execution, many
components are correct, as there are leaves forming. But there is
also clearly a wiggling-wrist presence in the design. The leaves are
uneven and not centred in the cup, showing a lack of wrist control.
Also, the final pull through, which is best executed by lifting the
pitcher far from the surface and pulling straight through the
design, was too close and instead stirred the design back up.
4. This pour definitely shows some progress. First of all, the clean,
glossy sheen indicates a really nice milk texture the best yet. The
definition is clearer, and the barista undoubtedly has taken control
over the leaves in the rosetta. With time and a conscious effort to
watch the flow of the pour from side to side, the leaves will
become still more symmetrical. When I first concentrated on
symmetry, I would be sure to line up my design with the seam of a
paper cup or the handle of a ceramic mug (practice and then get
comfortable pouring perpendicular to the handle for the best
presentation). The number of leaves can be determined by the
speed of the pour; Ive seen beautiful rosettas with just 4 leaves.
The trouble with this pour comes right at the very end when the

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barista ran out of milk!


A big blob of the last bit of foam poured onto the top of the
rosetta, and seeing that, the barista then scrambled to get the
pour-through done, but only got about half-way down the rosetta
before running out of milk. As baristas become more aware of their
pours, this becomes less of a problem because they begin to feel
the weight of the pitcher and realize when they are about to run
out, and start the pour movements a little earlier. Another way to
redeem a pour when you run out of milk is to simply stop before
the pour through, which will make a nice inter-folding of leaves
that still is more appealing looking than a white-out.
5. This is another promising pour, but it has some more apparent
flaws than the last. Clearly the crema was broken, probably by
pouring onto the side of the cup instead of in the center of the
espresso, and the barista spent a bit of time trying to make up for
that, resulting in a much more tan background to work with. Still,
the leaves came out nice and slowly, probably a bit towards the far
side from the surface of the milk (but a big improvement from
photo number one). The final moments of the lift up and pull
through are where the design still needs a bit of work. To get a
small heart at the top of the rosetta, the barista can simply rest for
a second or so at the top of the rosetta, and then lift to complete
the pull through. Second, the pull through must be from a good
distance (three inches or more) to get that clean, sharp line. The
pull through should be a pretty similar distance and speed as the
first pours into the cup, with the only difference being a movement
to the opposite side of the cup.
I hope these examples have helped you understand the whys of
your latte art performance, not just the hows. Remember to keep
your milk well-steamed, your pace-proximity-and-positioning in
alignment, and your wrist still as you pull those leaves across. I

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hope to see the many of your design before-and afters, and


welcome you to send me any more questions about your art. Good
luck out there.
This article was written by Anne Nylander, photos by Elle Bernert,
originally published in Volume 6, Issue 6 of Barista Magazine. This
article was published by Five Senses with permission from Barista
Magazine. If you would like a subscription to Barista Magazine,
please visit the Barista Magazine website.
Anne Nylander, is Founder and President of TampTamp Inc. The
Seattle natives lifelong passion for coffee bloomed into a career in
2006 where she spends her time studying with trainers, green
coffee buyers, coffee roasters, large and small retailers, and fellow
professional baristas all to discover the best possible ways to
prepare and present specialty coffees. Some of the items on Annes
incredibly impressive list of credentials include:
WBC Certified Sensory Judge
USBC Certified Judge
SCAA Credentialed Lead Instructor
Level 1 Certified Barista Guild of America Barista
Resources and Materials Manager, SCAA Professional
Development Committee
To find out more about Anne, visit the TampTamp website.

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Coffee 101

6 Minutes

Espresso Shot Troubleshooting


JEREMY HULSDUNK 21 March 2011

It doesnt take much for a day to turn from smooth to turbulent


when youre working in a caf. I guess it is just part of the
rollercoaster ride that defines the hospitality lifestyle! One of the
things that can start the slippery slope towards anxiety is a coffee
pour that just doesnt add up or a question posed by a customer
that you just cant explain.
Here well take a look at some typical espresso-related problems
that can be easily solved by a bit of basic troubleshooting.

