Jesus Gomez, head barista at J.Rene Coffee Roasters in West Hartford, Conn., is a guru of latte art.

As if leading a yoga class, he makes small adjustments to his students’ posture, aligning wrists and elbows to improve the angle at which they will pour steamed milk. He talks about staying in the present moment, keeping calm, and having fun. Espresso is art, he says, and like art, it cannot be forced. It flows from the barista to the cup to the customer.

“The instant you pour that espresso, it will never be the same as the next moment,” he said. “You will get close. That is what we call consistency. But you will never be able to replicate that particular moment again.”

Gomez was the 2012 National Latte Art Champion for Puerto Rico and then went on to represent Puerto Rico (his hands shaking, he admits) in the World Latte Art Championship. He recently placed fourth in the 2015 U.S. Latte Art Championship. The owners of Portland-based Coffee By Design asked him to conduct a “Latte Art Master Class” for their employees while he was in town to judge a local Latte Art Throwdown.

Gomez started by asking the 10 baristas to pull a latte so he could “see what you’re capable of.” Then he took photos of their drinks – latte art is a fleeting thing – and critiqued them, offering advice on technique, texture and design.

After some initial intimidation, the class loosened up. Elaine Garnett, a 27-year-old barista who works at Coffee By Design’s Freeport store, created a rosetta.

“There’s too much speed being carried into the milk,” Gomez told her, at the same time praising her contrast.

When Gomez took a turn, pouring a tulip to show the class how it’s done, the room grew hushed, and the group clustered around to watch the master at work.

“I don’t like rosettas because they give me too much uncertainty,” he said. “But that’s me. Don’t copy me. Be yourselves.”

Over two hours, Gomez offered a lot of advice: Foamy milk helps hold a tulip design. With rosettas, it’s best to use thinner milk that flows. Make the customers part of the experience, and tips will go up.

If you don’t want to waste a lot of milk practicing your technique, use dish soap.

“Whole milk is always your best friend, because it has enough fat to inhibit bubbles,” Gomez said. “Skim milk is like an older brother: He loves you, but he’s mean to you.”

And finally: Chill. Even when you’re competing, he said, you’re not competing against the person next to you, you’re competing against yourself.

 


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