For centuries there’s been so much clap-trap talked about wine, often by those who couldn’t tell a beaujolais from a bacon sandwich but tried to impress by throwing in references to chocolate notes, a hint of wild strawberries, or as one anally-retentive oenologist once commented, ‘a lingering aftertaste of slate’. The mantle has passed to those who pontificate pointlessly about coffee – and boy, do most of them talk a complete load of old cojones – but as if that wasn’t bad enough it’s almost impossible to escape Latte Art, pointless scribings in foam that are now de rigueur in almost every coffee shop.
Let me state my case clearly and unequivocally. I hate foam on coffee and I hate even more the time spent putting a stupid design on it that lets the coffee go cold while someone who has convinced him or herself that this is the epitome of artistic creation fiddles around with it. I feel enormously sad that a person can go home at the end of the day feeling a sense of achievement at making coffee look pretty. But these people surely do exist.
To quote from the publicity of the 2015 World Coffee Events, ‘The World Latte Art Championship is by far the most photographed competition in the entire WCE portfolio. And why not? It’s a living gallery of some of the finest consumable art in the world—and perhaps the only form of art with an expiration of less than three minutes.’
Apparently thirty-six of the ‘world’s top latte artists’ took to the stage in Sweden to ‘show off the very best of their abilities in the medium of espresso and milk.’ Forget about oil, pastel, canvas or chiaroscuro, coffee and milk are now the ‘medium’ for art. Funny, I always thought they were something to drink.
Each ‘artist’ could use ‘etching tools’ (in other words a bit of wood with a point on the end) and other ‘ingredients’ (my head can’t get beyond sugar because any other ingredient makes it taste like muck, including all those syrups that cafes overcharge for to boost their profit margin). But I forget… this is ‘art’, not a cup of coffee to enjoy. Silly me!
At least as far as The World Latte Art Championship goes we can congratulate one of our own, Arnon Thitiprasert of Ristr8tt0 who took fifth place. As the media blurb put it, Mr Thitiprasert ‘asserted his command of the milk pitcher during his outstanding finals routine. Think fantastical depictions of gentle swans, mighty owls mid-flight, and mystical dragons with sinister smiles.’
As if having a design scratched in or poured on your frothy coffee isn’t bad enough, some genius has come up with the idea of ‘The Ripple Maker’, which, according to the manufacturer, ‘combines hardware and software to deliver a new communications platform that produces high-resolution designs and messages, which are “rippled” onto the drinks.’ Hmm, so now it’s not only ‘art’ it’s a ‘communications platform’. And the manufacturers go on to say, ‘Any venue that serves coffee will be able to take advantage of the opportunities for engagement, loyalty and emotional connection that the so-called ripples provide.’ Can’t say I’ve ever had an emotional connection with a cup of coffee. Maybe I’m missing something.
Having thought about it for a moment, nope, I’m not missing a doggone thing, but Yossi Meshulam, CEO of Steam Co who produce the idiotic machine obviously thinks otherwise. “Latte art is one the most shared images on social media. We’re taking latte art to a whole new level. When you put something beautiful in someone’s hands, they want to share it. That’s how we’re making a ripple on the world.” And at a price tag of $999 I wonder how much that ripple is going to boost the price of your daily cup of java?
With respect to Mr. Thitiprasert and his obvious dedication to his ‘art’ I’ll pass on his ‘fantastical depictions’ any day in favour of a good, hot café con leche as made at my former local caff in Valencia, Spain. No pictures, no pretentions, just honest freshly ground coffee, milk and water, poured into a glass and banged on the counter by Javier the curmudgeonly old café owner, who would laugh in your face if you ever thought of calling him a barista – and please don’t start me on that particular piece of stupidity!