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Thin Espresso
First check the roast date of your coffee. If your coffee was
roasted more than three weeks ago, it will lack viscosity.
Next examine your shot speed. If the shot is pouring too
slowly, it will appear thin and oily. Remember, a coarser grind
equates to a faster shot, and a finer grind is slower.
Hows your volume? Remember that the end of the espresso
is signified by the third colour change. If your shot is running
past the end of the second change, you may need to adjust
your volumetric settings.
You may also need to check the temperature and pressure of
your machine. This is easy to do on more modern machines.
Generally the temperature will sit between 92C 96C. Then
there are the two pressure settings on your machine. One is
the steam pressure which should sit between 1 1.5 bars and
the other is the pump pressure which should be nine bars
while it is pumping. (Dont read it while the machine is idle, as

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you will only be reading the line pressure.)

Crema
Bubbly / Quick Dissipation
First take note of your coffees roast date. When coffee is
roasted it produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct of the
roasting process. If the roasted coffee is too fresh, you will
experience a lot of bubbles or quick dissipation. Allow the
beans a couple of days to settle and degas in order to obtain a
more stable crema, however, keep in mind that coffee will go
stale 21 days past the roast date. In addition, the longer you
allow your coffee to de-gas, the more the flavour will be
changed as well.
No Crema on a Long Black
This can also be associated with quick dissipation, where the
crema disappears quickly see Quick Dissipation above.
If there is absolutely no crema, this can be caused by stale
coffee. Again, check to make sure your coffee is within three
weeks of its roast date.
Evaluate how you are storing your coffee. Remember, it
needs to be in a cool, dry place not in excessive heat or in
the refrigerator. Both of these will cause the immediate decay
of your coffee.
If you have a Synesso or Expobar, check that the brew
temperature is correct. On the Synesso, it is easy to accidently
switch off the black element breaker when cleaning
underneath the machine, so make sure it is switched to the
left.
This is a bit of a weird one but make sure you dont have

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any detergent residue on your cups!

Shot Channelling
Remember, the idea of an espresso coffee machine is for
water to flow at proper pressure though a given amount of
coffee. Shot channelling is when the water doesnt have an
even press through the coffee puck it either goes around
the coffee or through an easy path within the coffee puck.
To evaluate the evenness of your extraction, the best tool is
the Naked Portafilter, which enables you to analyse the flow of
water through the coffee puck. (For more information on this,
check out the Naked Portafilter story I wrote a while back.)
Make sure you have the correct amount of coffee in the
basket for your machine the puck should be firm with a
spongy surface.
Ensure that the basket is not wet. Because the water coming
from your machine will follow any damp path, a wet basket will
encourage all of the water to go around the puck rather than
through it.
Your tamp needs to be level. Otherwise, all of the water will
take the path of least resistance, which is through the thinnest
part of your puck.
Dont tap on the side of your portafilter. Tapping on the side
just makes your puck look pretty, it doesnt make the coffee
taste better. What you are risking is either breaking the seal of
coffee with the edge of the basket or forming a crack through
the centre of the puck, both of which will result in an uneven
extraction.

Early Blonding

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If your coffee blonds too early, you risk reducing the body
and sweetness of your coffee, resulting in a bitter or ashy
flavour.
Stale coffee will also blonde early. Check your roast date and
storage.
Examine the speed of your pour. If your shot is too fast, the
coffee will blonde sooner.
Evaluate whether your shot is channelling see Channelling
above.
Check your machine temperature.

Harsh or Bitter
Make sure that your coffee is within three weeks of the roast
date and that it has been stored correctly.
Remember that the shot speed and the colour change of
your coffee must always be accurate. A shot that is too slow or
pulled too long will cause the coffee to turn bitter.
Check that the temperature of your machine hasnt
changed.

Sourness
This can be caused by coffee that is a little too fresh. Try
aging your coffee for a couple of extra days (never longer than
three weeks though) to stabilise your coffee.
Check your shot speed a fast shot can cause sourness.
Make sure your temperatures are set correctly.
As you can see, most of these problems can be easily avoided with

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fresh coffee, proper storage, and adequate technique. The use of a


temperature stable, multi-boiler machine is also important, for a
single boiler heat exchange machine will naturally fluctuate in
temperature and result in an inconsistent flavour. Multi-boiler
machines are more stable and consistent with the water
temperature they deliver.
If all else fails, give us (or your local technician) a call. When the
problem goes beyond general troubleshooting, your technician will
be able to make a more detailed assessment of things such as your
pressure gauge and grinder burrs. Its all in the pursuit of great
coffee.

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