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Coffee Art Goes 3D in Japan

In the land where green tea remains the hot beverage of choice, 3D coffee art is winning hearts one foamy cup at a time.

More and more cafe goers in Japan, inspired by popular photos on social media that show steamed milk creations rising out of a coffee drink, are asking that their latte be topped with a similar work of lofty art.

Japan is no stranger to coffee. The All Japan Coffee Association has reported that Japan is third in terms of total consumption among importing countries.

In 2010, Haruna Murayama of Japan won the World Latte Art Championship.

Flat latte art is already popular around the island nation. A search of “latte art“ [ja] on Twitter returns many photos of special lattes bearing the shapes of hearts, leaves, teddy bears, popular anime characters, and even Internet icons.

A vending machine in Haneda Airport, Tokyo's international airport, even serves cappuccino [ja] with the face of a classic Japanese female, designed and produced by Kyoto's well-known cosmetic company Yojiya.

YouTube user Nowtoo Sugi uploaded the following video explaining how he drew character onto a coffee latte with chocolate syrup:

Reaching new heights

But baristas have pushed this creative coffee phenomena to a new level with foamy 3D sculptures.

3D latte art by twitter user @george_10g: a cat is looking at golden fish. Image captured on twitter

3D latte art by Twitter user @george_10g: “A cat is looking at golden fish.”

Kazuki Yamamoto (@george_10g), the latte art master who uploads his latte art on Twitter, wrote in his blog that he works at a Belgian beer house in Osaka. He calls his latte art “spare time cappuccino” [暇カプチーノ], a creation out of boredom or spare time, of course with great efforts and labor of love. He once posted to Twitter recalling numerous works of latte art that he had drawn:

@george_10g:最近気づいた怖いこと。去年から始めて1000杯くらい描いているけど作品も描いた時期も飲んだ人も覚えてる。

@george_10g: I started drawing on lattes in 2011 and I've drawn and served roughly about 1,000 cups by 2012 but somehow I still remember when and what I've drawn and who I served it for. It's kind of creepy.

Twitter user @petakopetako responded [ja] to his comment praising his specialty:

@petakopetako: じょーじさんこんにちは。私は人物写真を撮るのが好きですが人の顔を覚えるのは超苦手です。が、写真を撮らせてもらうと場所や会話がすぐに思い出せます。思い入れがあるからでしょうかね。

@petakopetako: I like taking photos. Normally I am bad at remembering people's faces, but once I take photos of them, I can remember where it was and what they were talking about. Maybe people remember things better when doing something they are passionate about.

The social media effect

Cafe owners and baristas in Japan have uploaded photos of their secret, off-the-menu 3D latte art to social media. These images were circulated widely and later gained the attention of local broadcasters and magazines.

The publicity has attracted so many new clients to some coffee houses that owners are struggling to keep up. The owner of Cafe Bar Jihan in Shizuoka prefecture wrote about Facebook effect in his blog [ja]:

お客様のリクエストがきっかけで始めた3Dラテアート。 お遊びのつもりでfecebookにアップしたその日、物凄い数の『いいね!』とシェアにビックリしました。
その拡散がきっかけで取材の問い合わせが幾つかありました。 中でも東京のTVメディアからの出演依頼には戸惑いました。(*^_^*)

I started serving 3D latte art after my long-time customer asked me to do it. I uploaded the picture on Facebook page just for fun, then I was astonished to see the enormous number of people who liked the photo. With the image widely amplified, several media outlets asked me that they wanted to cover our coffeehouse. I was a bit confused by being asked to appear on television in Tokyo!

facebook photo by caffe.bar.jihan. A cat is taking a bath in espresso coffee

Facebook photo by caffe.bar.jihan. A cat is taking a bath in espresso coffee.

He also wrote [ja]:

このニャン子は、作るのにとっても時間が掛かりますので混雑時はお受け出来ないのが目下の悩みです。
平日の18時からでしたら比較的にお時間が取れると思いますので、どうしても3Dラテアートを…というお客様はこの時間帯のリクエストをお願いいたします。

This kitty cat latte art requires so much time that I can't take orders when things are busy in our cafe. I've been struggling with what to do about this situation. At least the cafe is relatively slow after 6 p.m. on weekdays, so if you are visiting for 3D latte art, please come around these times.

This post was originally written by Ayako Yokota. Keiko Tanaka edited her post and L. Finch sub-edited.

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