””

Watch baristas paint on a cup of coffee at Singapore Coffee Festival

Learn to make latte art from baristas, who talk about what inspires their creations

From basic designs such as hearts and tulips to more intricate ones of swans and dragons, baristas are letting their imaginations run wild with their artistic cuppas.

There are two types of latte art. Free pours are designs that are created by steadily pouring steamed milk into cups of espresso to create hearts, tulips and fern-like rosettas. Another technique is etching, where the designs are drawn on the foam with a sharp tool after the milk has been poured into the espresso.

Keen to see how latte art is created? Check out some of these baristas, who will be in action at the Singapore Coffee Festival from June 9 to 12 at the F1 Pit Building. The festival is organised by Sphere Exhibits, a subsidiary of Singapore Press Holdings, presented by DBS and hosted by The Straits Times.

The inaugural event celebrates Singapore's vibrant coffee culture. Visitors can immerse themselves in all things coffee, from cutting-edge barista skills and coffee equipment to latte art, coffee beans and local kopi heritage from the more than 100 exhibitors there.


Drawing on the weather

Mr Eugene Lim, 39, barista, MavRx Coffee Apothecary

Latte art speciality: Weather and animal designs

  • BOOK IT/SINGAPORE
    COFFEE FESTIVAL 2016

  • WHERE: F1 Pit Building,
    1 Republic Boulevard

    WHEN: June9to 12, 11am to9pm
    daily (June9for media and trade
    only by registration)

    ADMISSION: $18 (standard), $44 (standard group same-day
    entry), $43 (VIP entry).

    Up to $5 off ticket prices for DBS/POSB
    cardholders; $28 for three-day
    pass for DBS/POSB cardholders.

    Available from Sistic (go to
    www.sistic.com.sg or call
    6348-5555)

    INFO: Go to
    sgcoffeefestival.com.sg

If you want a clue to what latte art to expect from barista Eugene Lim, look at the weather and the day of the week you visit MavRx Coffee Apothecary in Duxton Hill.

His fun and cheerful designs centre on cutesy drawings of teddy bears and cats. If it is a rainy day, the animals will be holding umbrellas. They don sunglasses on sunny days.

On Fridays, these animals might clutch a pillow or banner that reads "Thank God It's Friday". He also customises cuppas for festive seasons, such as adding snowflakes to the design for Christmas and Chinese zodiac animals for Chinese New Year.

He says: "Customers can relate to the weather or special occasions and these personalised designs usually put smiles on their faces."

For instance, after he pours steamed milk to form the shapes of the umbrella and bear, he uses an etching tool to draw intricate details such as the bear's facial expressions and dabs milk foam around the pattern as raindrops.

The former interior designer made a career switch in 2010 to pursue his childhood ambition of becoming a chef. At age seven, he started helping his Nonya grandmother in the kitchen. His signature dishes include chicken chop and nasi lemak.

He interviewed for a kitchen job at coffee chain Spinelli Coffee Company, but discovered that it was more keen on hiring a barista. On a whim, he took up the job.

He says: "I started to drink coffee daily and it was interesting to discover its range of flavours. I wanted to learn more about it."

Six and a half years on, he has worked in cafes such as Patisserie G in Millenia Walk and Farm to Table in Duxton Road.

When doing latte art, it helps that he has a steady hand from years of doing interior design drawings. He says: "With latte art, I can transform my designs from paper and the computer to a cup of coffee."


He ticks the right boxes

Mr Ryan Kieran Tan, 30, co-owner of Strangers' Reunion

Booth number: 3A25

Latte art speciality: Tulip-based designs

The tulip latte art pattern is something of a lucky charm during competitions for Mr Ryan Kieran Tan, 30, co-owner of Strangers' Reunion cafe in Kampong Bahru Road.

He has participated in almost 20 barista competitions since coming on the scene in 2009. His accolades include being a three-time Singapore National Latte Art Champion and coming in third at the World Latte Art Championship in 2011.

His tulip designs at these competitions are far from basic. He can stack up to 15 layers or have multiple tulips in a cup. "The tulip design ticks all the right boxes for competitions," he says. "It shows contrasts and symmetry and has a clean look that appeals to both judges and customers."

He says the trickiest part of perfecting a tulip is getting the pattern to look symmetrical and ensuring that its layers are uniform.

Instead of going for over-the-top latte art designs, his strategy is to stick to what the judges are looking for. He says: "I pour my coffee to match the judging criteria on their score sheets, so they have no choice but to award the points to me."

He takes part in two or three competitions a year and has spent about $10,000 on customised coffee equipment. He often spends three months training for a competition.

"These are great learning opportunities to push the boundaries of making coffee."

Just seven years ago, he "had zero interest and didn't even like coffee". That was when his parents started Papa Palheta cafe. They have since sold the business.

While studying for his finance and economics degree at the University of Melbourne, he worked in 11 cafes over two years, leaving each place once he decided that he had learnt enough there.

He started Strangers' Reunion cafe in 2012 and also runs Strangers' at Work in Collyer Quay and Curious Palette in Prinsep Street.

Instead of entering more competitions, he hopes to take a backseat and coach baristas instead. He says: "It is more rewarding to guide them through this learning journey and share what I've learnt."


Imagination takes flight

Barista Mark Chan's latte art speciality is birds.

Mr Mark Chan, 26, head barista, Common Man Coffee Roasters

Booth number: 2B14

Latte art speciality: Birds

From majestic phoenixes to elegant swans, Mr Mark Chan, head barista of Common Man Coffee Roasters in Martin Road, lets his imagination take flight in his latte art.

