The REAL Latte Art Challenge

When I first heard that Nestlé is sponsoring the latte art competition, I was already wondering what magic new espresso machine they are going to pull out of their hat this time. Yes, Nestlé, as in Nespresso infamy. Someone actually leaked (untruthfully) that it was going to be a Nespresso machine that was going to do the espresso base for the cappuccinos. I smsed the rest of the CGSG group, only to have CGSG Founder Kai Seng reply with “They should up the ante and use Nestlé milk powder.”

Yesterday, as the Latte Art Comp preceded the main Barista Competition, it was finally revealed to us what the magic machine was. I regret I do not have any photos here. (I shall take some later today.) You know the kind of Milo/Teh Tarik/Black Coffee/Hot Chocolate dispensers they have littering just about any ubiquitous kopitiam/hospital/waiting area? Yes, that all-in-one dispenser was making the espresso, sorry, black coffee for the capp base. They had a briefing on the stage where the 2 dispensers were proudly displayed, its innards being revealed to all in amazement. The insides looked like the insides of your CMYK inkjet printer. They have neat cartridges for black coffee premix, milo premix, teh tarik premix, etc. I was thinking someone would just be out there to make a cost effective Continuous Ink Beverage Supply System for this dispenser. But, at the same time, Steve and I were thinking of the problems the competitors are going to face trying to make latte art with this coffee.

This dispenser comes without PID, without all the wonderful technology most people take for granted when working with a budget toy like a $50 Krups or Braun, without the consistency to put out even an un-espresso nespresso. This is the equivalence of a 2 in one coffee mix that comes 30 packs in a bag at your nearest supermarket. It makes sweet black coffee topped with big bubbly foam. Now, this is what I call a REAL LATTE ART CHALLENGE. Ever since their first Barista Challenge in 2009, CuppaChoice always had the creativity of doing something out of the norm with the rest of the crowd. Their 1st Barista Challenge had the blind latte art challenge where competitors had to pour latte art without looking at the cup. This, of course, produced hilarious results with half the competitors burning their hands with hot milk.

You just have to think out of the box for this one. A few competitors thought of stamping out the foam by knocking the cup against the tabletop, the same way you would when faced with bubbles in your micro-foamed milk. But, for some, the bubbly foam coffee was still inpenetrable by the micro-foamed milk. This is coupled with the fact that even if the milk found a way to penetrate the coffee foam, it still had the thick coffee foam to restrict the flow of milk on top to draw your latte art. To the untutored eye, it would seem these competitors just do not have the skill to put out nice latte art. However, much to the surprise of many, the few and the proud still found a way to make really nice 5 hearted tulips, rosettas, and the like. Of course, it didn’t help the matter much as the judges were 2 time Singapore National Barista Champion John Ryan Ting and SNBC 2010 #3 Suhaimie Sukiman, both of whom came in #2 and #3 in both this year’s SNBC and its companion Latte Art Competition. #1 was happily vacationing in some Indonesian island and wasn’t available to do the judging.

Here are the finalists:

  • Nizam (Jolly Frog)
  • Fadzli (Jones the Grocer)
  • Terrence (30 mls)
  • Sham (CuppaChoice)
  • Fadhly (CuppaChoice)

Here’s one blog post that came to my mind when I was watching the latte art challenge unfold. Since the coffee foam was hard to work with, it would be great if you could spoon off the coffee foam, leaving just the black coffee. Then you would, as illustrated in James Hoffman’s answer to the readers who mentioned that latte art would be difficult without crema, be able to easier draw your latte art in black coffee.

This is a screenshot from James’ site. Clicking on it wouldn’t produce the video. You have to go to the link above and view the entire video. :)

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