Milk drinks are only a small part of Italian espresso culture; whereas in most of South Africa, people have over-sized milk drinks that even an anthropologist would never classify as cultured. But in a few cafés around the South Africa, baristas are using milk as a paint and espresso as a canvas to create beautiful and wonderful tasting latte art.
The best and most practiced professional baristas can create quite stunning patterns that a home barista will not be able to emulate. But with some months practice, you can learn to properly froth the milk, and pour basic heart and rosette patterns in 6 or 12 ounce cups. There is no easier way of convincing your friends of your espresso expertise than casually serving them an artfully poured latte.
Proper cappuccinos and lattes require microfoam—a pourable, virtually liquid foam that tastes sweet and rich. The pouring consistency runs from completely liquid for latte art to a slightly thickened sauce for traditional cappuccinos. If the foam becomes thicker, like soft peak beaten egg whites, its taste turns to cardboard, and its appearance in the cup suffers. Microfoam in the pitcher does not look like a foam, since the bubbles are too small. The only distinction it has from liquid milk is a soft, slightly spectral sheen in the right light. If the frothed milk has visible foam, it was incorrectly prepared.
Frothing milk to a microfoam is very simple when you know how to do it, but it does take time to learn. Two processes occur when milk is frothed: first, when the tip is at the right depth, the milk is converted to microfoam; second, the milk is heated. These two do not happen at the same rate on every machine or tip design, so the point at which you transition from foaming the milk to simply heating it varies from machine to machine. Finally, the amount of steam varies from machine to machine too, so the time spent to heat enough milk for a six ounce cappuccino can go from 10 to 40 seconds.
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