It starts off as a misshapen lump of foam that makes you wonder how the artist will rescue it. The latte artist is cool and collected and eventually you see that the foam was a base for a very different type of art that requires precision, imagination and above all love to create.
Ku-san specialises in a particular type of latte art that can be called bird latte art. She etches out different birds on coffee cups, most of them being too pretty to drink. Her Instagram feed has sketches of cockatiels, mohawks, sparrows, parrots and other exotic birds. How did it all start?
A native of Aichi prefecture in Japan that takes about an hour to reach from Nagoya, Ku-san has been perfecting her art for over 10 years now. “I saw the leaf art that most baristas do for the first time and wanted to try it for myself,” Ku-san says in an exclusive chat with Gurgl. The initial attempts are documented on Instagram and show her progress from those early days quite clearly.
To hone her craft, Ku-san began looking at YouTube tutorials and coffee blogs to learn how to do leaf latte art. “The basics were the most difficult,” she recalls of the time spent learning in the initial days.
Her love for coffee helped to hone her skills. She never trained to be a professional barista and all her creations are made at home using home equipment, including the lattes. There was a moment of revelation that would change her outlook. In one of those early failed attempts to draw a leaf latte, Ku-san saw a bird’s chest. Her passion had just found a new direction.
BIRDS IN A CUP
To be sure, latte art is a big deal in Japan. There is a vast amount of literature on the topic and many professional competitions are held throughout the country. Japanese baristas have been known to win international championships such as World Latte Art Championship many times.
But a home barista excelling as a variedly different form of latte art is unusual. Indeed, Ku-san says she does not feel the need to participate in latte art championships because of her shy nature. The most she has done is participate at a local café’s event where she lost the lost the preliminary round because, “I’m an amateur.”
HOW TO MAKE BIRD LATTE ART
We asked Ku-san to take us through the process of etching bird art step by step and she posted this video for our benefit.
She starts with a home espresso machine to make a latte. Then she creates a foam circle that forms the base of the bird’s body. At this stage, she picks out the bird’s shape through one of her chosen equipments – toothpick, spoon, chocolate sauce or colour food powder. Sometimes, she uses powdered green tea too. Drawing intricate lines and shapes through them creates the final result, that can sometimes take your breath away.
Ku-san says she tries to complete the process as quickly as possible at home. According to her, it takes about 15 minutes from starting her machine to getting espresso and milk out of it. She spends the next five to ten minutes completing her bird latte art before the coffee begins to go cold.
Ku-san likes to choose between simple and difficult birds. Asked to explain, she says a simple bird is a round bird with a small number of colors. Such as below –
A difficult bird would be one that has many colours, many places to colour, thin bodies and complex poses. Such as below –
OF BIRDS AND LATTES
Ku-san has grown up with birds and says she deeply loves them all. As a child, she had parakeets and doves for company. Right now, her house birds include a white cockatiel and a pink bourke parrot.
“Just looking at their beautiful voice and appearance makes you happy. The birds who forgave my pet’s heart are the best to show a special gesture,” she says.
Her bird latte art has been gaining popularity on social media and sometimes she asks fans to send her bird poses for her art. “I hope the model owner will be happy. And I’d be happy if you could say, ‘I want to drink!’” she says when asked what she expects the other owners to feel like.
She also makes latte art for her husband who likes to see a depiction of birds from his family.
Ku-san makes a cup or two of coffee every day with bird latte art. Things could get tricky with coronavirus lockdowns in the next few days though. “I think the whole world is suffering from the corona virus. Japan is still having a hard time too. I’ll keep going as long as I get milk and coffee beans,” she says.
We’ll be looking forward to her Instagram posts until then – and beyond.
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Priyanko Sarkar is the Founder Editor of Gurgl.in. He has been a writer for over 15 years and this site is his attempt to document India's growing beverage sector with impactful and interesting stories. His favourite drink is Vietnamese Coffee and his favourite spirit is Turkish Raki.