All photos by Brandon Sierra and Drago Tomianovic c/o Proph.
"Proph" Alarcon is a New York-based coffee educator and consultant with stellar talent and a big heart. In the past year, Proph has won Coffee Fest’s Latte Art World Championship open twice, taking first place in San Antonio and Portland. Most recently at Coffee Fest New York 2022, he received the Daniel Lee Giving Tree Award, an award given to the latte artist who best embodies gentleness and kindness to others as voted by fellow latte art competitors.
We're excited to have the "professor" of latte art share his coffee journey and tips on how to perfect a design of your own.
Brewista: Tell us about your most memorable moments in your coffee journey, and what ignited your love of latte art.
Proph: There’s so many great moments I've had in my 7 years of being in the industry, but I do have a few favorites. One of them being the moment my friend Lindsey told me about how she was going to have Umpaul (latte art Grand Master) over from Seoul, Korea, to teach and host latte art seminars in NYC. This was going to be a life milestone that will impact my latte art and life forever. Not only would it help me hone my own style of latte art, but it gave me guidelines and a level of understanding that I still use until this day, and not to mention the lifelong friendship that Umpaul and I share now— it’s my most treasured coffee moment.
I can also say my first CoffeeFest World championship open win is a moment I’ll hold dear in my heart forever. Coming from the pandemic year and one of my most toughest personal years I’ve had to face— that championship really confirmed for me that this is something I want to do forever.
Alright so I know everyone has that moment where they pour something and it’s like “ahhh man this is pretty dope" and mine definitely ignited my love for latte art. It was my third shift working at Gregory’s Coffee, the place I started my coffee journey, and I remember being thrown in the afternoon rush. After about two hours worth of making hearts, I decided to try and push a few layers together like I had seen my manager do, and viola— I dropped my first 4-tier stack tulip. Simple pattern, yes I know, but for someone who had only done three shifts prior to it I felt on top of the world haha. I didn’t even want to give the drink to the customer, that’s how hype I was!
Our readers can get really serious about coffee, and we’re curious to get some of your insight. What are your top tips when it comes to steaming milk for latte art?
I’ve learned through my trainings and personal tribulations with milk steaming that there are so many variables that can affect the outcome. However, one of the things we can keep constant is finding the subtle sweet spot when it comes to the aeration part of steaming milk. Remembering less is more, and as you inject air you wanna keep the steam wand to either side of the pitcher almost as if creating a vortex or whirlpool as the steam bounces off the sides. Only lowering your jug to aerate and slowly lifting it up to finish texturing your milk. And if you keep that consistent, then no matter what milks or machine you use, you can get some pretty great milk.
What texture are you aiming for with your steamed milk?
Well, it depends on the drink and if it’s strictly for latte art.
One thing I always teach my students or the people that take my classes is to never compromise on drink quality for the purpose of latte art. But specifically for competition style latte art, it requires a certain level of fluidity in the milk. That can’t be achieved if your milk is scolding hot.
I aim for a flat white or latte texture with a temperature around 130 - 135 degrees. However like I stated before, if I’m creating drinks during service, amazing art is achievable but I won’t compromise the quality to achieve it. Hence, most of my service pours consist of fast style pour (rosettas, hearts, and swans) than the more complicated style pour (complex wing tulips, free pour animals and faces, and complex rosettas).
What are some of the most important things to consider in the pour?
Vision, posture and the most important thing— INTENTION.
What I mean when I say this is no matter what you are going to pour, stick to the conviction of finishing the pour with intention regardless of the milk texture and espresso that you have. Some of us latte artists (me included) tend to get upset mid-way through pouring something, because at times we see it isn’t coming out as we would like it to. We shouldn’t discourage ourselves when that happens, but instead stick it through to see the good and bad aspects of the pour through analyzing the end result.
For those who are interested in dipping their toes into latte art, where should they start? What pattern do you recommend?
I always recommend starting from a monks head or heart to learn proper texture and placement as well as milk integration. This way, you don’t complicate anything for yourself and build a solid foundation.
How can you tell a good quality pour from a bad quality pour?
If the design or pour starts bubbling up right away or looks like it’s been sitting there even though it was just poured. Placement and inconsistent layers. But this is very subjective— I believe if the intention and love are behind the pour then it can’t be bad quality, right?
What are some things about latte art that would surprise people?
The amount of unconditional love the latte art community can bring is definitely an aspect I think can surprise people who just start entering our world. No matter if you win or lose, I can testify that this community is so amazing in building people up instead of tearing them down. I know of some industries where it can be really cut throat, but the latte art world is definitely the opposite of that. We uplift and unite, and I'm super humbled and blessed to be able to share that with people.
What led you to picking the “slow leaf seahorse” and “happy bunny” for your USLAC pours in Boston?
I’ve been using the seahorse after watching Ivy (the 2015 Hong Kong Latte Art champion ) use it, and I decided to create my own variation for it. Not only was it my first USLAC, but it was also my first time doing that kind of competition. I wanted to do something I felt resonated with me and that I was comfortable with. The happy bunny came from doing these cute lil guys for my customers during service, or whenever I got a bar shift. My daughter is also very fond of bunnies, so it was only right.
You can follow Proph and his latte art journey on Instagram at @immaculate_artistry and a YouTube channel coming soon!