You order a latte. You hand the cashier some money. You wait for a couple minutes. You receive your latte. Your latte has a perfectly symmetrical frog face made of milk smiling back at you.
Contrary to common belief, baristas are not wizards. They don't know magic, they don't use the dark arts to create these images. They do have a school to teach them how to do it, but it's not Hogwarts.
No, that too-skinny man that just served your $3.25 coffee beverage is a normal human being who practiced his ass off. And while those skills are greatly facilitated by the cafe's state-of-the-art espresso machine and milk steamer, you can learn without them. This is how to practice latte art at home.
It's not going to be easy. We're assuming you don't have an espresso machine or a milk steamer. You're coming up from nothing, you've got to be scrappy. Your first movie Rocky, I'm Micky, and latte art is Apollo Creed. WE GOT A REAL SHOT HERE ROCK.
In order to practice, we're going to have to approximate the real thing with fake ingredients. There are a lot of out-there methods that people use to train. Some stories suggest the use of soy sauce and soap, but apparently it smells awful. And besides, if you're going to get good at this (which obviously you are) you've got to train with coffee.
Go out and buy the cheapest, strongest roast you can find. Like the stuff Dark Vader would drink if he were hungover and broke. It should be able to clean wounds. In addition you'll want a thin milk — no more than 2% fat — and cocoa powder. For your serving cup, you need the combination of a wide mouth and shallow body. You know, like a coffee cup.
Brew the coffee as strong as possible. Like, The Mountain strong. In case I haven't made this clear, the coffee needs to be strong.
Then comes the milk. It's the 21st century, we're going to assume you have a microwave (which is hysterical because I currently don't — life tip: watching the lightning shoot off 6 forks isn't worth it). You'll put your milk in a sealable container, then shake it like a salt shaker. Beat that shit up exactly like you'd never handle puppies. Then microwave it for 30 seconds, and repeat the shaking. This is as close to steamed milk as we're going to get, but it's close enough.
You should have some froth sitting on top. Separate this from the rest into a different container with a spoon, and add one spoonful to your half-full cup of coffee. Mix this together well, and it should approximate the color of real espresso. Then sprinkle enough cocoa powder evenly on top to cover roughly half the surface. Remember, we're focusing on aesthetics for practice, not taste. This strong coffee + milk froth + cocoa powder will best approximate the final look.
Now, you're going to need a good pourer (that is totes a word). Find something with a smooth open spout, fill it with your microwaved milk — not the froth — then ready, steady, go.
The flower is the simplest pattern to learn (see top photo), and thus where we'll start.
-Start pouring a steady stream in the middle, just for a moment.
-Swirl your pour in a circle around that middle spot, smoothly, finishing at that middle point.
-When you see the milk begin to come up around your pour, start slowly moving in a line across the coffee, gently wiggling the milk.
-At the end of the cup, reverse and come back to the middle, still wiggling.
-When you're back at the middle, hesitate for a second, then follow your original line, quickly and without wiggling.
-When you reach the end this time, stop pouring.
-Revel in the glory of your masterpiece.
Mastering this simplest of designs will take time, but sets the standard for everything that follows. You'll begin to understand the timing, how the faux-steamed milk moves in the espresso. You'll eventually move on to hearts, then faces, then all manner of insanity. As you up your game, experiment by using a toothpick to draw lines in your milk designs, or adding additional cocoa powder on top as a stylish garnish. Hell, go 3D with the froth and create entire zoos of animals.
You can do it, Rocky.