Breaking/drifting crema during latte art pour. UGH

Hey latte artists!

So I’m absolutely perplexed about something. I’ve been pouring a few capps a day for the last year or so, and something that continues to happen with frustrating frequency is this: near the middle/end of my pour (right before I drop the pitcher to mark the surface), the crema breaks open at one end of the cup (resulting in a watery spot on the surface of the espresso-milk mixture), tugging the design that I pour off to one side or creating a loosey-goosey surface that results in a loosey-goosey design. I’ve tried a number of remedies, all with limited success. They are:

  1. Swirling the espresso in the cup, before the pour, to loosen and mix the crema in with the rest of the espresso
  2. Transferring the espresso from a shot pitcher into the cup to relax the crema before pouring
  3. Ensuring the milk has enough, evenly integrated air, to create the necessary surface tension
  4. Ensuring the beans aren’t stale and that they’re producing a good crema when I pull the shot
  5. Pre-mixing the a little milk with the espresso to get a head start on integrating the two and thereby provide a solid surface for pouring a design
  6. Pouring nice and softly/slowly in the center of the cup to keep the milk from shooting up the sides and breaking open the crema

I’m using fresh whole milk and really fantastic beans from local (San Francisco) roasters. My Linea Mini has more than enough horsepower to produce excellent microfoam.

Any other tips or guidance? Sometimes I have a solid surface and am able to pour really stable designs, but this is only about half of the time. It’s driving me kind of bonkers.

Thanks in advance!!!

Interesting. Do you have any pics of the final product by chance?

Yep, sure do. Here are some examples of when it didn’t happen and others of when it did. (Pretty obvious which are which.)

it is called ‘art’ for a reason. it isn’t necessarily easy. you should do as i do and create ‘impressionistic’ latte art.

I think your skills are solid. So I don’t necessarily think I can offer you any advice you don’t already know. Especially since you were paying attention to that list of things already. All I can say is I get the most drifting in my latte art when my milk is thin and not very incorporated. That doesn’t really seem to be your problem judging on your pics.

Thatnks, @Parker_LatteHunter. Have you ever had the crema break open during a pour? This happens to me all. the. time.

I have a very cheap home machine, Chris… Gaggia Brera. It’s very limited in it’s ability to pull great shots and the steaming is weak.

So, at home it literally happens almost every pour. At work it only happens when I have very thin crema or my milk is separating. I’ve only been a barista for 6 months so I’m not going to act like I really have any experienced advice. Maybe I can talk to some of my friends, though, and see if they have any suggestions.

Besides that, I’m thinking about how high are you pouring? A real tall stream when setting the crema may “churn” up and break the crema. I feel like you’ve already eliminated that possibility though.

Gotcha, thanks for your response. Really appreciate you taking the time. I’m not pouring from crazy high, but I’ll keep that in mind.

What’s interesting is that when I watch videos online (e.g., latte_art_tutorials@ on Instagram), everyone seems to do this quick up and down and around move while filling the cup before dropping the pitcher to mark. That must be one good way of mixing the milk and espresso, but I find that when I move around at all while filling the cup, the crema eventually breaks.

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Sounds like you’re milk it just too thin and needs more foam… if you always err on the side of more foam, you can always split some out it out. Not a lot you can do with milk that’s too thin, though.

…latte art is hard! #coffeeisharder #greatcoffeewithlatteartislikeaunicorn


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I see those videos and try to do the same with my lattes. Get some practice milk and manipulate the different variables until it works for you. That’s how I work out my latte art issues! Cheers!

Add a splash of cold milk to the espressso and swirl. This really evens out troublesome espresso. Can’t comment on taste differences though.

Interesting, Nathan–thanks! Why cold, by the way? Does it have some
particular way of evening out the consistency of crema and hot espresso?

Yes, the consistency of the cold milk with no air will give the espresso and extremely even texture. You will lose some contrast.

And some temperature, I take it. But that’s really interesting. Thank you!
(I’ve always just added a little of the steamed milk.)

I’ve always been warned against “shocking” the espresso with cold—any concerns there with adding the cold milk?

Don’t do num 1, 2, and 5. You will end up losing crema.
Maybe you can simply get a thicker froth, and get a crema with more consistency(by over extraction.)
When you are mixing just try to pour fast but with thin flows of milk

Hi Chris,
In my experience as a barista trainer, I find this issue quite regularly. I love your details and how you outlined a lot of what of true and correct facts.
Long story short, my suggestion to you would be to pay attention to your slow pouring. Before rushing through to finish your piece of art, finish your tulip stack or rosette with a bulb (round) heart and lift away from the cup before dragging a thin string of textured milk through your design like the finishing brush stroke on a canvas or intricate art. It seems your designs are very rushed also which is also the reason for not getting fine line artwork such as a 12-15 stacked tulip, or a swan/Phoenix.

When you drop your jug for the first part control the speed and ensure its super slow which should stop the likely food of the cream splitting away, no matter how thin the crema or milk is. You should be able to pour any style of milk in a flat sitting cup and not disturbed the crema, essentially laying a bed of froth under the crema to help lift it to the too. This combined with slow pour results in great latte art.
I hope this helps and I look forward to seeing the results. :smiley: