Flavor is a multisensory experience that also includes the sense of sight.
Latte art is a decoration technique that allows you to make figures on the surface of milk-based drinks with a combination of perfectly frothed milk and espresso shots.
The way in which these two ingredients are mixed gives a different name to the final drink according to the doses used and affects the perception of flavor.
A cappuccino prepared in a workmanlike manner is a combination of unique flavors and tactile sensations.
The milk emulsion forms a glossy and smooth white circle in the center of the cup, highlighted by a dark brown coffee ring created by the espresso shot.
As soon as you get the cup close to your mouth, the scents you can perceive are still subtle, enclosed by the micro-bubbles of the milk emulsion.
At the first sip, all the aromatic notes are released through the retronasal route; each sip is a perfect balance of flavors: the different acidities of coffee and milk pave the way to a unique and balanced complexity and the bitterness of coffee is diluted by the sweetness of pleasantly warm milk.
The tactile sensation is what makes the real difference: the fusion between the microfoam and the espresso will give you a soft and round sensation, traveling through your tongue and adding persistency to your palate.
Imagine entering a specialty coffee shop and ordering a cappuccino. You sit at the table and get your smartphone ready, to capture your cup.
When it finally arrives, the first thing you notice is a dry and vanishing foam piled over the cup. An unmistakable auditory sensation anticipates the tasting: the macro bubbles that "sparkle" while they disappear like if it was a bath foam.
At the first sip, the mix of coffee and superheated milk slips from under the foam and burns your tongue, while a layer of airy foam remains attached to the upper lip and your nose.
Your cappuccino is coming. As soon as you rise the cup, your disappointment becomes clear. The little foam on the surface breaks on the walls of the cup and drips on the table.
At the first sip, the mixture of coffee and watered milk disperses into the mouth without leaving particular sensations, if not the bitterness of coffee and heated milk.
When you drink a cappuccino, your experience a unique combination of aroma, taste and tactile sensations in the mouth. These elements build up the flavor of your drink, but not only.
Flavor is a multisensory experience that also includes the sense of sight (and hearing! But we will talk about this another time ).
When you enter a starred restaurant you expect that the dishes will also have a nice presentation on the plate. It is not pure aesthetics: the thoughtful arrangement of the elements makes you think that someone has treated the ingredients with care, paying attention to every detail and that, above all, it was worth doing because of the quality of the ingredients.
A good and well presented dish makes us more willing to pay something extra. We give monetary value to the preparation and the perceived quality of the ingredients.
Milk and coffee-based drinks decorated with Latte Art work in a similar way. Before reaching your mouth someone selected coffee for its characteristics as well as milk, so that the two ingredients can be well combined.
That someone perfectly extracted the espresso and whipped the milk in a workmanlike manner.
In pouring it he made an extra effort to offer a high quality drink that looks as good as it really is.
A well-made cappuccino, with its delicious milk foam, offers one of the most beautiful sensory experiences ever: in a single sip, you can feel a unique combination of thickness and sweet softness.
This sensation in your mouth cannot be sacrificed just to have a perfect decoration that will be swept away and forgotten at the first sip leaving only a bitter taste in your mouth. The same goes the other way round. Flavour must be supported by aesthetics since choosing the best ingredients presented badly can damage your business. The added value perceived by the customer can be translated into greater monetary value that he can be willing to pay. Why should you throw this opportunity away?
That said, not everyone will want to pay more for an excellent coffee just as not everyone will choose a Michelin five-stars restaurant.
What matters is to align customer expectations with your offer. If you are a coffee shop that works professionally and chooses quality ingredients you must look like it as well. Otherwise, customers will feel misled for a non justified extra cost, or will be disappointed at the first sip.
The choice is left to you, but in both cases you will get an unsatisfied customer.
We have already talked about the greater value perceived by the customer and his willingness to pay more if aesthetics is followed by the quality of the ingredients and a greater care in putting them together.
Let's go back to the beginning.
You order your cappuccino, sit down at the table and take your smartphone. The Barista arrives with this gorgeous cup completed by a magnificent Latte Art: a majestic open-breasted swan swims in a coffee lake and milk-scented water lilies.
It's what you expected isn't it? In fact, you take a picture and publish it immediately on your Instagram profile. Hashtag: #goodasitlooks.
Your friends start to populate your photo with their likes, starting to ask where you are and can’t wait to be there too.
The photo on Instagram works like a "review-plus" for our business: I'm not just telling you it's good, but I'm showing you, here is the evidence.
If you are focusing on the quality of your ingredients and learning Latte Art sounds like a waste of time to leave to the hipster baristas, then prepare to receive only two likes on your profile: your mum’s and your best-friend’s who cares so much for whatever you do.
Seriously: an advice I want to give you is to learn immediately from the best professionals. If you understand the correct coffee extraction and the correct technique to froth the milk you will have a solid basis where you can start building the foundations of your Latte Art skills (if you want to know more about our next courses write me here!).
The Latte Art Grading System (LAGS) is the only certification system that can validate your level in this technique and does it worldwide. It is open to any barista or professional, regardless of your experience.
Requirements include the ability to prepare a perfect espresso, how to perfectly froth your milk and pour into the cup.
Once you get carried away with the pouring, start to become familiar with simple things, such as a small heart or a tulip.
Start training more on your manual skills. You can start practicing before or after each work shift, perhaps behind closed doors when it's just you and your cappuccino and you feel more comfortable making mistakes.
Never serve a bad cappuccino. Not even to your colleague who already looks at you skeptically since the beginning of the shift and does not understand what you are doing and even less why.
Do you think you are not good enough in Latte Art? Don't worry: you always have to make mistakes to become better and better. And then again try, try and try again.
As the Latte Art champion Chiara Bergonzi says: "Nothing is impossible, but nothing is given".
To learn more about the Latte Art Grading System read here.
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