The 26-year-old Filipino says: "Birds symbolise the freedom to express my creativity through latte art designs."

One of his creations is something he calls Picasso's Swan. The design incorporates two types of free-pour techniques for the two wings. The ring wing is formed by pouring a stack of tulip patterns that are cut in half and the left wing has a fern-like rosetta pattern.

He was inspired by geometric shapes that are featured in the works of Picasso and presented the design at last year's World Latte Art Championship in Sweden.

His coffee journey started "by chance" when he was 18 and assigned to a Starbucks outlet in Manila for a three-month attachment as part of his hotel and restaurant management course in university. "Coffee chose me and I always look up to men who work behind the bar as they are the authority in that arena and they look cool using those state-of-the- art espresso machines."

He enjoyed his barista stint at Starbucks so much that he worked there for four years.

In 2012, he gave up a managerial position in Starbucks to relocate to Singapore, hoping to find a better-paying barista job here to pay his younger sister's college fees. He says: "My dad died when I was younger, so I had to step up to be 'the dad'."

He worked for six months as a waiter here before landing a barista job.

Mr Chan, who has also worked at Forty Hands cafe and Tiong Bahru Bakery, enjoys chatting with customers while making coffee. He says: "I can be a listening ear to everyone, from chief executives to taxi drivers, and get to know their life stories."


Everything starts with tulips

Ms Levina Wong, 25, trainer at McCafe

Booth number: 3A8

Latte art speciality: Tulip-based designs

Do not underestimate the basic tulip latte art design, says Ms Levina Wong, a trainer at McCafe, McDonald's coffee house-style chain.

The technique, which is formed by stacking a series of milk pours, is a cornerstone of many of the 25-year- old's latte art creations, ranging from roses to falcons to swans. She says: "I am fascinated with the nice patterns that get pushed out when combining different ways of pouring tulips in one design."

One example is an intricate fish-shaped design that is formed by pouring a series of tulip patterns. As she rotates the cup slowly, she deftly alternates the angle of the milk pour in a criss-cross fashion to create a scale-like pattern on the fish. For a finishing touch, she etches the outline of its body and draws its eyes and tail.

She presented the design at this year's Singapore Latte Art Championship, where she emerged first runner-up.

Relishing her participation in the competition, Ms Wong, who has been a barista with McCafe for five years, says: "It exposes me to a whole new ballgame, to see what baristas at other cafes are doing, and this pushes me to do more innovative and complicated latte art designs."

One way she hones her craft for competitions is to do them for customers at the bar. Her hands also "get itchy" when she watches online videos on latte art.

Designs that she has done for customers include birthday cakes, teddy bears and a three-dimensional one in the shape of a cat. She says: "I like the satisfaction of seeing my customers smile at what I have created."


It's all in the technique

Ms Natasha Shariff, 29, academy manager, Bettr Barista Coffee Academy

Booth: #LiveBettr Lab

Latte art speciality: Rosettas

There is always a buzz of excitement among students at the start of the latte art classes that Ms Natasha Shariff conducts at Bettr Barista Coffee Academy in Mactaggart Road. The 29-year-old says with a laugh: "It is only when they start steaming the milk and pouring it that they realise how technical latte art can get."

First, the milk needs to be steamed to a silky consistency at between 55 and 65 deg C in order for distinct patterns to be formed. If it is too foamy, the pattern will be "white- washed", with blurred boundaries between the white and brown parts of the drink. If it is not foamed sufficiently, the milk will not flow.

Then comes the technique of pouring the milk. If it is poured too high, the espresso's crema will be broken easily. And a low pouring position will cause the foam to drop out earlier.

To train students on steaming the milk well, she gets them to steam soap water, which looks and behaves like the real thing.

She showcases the fern-like rosetta design, which she says is one of the toughest basic latte art designs to master. Much of its difficulty lies in having to wriggle one's wrist in an S-shaped wave while pouring the steamed milk into a cup of espresso to form the pattern. This ensures that the thick layers of "leaves" are evenly interspersed with coffee and milk.

She says: "Your wrists need to be relaxed while having a loose grip on the pitcher, instead of stopping and stacking pours of milk when forming a tulip design."

Her skills were showcased at this year's Singapore National Barista Championship and she came in sixth.

The former restaurant manager says: "It was like being in a performance as you made 12 coffee drinks in 15 minutes and shared the stories behind the brews. It has made me a better barista."


ST's Best Latte Art contest

Stand a chance to win one of 10 pairs of exclusive tickets to a special June 9 preview experience at the Singapore Coffee Festival.

All readers have to do is tell us, in 20-30 words, which featured latte art is the best. Answers are to be sent to stpromo@sph.com.sg and winners will be notified through an e-mail.

Entry to public is only open from June 10 onwards. 

SCF Experience For ST Readers:

  • 10 ST Readers, each with 1 partner, will be treated to a special Singapore Coffee Festival Experience.
  • 7-8pm: Cocktail reception at the VIP lounge where canapes will be served.
  • 8-9pm: Private workshop at Common Man Coffee Roasters MCR Lab for a private workshop (Topic: Introduction to Specialty Coffee).

This will take participants through an introduction to coffee as a product, what separates specialty coffee from commodity coffee, what varieties are consumed and what processing and brewing methods do to the final taste in the cup. The class will finish with a cupping session which will cover a number of CMCR’s Single Origin coffees to exemplify the topics covered.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 29, 2016, with the headline 'Painting on a cup of coffee'. Print Edition | Subscribe