This week, I have put a bit of time in to practising the infamous 'empty heart' - made famous by @tensai0421 on instagram. I remember when I first discovered this pattern, I went through litres of milk, trying to replicate the look of the final art. I produced a video at the time, pouring the coffee the way I thought it was poured, and although that technique was ultimately not the way it was done, it is a technique I have used to rework some classics. You can watch that original video here:
The reason the empty heart is so great - is because it makes you pour differently to how you pour your usual patterns - which means that you have to go against your muscle memory, and break down every aspect of how you pour.
To get people thinking about this fact, last week on my Instagram I posted a little clip getting people to watch a latte art pour whilst hiding different parts of the video with their fingers - I've posted that clip on YouTube so you guys can follow the same exercise - follow these instructions whilst you watch.
First Watch: Just watch the pattern. Simple!
Replay One: Cover the jug and latte art with your fingers/thumb and just concentrate on how the cup is moving for the pattern.
Replay Two: Cover the cup and the latte art with your fingers/thumb, and watch the way the jug is moving.
Replay Three: Watch the pour again, but take note of how these things are working together.
The reason I posted this was to help people break down what is going on during the pour. Whether you are an accomplished latte artist, or you're just starting out - you will naturally have a style of pouring which has just built up in to muscle memory from pouring coffee after coffee. This can be great if you have good technique, and really unhelpful if you don't. It can also mean that you're good at pouring one type of pattern, but perhaps not a good all-rounder, as different patterns involve different techniques.
So for me, it was back to the empty heart. Instead of pushing in a bulb, and then sucking the white out of the pour by lifting the jug up as I had done in my first tutorial, the more affective way to pour the empty heart is to push in a tulip bulb from more height - so that they white falls under the crema instead of sitting on the surface.
It was actually through using the technique mentioned before of looking at the individual aspects of a pour that helped me improve my empty heart pour - as I noticed that I straighten my cup a lot quicker than other people - and for the empty heart, you actually need to work the angles to get the empty heart flowing without producing the white. If you are trying to pour empty hearts, I'd recommend using a T/A cup or a cup/glass with a higher wall to begin with.
The last thing I'd recommend if you really want to improve your pours is to video yourself pouring. This is obviously a bit easier for me to say because I post coffee related video all the time and I have the set up, but you will learn a lot quicker if you watch back how you poured, and the result in the cup. Even better is if you can find someone who pours a pattern in the style you want, break down how they're pouring it, video yourself giving it a go, and then compare the two clips.
At the end of the day, latte art should be a bit of fun and not taken too seriously. But, if you do want to practise, you'll get a lot more out of it if you have a goal in mind and understand the techniques involved for the specific pattern you want to learn. If you have any questions - feel free to ask them as a comment or on my social media, and I'll point you in the right direction for the answers.