September 26, 2008
OnLatte's Latte Art Machine: The World's Tastiest Printer?
By Kara Hiltz
DoubleSided: Engineer Develops Printer That Stamps Designs on Lattes
Fundamentally, art and technology seem worlds apart. But as our technological prowess grows, you see more examples of art and technology colliding. Case in point — the world of "latte art" has joined the information age thanks to OnLatte's Latte Art Machine — the world's first latte printer.
Latte art has grown in popularity in the United States since the 1980s. Its roots, not surprisingly, lie in European espresso-centric countries like Italy, according to the Wall Street Journal's article, Foam Sweet Foam: 'Latte Art' Heats Up in Home Kitchens. Until recently, two latte art techniques reigned supreme: careful pouring and "wiggling" of steamed milk into a cup of espresso and after-the-fact designs drawn into latte foam with toothpicks or thermometers.
And then Oleksiy Pikalo, an electrical engineer from Massachusetts, shook up the latte art world.
Pikalo Builds a Latte Printer — And You Can Too (If You Know Your Way Around a Circuit)
After witnessing "traditional" latte art, Pikalo put his training to work. Using spare parts purchased on eBay, he developed a programmable printer that stamps logos or text on latte foam using edible brown ink.
On his personal Web site, Pikalo lists the supplies you need to replicate his latte printer. You basically need an x-y flatbed plotter and the book, Inkjet Applications: Circuits With Basic Stamp 2 and Sx Microcontrollers by Matt Gilliland and Frank Cloutier. (Some electrical engineering knowledge probably doesn't hurt either.)
Some Baristas Steamed, But Most Think Latte Art Machine Is Hot Stuff
Pikalo quickly concluded that a commercial market existed for his Latte Art Machine thanks to the many inquiries he received from latte enthusiasts. So he launched OnLatte, Inc. to milk this nascent market. On August 11, 2008, Pikalo demonstrated his printer at SIGGRAPH 2008, a computer graphics convention in Los Angeles. In January 2009, the Latte Art Machine will be featured on an episode of PBS' Make.
Some baristas who spent years perfecting their latte art don't like Pikalo's technological approach. One visitor to Pikalo's Web site protests the lack of attention to the art behind latte designs, describing Pikalo's invention as "fraught with missing the beauty of a latte, poured by hand into patterns." Coffee and espresso connoisseurs also worry that the emphasis on latte art in general overshadows the quality of the actual coffee drink, according to The Wall Street Journal.
But just as many people seem to applaud Pikalo's invention. One person points out in a comment that OnLatte could expand the printer's application to include other products like cookies and beer. Also, Pikalo's demonstration YouTube video has more than 857,000 views (that's certified viral by any measure).
So what's next for onLatte? Given the path that printers took from single function to multifunction, perhaps Pikalo will invent an all-in-one machine that grinds your beans, makes an espresso, steams your milk, and prints whatever suits your mood on your latte.
We all have our idiosyncrasies. So do printers as it turns out. In our DoubleSided feature, we explore the lighter side of printers as well as the esoteric and bizarre. We also peer into the future of printing. From fabbers to printing on toast, you'll find it all here.