A Latte Art instructor, 10-year Barista & Baristaswag.com founder
Most latte art competitions are judged in a subjective manner. However, some aspects of latte art are less debateable than others.
In this blog post we will discuss the aspects on which a pour is judged, while learning the difference between the different points observed by judges.
All the pours in this blog post are taken from a latte art practice we held at the coffee shop and aren't meant to be seen as actual competition winners, but are presented next to each other in order to illustrate the point in discussion.
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Free Pour Latte Art
The defintion of free pour latte art is any art that consists solely of a use of steamed milk poured directly from the milk pitcher and into the cup. No other accessories, such as latte art pens and stensils, are allowed.
As we discussed in the How to Steam Milk for Latte Art blog post. The most important aspect of latte art is perfectly steamed micro-foam. The texture should be creamy, devoid of bubbles and with at least 1-2 cm of milk foam when in cup.
The final pattern should consist of only two colors; white and brown. The white of the pour should be as close to pure white as possible, while the rest of the cup should be closest to espresso brown. In the photo below we can see an example of two similar pours, one with a clear contrast, and one with an less clear division between the two colors.
The pour on the right is noticibly more contrasted, with the brown being more intense than the left pour. When all else equal, the more contrasted pour wins the judges every time.
The design should "sit" well in the cup, this means that it should be symmetric and would make use of the majourity of the cup's surface area - usually around 70% of the total available space, give or take a little. In the two pours below, we can see a similar pattern. In the left pour, we can see a less balanced pour, with the pattern getting very close to the edge, and is placed in an uneven way, more towards the "bottom" of the cup. In the right pour, we can see a more or less balanced positioning of the pour, with a more even distribution over the cup's surface area.
One of the most important aspects of a great pour, is clear layer separation. When pouring lines, each line should be defined with as close to zero overlap between lines. When Pouring Tulips, it is considered best when there is a well defined "brown" between each tulip layer.
In the image below, we see again similar pours, with the pour on the right featuring a much better seperation between layer. In the left cup we can see the first lines are overlapping giving the appearence of less overall layers, even though both Tulips consist of 7 layers. At the end of this blog post I will show a simple pour with the technique for creating a more defined tulip.
Degree of Difficulty & Creativity
The best pours are not easy to pour. A simple tulip may be perfect in terms of the above criteria, however, if your competitor pours a more complex pattern, even if not as good in terms of definition and speed, he may be awarded the decision. Creativity also plays a part, especially when all else more or less equal. A creative and complex pour has a better chance of winning over a pour that is equally difficult to pour, but less creative.
In some competitions, you are allowed to bring your own cups. In this case, you can expect to get a more favorable decision if you go with a smaller cup size – as long as you can create an impressive pattern and as long as your competitor isn't using a similar cup size. I usually recommend using a 6 – 8 oz cup, preferably 6 oz with a wide diameter. Below we can see two similar pours - one in a 12oz cup, and the other in a 6oz cup.
Usually, you will have around 3 minutes to pour at least one pattern. When all else is more or less equal, the winner will be the competitor who served the judges first. If you are happy with your pour, serve it immediately. If the pattern isn’t good enough, it is best to try again – as long as you are able to serve it before time runs out.
In the following video we can see the entire process from start to finish in under a minute and a half. I am using a double ristretto (18g - 40ml), a small frothing pitcher and a latte art pitcher for the actual pour. You can skip the transition from frothing pitcher to latte art pitcher, as long as you can froth properly in your latte art pitcher.