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Art in a cup at the Grove

Attorney Monte Travis found a masterpiece in his mocha.

By Barbara Kate Repa

At the Grove, at 2016 Fillmore, customers get more than latte in their cups. They get the sun and the moon. Or a flower. Or a fire-breathing dragon.

Manager Dave Harmon says the Grove always served a good cup of coffee, but he wanted a way to give customers more, to stand out from the crowd of coffee joints on the street. So a couple of years ago, he flew to Portland to attend a school offering special training in latte art — figures, flowers and fauna that baristas can pour and paint onto the foam.

Harmon found the training — in a large room lined with gleaming espresso machines — to be intimidating at first. But now that he’s mastered latte art, he requires all eight of the Grove’s baristas to be able to craft the artistic caffeine creations. “Every latte gets a piece of art,” he says. “Cappuccinos usually have a design, too.” He favors the Italian style of latte art, which he says uses the perfect blend of steamed milk in the mix. “The milk is silky,” he says. “When you pour, the espresso goes through it. Not like the French way, where it’s just the more foam, the better.”

There’s a certain alchemy involved in getting the milk to just the right temperature, the coffee grind perfectly adjusted to the humidity in the air, the cup tilted just so. “You can’t do the design unless you do everything right,” Harmon says. “It’s kind of magical.”

Harmon says most latte artists begin by learning to make a heart by carefully pouring and dragging the foamy milk in the center of a cup. “Then inspiration takes over,” he says, revealing that he can do a very respectable fire-breathing dragon.

But he concedes the “total star” at the Grove is Antonio Lopez, who approaches each steaming cup with steely concentration, first pouring a perfect round of foam, then using the tip of a thermometer to embellish the features on a face, dipping periodically into a cup of foam as a palette. “He can do the U.N. symbol, too,” says Harmon.

Enriquez Pacho specializes in leaves. Angel Lopez, Antonio’s brother, does intricate florals.

Harmon says it wasn’t easy to get coffee quaffers to change their allegiances from other neighborhood purveyors at first, even with the promise of art in the cup. “People are habitual, especially in the morning,” he says. “But when we get them once, they come back.”