Latte art is number two on my list of “things I used to love but now hate”—Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” currently holds the number one spot. Admittedly, the hatred is a little misplaced; rather than the latte art itself, I’m put off by squealing Instagrammers setting up the perfect shot of their rosetta-emblazoned cup of joe, and the fact that I have to wait for a barista to squiggle something in my foam when all I really want is my morning fix, aesthetics be damned.
Yet even in my latte-art misanthropy, I have to admit that some of the things that are produced atop cups of coffee these days are nothing short of stunning. And really, the steady-handed barista is the most selfless of artists, working again and again with a medium that is impermanent by its very nature (one sip and bye-bye Hello Kitty face).
Beyond the BS, it’s heartening to see all the creativity that espresso and steamed milk together have inspired—from rosettas and teddy bears (all usually made by skillfully pouring milk foam into crema-crowned espresso) to more intricate creations inspired by famous paintings and animated characters (made with an etching tool in which coffee and milk can be dragged through one another). Of course, technology has changed the game too, and now 3-D latte art and latte printers, which print with edible ink, are giving baristas some competition.
As with many aspects of fancy-pants coffee culture, latte art can go too far. But sometimes, it’s hard to deny its brilliance.
Click through the gallery above to see the most common subjects of latte art, as well as some of the most impressive examples of the craft.