Following a visit to the Coffeena exhibition this year we decided to look into latte art and see what all the fuss was about! So on the first Friday in August I made my way to South London to talk to John Gordon who is somewhat of an expert on latte art having won the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe’s (SCAE) UK Latte Art Competition in 2009 and then come sixth in the world competition at Coffeena 2009 in Cologne, Germany. John hails from Melbourne, Australia, and used to work in the security and personal protection industry – but four years ago he became interested in coffee and trained as a barista; he and his wife Jess then relocated to London and joined Ristretto in 2008. Ristretto is a company based in South Wimbledon owned by Joseph and Anne O’Hara that specialises in providing mobile espresso/coffee for corporate events (recently Ristretto were able to produce 480 high quality espresso’s in 15 minutes for a corporate dinner party in London – somewhat of a record).
John is a truly nice guy and I spent over two hours chatting to him about coffee, world championships and his hopes for the future. And eventually I got round to talking to him about latte art. I wondered if the designs were that complex, how long it really took to do (and would the coffee get cold)? Before I had time to ask, John had made me a latte and in a jiffy there was a fabulous fern design, which was a fine example of ‘free pouring’ (this was the first time I have ever photographed a cup of coffee before drinking it!) Apparently, any barista worth his salt can do some basic designs and it doesn’t take long to do – but it does add a mark of quality to a coffee, which just isn’t there when someone just plies the chocolate shaker.
The steamed milk has to be just right and then the pour is started in the centre with rather complex designs being made by the contrast between the white of the milk and the nut brown colour of the coffee. John’s trademark design, and the one which saw him win the UK championship, is a single leaf tulip design in a macchiato that has taken him nearly three years of practice to perfect. He explained “it’s all about practice and with such a complex design stage fright is a problem… this year I entered the UK Championship just for fun with no real expectations but I won and then at Coffeena I was really nervous because it was the World Championship.” Of course John’s ambitions will be a bit higher for 2010 when the World Championships are on ‘home turf’ at Cafe Culture 2010 in London (23–25th June). He hopes to be in the running for the Latte Art title, the overall Barista title (won last year by Gwilym Davies) and even the Cupping (coffee tasting) title. Already John is looking for two coffees (he has two Brazilians in mind) to form the basis of his entry and he is working closely with Steve Leighton of Has Bean Coffee (www.hasbean.co.uk) who knows a thing or two about coffees from around the world. In fact, we’re running a fantastic competition this month to win a 3 month subscription to Has Bean’s ‘In My Mug’ video blog, whereby the winner will be sent coffees each week to try while watching the tasting guide (visit http://www.bestcuppaintown.com/offers.php to enter).
John’s favourite coffee at the moment is Zege from Lake Tana in Ethiopia (you can get it from Has Bean Coffee), which he used for the World Championship. [Incidentally John’s tip for a good espresso machine is the Synesso Cyncra produced in the US (a small company who only produce about 50 machines per year).]
In the meantime there are a few other things going on as Ristretto is branching into specialty coffee roasting, trading as Alchemy (www.alchemycoffee.co.uk). Jess will run the 12 kg Probat roaster from Germany for this venture. John himself has started a small business turning custom hardwood handles for tampers (Gorilla Tampers).
I can only wish John good luck for the competition next year and say I will be there to cheer him on. He’s a nice guy, has clearly got a passion for coffee, and he deserves success.