Latte art is undoubtedly the most potent visual symbol of specialty coffee. It demonstrates the care and attention that has gone into making the coffee, and showcases the craft and skill of the barista. And, of course, it looks great on Instagram.

But latte art is no longer enough to differentiate one coffee shop from another. In the three decades or so since it was invented, latte art has gone from being a specialist skill known only to a few people worldwide, to something that is expected as the bare minimum in any specialty cafe.

Latte art does still signal to your customers that their coffee is a premium product — but it takes more to stand out than ever before. The best latte art needs great milk, skilled baristas — and the right equipment.

Luckily, cafe owners today have access to equipment designed to make latte art easier and faster. The right gear can reduce the amount of time it takes to train new baristas, or cut down the amount of time your baristas need to spend making each coffee — giving them more time to focus on their creativity and skill.

The importance of good latte art

Latte art is more than just decoration; it has a strong influence on the customers’ perception of quality. For a new customer, seeing good latte art is one of the easiest ways to tell if the coffee is going to be any good or not — and if it’s worth paying a premium price for.

Good latte art shows the customer that the milk is properly textured and will have that wonderful creamy mouthfeel. It also suggests that the barista is well trained, and will pay just as much attention to the extraction of the espresso.

In fact, research shows that customers would be willing to pay 11-13% more for a coffee with latte art, than for an identical coffee without it. Latte art shows customers that their coffee is made with care and expertise, the researchers found, saying: ‘Participants ascribed higher effort and/or skill to the creation of the latte when it was served in a more aesthetically pleasing manner.’

Good latte art is a great way to advertise the quality of what you offer, whether that’s by posting pictures on social media, or catching the eye of passers by.

Latte art also affects the way the coffee tastes. Coffee with latte art may not taste better in blind taste tests. When you can see the latte art, though, it changes the way your brain perceives the flavor, making the coffee seem sweeter.

What makes a machine good for latte art?

It’s certainly possible to make great latte art with virtually any espresso machine — in fact, some baristas manage to get good results without using an espresso machine at all. But some machines definitely make it easier than others.

The most important thing to look for is that the machine has plenty of power. If the steam pressure drops during busy periods, this can make it much harder to create good milk texture. The specs to look for in this case are the size (in liters) and power rating (in kW) of the main boiler.

The other important factor to consider is the layout of the working space. An open working area can make it much easier for baristas to work quickly and efficiently. This is particularly important if you need to steam large jugs of milk — for example, if you expect to serve a lot of large takeaway lattes. Some machines, such as La Marzocco’s Strada, are designed with long, gracefully curved steam wands, which make it much easier to handle large pitchers.

As well as having more capacity, high powered machines create ‘dry’ steam — steam that carries enough energy to heat and texture the milk without introducing too much water, which makes for creamier, sweeter lattes.

The best espresso machines for latte art

Which machine will give you the best results with your milk depends on the baristas who are going to be using it.

La Marzocco’s Linea PB has a strong reputation among professional latte artists. It has a large, powerful steam boiler and is perhaps one of the fastest machines for steaming milk on the market.

That speed, however, makes it more challenging for beginners to create good milk texture. The working space is also quite compact, which makes it a little more difficult to steam large jugs of milk.

That speed, however, makes it more challenging for beginners to create good milk texture. The working space is also quite compact, which makes it a little more difficult to steam large jugs of milk.

By contrast, the espresso machines made by Nuova Simonelli and Victoria Arduino are a lot more forgiving and easy to work with. On the Victoria Arduino Black Eagle , for example, there is a very open working space, which makes for a comfortable workflow. The flow of steam from the machine is a little gentler than from the La Marzocco machines. This makes it slightly slower, but much easier to texture the milk and create perfect ‘microfoam’ — the silky smooth foam, with no visible bubbles, that is essential for perfect latte art.

All of Nuova Simonelli and Victoria Arduino’s espresso machines, including the Black Eagle and Eagle One , can be fitted with the Easycream system. This automated steam wand takes the guesswork out of milk steaming for less-experienced baristas. On these machines the steam control is also a simple lever, rather than the more traditional knob, which many baristas prefer.

However, if there is one machine that was designed with latte artists in mind, it is the Cafe Racer from Sanremo. The Cafe Racer has the ideal balance of high speed steam, whilst also being very forgiving when it comes to creating silky smooth microfoam.

It is no surprise that the Racer has been the official machine of the World Latte Art Championships since 2018.

One of the Cafe Racer’s best features is a pressure transducer in the steam boiler, which detects when the steam wand is activated and immediately fires up its high powered heating elements. This means that the machine will never lose steam pressure, no matter how much steam you use.

It has an open workspace with plenty of room around the groups, and an elongated drip tray, which makes it much easier to handle large jugs of milk. It also has very intuitive controls that allow you to turn the steam on or off by simply flicking the lever in any direction.

Thanks to these features, the Cafe Racer is very popular with professional latte artists. We asked Renata Khedun, the four times winner of the Irish Latte Art Championships, for her take on this machine. Renata has used this machine for several years in competitions as well as behind the bar at Cloud Picker Cafe in Dublin.

“I can say it’s my favorite machine I ever used,” she says. “It’s beautiful, powerful, and reliable.… I love the steamer — the switch is perfectly designed, it’s easy to use, I love it and highly recommend it!”

A helping hand for latte artists

No matter how fast and efficient your baristas are, the time it takes to steam and texture perfect milk is always a bottleneck in the process. In the last few years, though, machines have started to appear on the market that can steam milk automatically.

Having the milk steamed for you is a bit like having an extra pair of hands helping you out behind the bar. It allows the barista to spend more time focusing on their art, and less time waiting for the milk to heat up.

The Perfect Moose steams milk in exactly the same way a skilled barista does, creating perfect milk texture every time.

The Perfect Moose can handle any kind of milk or milk alternative, and thanks to special jugs equipped with electronic smart tags, it can be set up to steam to different temperatures and textures.

The Perfect Moose can handle any kind of milk or milk alternative, and thanks to special jugs equipped with electronic smart tags, it can be set up to steam to different temperatures and textures.

Having a machine like the Perfect Moose behind the bar means that a barista can put some milk on to be steamed, and immediately get back to making the next espresso, or serving the next customer. In a few moments, the milk will be ready at the perfect texture and temperature.

With a machine taking care of the steaming for you, creating a work of art is as simple as picking up the jug and pouring — well, almost that simple! Learning to pour great latte art still takes plenty of practice, but with today’s machines, there’s no reason that steaming perfect milk has to be difficult too.

Latte art is difficult for new baristas, but the right equipment can make it much easier.

Contact our experts for free advice on how to make it as easy as possible for your team to unleash their creative side.