One of the last places you’d expect to find art is in your coffee, but that’s exactly where it is at two popular Bend coffee spots.
Look in your cup at Bellatazza or The Village Baker, and you may see a sun smiling back. Don’t be surprised to see a heart, leaf or flower blooming out of the milky foam and rich brown espresso of your coffee drink. Every order is a little work of art.
“A lot of people aren’t expecting to see that,” said Toby Hurd, barista and pastry chef at The Village Baker in southwest Bend. He said his latte art depicting a sun gets the most comments from customers.
“They’ll ‘ooh and aah’ and say, ‘That’s gorgeous,’ but the most common reaction is, ‘Now I don’t want to drink it!’ But it doesn’t stop them, of course. In the end, it’s all about the coffee,” he said.
Latte art is surprising fun, and it may be something more: the sign of a great cuppa joe.
“If you go somewhere that serves you coffee with a nice rosetta or heart design on top, you definitely know that the barista knows what he’s doing. That’s kind of like a seal of approval,” said Anthony Amoroso, manager and barista at Bellatazza on Wall Street.
There are two main kinds of coffee art: drawings made with tools, and free-pours.
Rosetta and leaf shapes are made by the “free-pour” method. That means the drink maker doesn’t use external tools to create the artwork. The design comes from the skillful pouring and gentle shaking of steamed milk from a pitcher into freshly brewed espresso.
Amoroso is an expert at the free-pour. He said it took him about two months of practice before he was able to turn out perfect hearts and rosettas every time. For Amoroso, the hardest part about creating latte art was mastering the milk.
“Milk is the trickiest part to learn. There’s the temperature, and how much air to put into it, and when to put the air in,” he said. “Ideally, you want to have the espresso come out at the exact same time as the milk. You don’t want the espresso shots to sit at all. The flavor starts to diminish.”
Amoroso demonstrated by pouring the just-hot-enough steamed milk into a cup with two shots of freshly brewed espresso. He ended the free-pour with a little jiggle of the milk pitcher and a drip of milk over the crema, or top of the espresso, to complete a perfect leaf design. It happened in about five seconds, and looked effortless, like most things that require lots of skill and practice.
Amoroso said a busy parade day in downtown Bend demonstrates the real skill of the baristas at Bellatazza.
“When the line is outside the door and around the corner, and you can still produce drinks with perfect designs, that’s where the skill comes in,” he said. “We take it seriously. A lot of preparation and time goes into making a cup of coffee here. From the four years ago that it started out as a little bean, to finally coming into my hands here as a barista. It definitely gives you a sense of pride and passion,” Amoroso said.
Toby Hurd’s specialty is his coffee artwork, hand drawn with the spiky end of a milk thermometer. Although not formally trained, Hurd has always been artistic. He’s the sort of person who paints in his spare time.
“I was surprised at what a great medium coffee is. There’s a lot you can do with a cup of coffee. The coffee itself is really pretty to look at. You’ve got some rich colors, and the contrast between the white of the milk and the brown crema of the espresso,” he said.
It takes about 15 to 30 seconds for Hurd to complete one of his trademark sun or moon designs. He also makes drawings and flowers, and enjoys free-pouring heart designs.
Like Bellatazza, all of the espresso coffee drinks at The Village Baker get finished with artwork. All of the baristas are trained to do it. “But not like that,” said fellow employee Kristin Nihill, glancing at Hurd as he drew a sun on a latte. “Toby’s taken it to another level,” she said proudly.
“Presentation is something that’s very important to me, and that’s not true with a lot of other places,” Hurd said. “You just get your coffee and it’s in a paper cup with a lid on it already,” he added. “I think people really appreciate it when it looks really nice.”
He started learning his trade about four years ago, making simple designs at first. Over time, his artwork evolved as he learned how to work with the ingredients. Hurd spooned out milk from his steaming pitcher and discarded it in the sink before beginning one of his latte drawings. “When you steam the milk, it produces layers of foam. The top layer is loose and airy with lots of bubbles. What you’re going for is the real rich, tight foam below. It tastes better, and is more aesthetically pleasing,” he explained.
Next, he spooned the thick, white foam onto the espresso and began drawing quickly with the thermometer end.
Hurd gets a kick out of being able to express himself artistically in his job at The Village Baker.
“It’s important to find something that makes your job fun. Even if I mess up a design, people still think it looks cool. It’s exciting and fun for me. I haven’t managed a Mona Lisa yet, but there’s always time,” he smiled.
If you love java, some delightful, ephemeral latte art may surprise you someday. Art in unexpected places, like a coffee mug, gives one’s spirit a wake-up call, along with the caffeine.