All Articles
All Articles

Latte Art with Nicely Abel Alameda

Inside the world of latte art with one of the coffee community’s nicest baristas

by Julie Wolfson
on 08 May 2013

A man who lives up to his nickname, Nicely Abel Alameda has dedicated himself to his career in coffee. So dedicated, in fact, that he sports coffee logo tattoos commemorating the three companies he has worked for. While working at Espresso Vivace in Seattle, Nicely’s competition-level latte art skills caught the attention of barista champion Kyle Glanville, resulting in Nicely heading south to Los Angeles to be part of the team at Intelligentsia Venice. Nicely also worked tirelessly to help launch Handsome Coffee Roasters and now heads up the coffee program at The Hart and the Hunter at the Palihotel on Melrose in Los Angeles. During a latte art demonstration Nicely talked about the history of his favorite sport, the nature of competition, and his philosophy on why milk matters.

How popular has latte art become?

To give you some perspective, five years ago, a throwdown in Los Angeles would have consisted of Intelligentsia Silver Lake and one or two other people from other places. As of just a couple weeks ago, at the throwdown at Jones Coffee in Pasadena, there were easily three dozen other places represented...all caring about the latte art that brings us all together. Latte art has become a good way for the community of professionals to get together, and for customers to see and realize that maybe we are taking this more seriously because they are paying so much attention to this final part of the beverage to make it beautiful.

With all of the types of coffee competitions from the Brewer’s Cup, the Barista competition, and Latte Art World Championship, how do the different competitions bring attention to the coffee community?

I have always thought that barista competitions were a good thing because it brings some focus to what everyday baristas are doing. But oftentimes what a competition barista has to do versus what an everyday barista has to do are very different things. In order to be a very good competition barista you almost have to devote much of your time into perfecting your run-throughs back to back to back. Latte art is one of those things you can do almost practically. Every drink that I am making is an opportunity to practice. Oftentimes in everyday service I say that my best pours are happening while I am working. The competitions show this is how hard people are working to get this good, in order to be able to make you your everyday coffee that well.

How many latte art competitions have you been in?

Not counting throwdowns—which is a slightly different situation—I have been in eight latte art competitions. I have places in five of the eight and I have won it three times.

Can you explain what a throwdown is?

A throwdown is a much more relaxed evening where a café opens up their doors and invites people from all over the community to come on in and go head-to-head. There is usually a little bit of a buy in, like five dollars. Then whoever wins takes the money home. From what I understand, Ben Helfen and Melissa Muckerman got throwdowns going in Atlanta. Then there has been a whole realm of in-house latte art competitions spawned from this. Now a circuit has popped up called Thursday Night Throwdowns (TNTs). We get together, pour some drinks, make fun of each other, heckle each other a little bit and drink some beer. It represents a great bonding opportunity for the community.

Latte-Art-Nicely-Copy6a.jpg Latte-Art-Nicely-Copy6b.jpg
What are the steps to pouring latte art?

For latte art, you need a good shot of espresso in order to be able to utilize the best of the color that provides all of your contrast. Then you have to pair that with very good milk texture. Here at The Hart and the Hunter we serve delicious organic whole milk. Whole milk is always the best, it provides the best amount of fat content to work with.

What is the trick to steaming the milk to the right consistency?

You have to introduce a certain amount of air. That amount of air usually sounds like a kiss to me. You are utilizing air to spin the proteins in the milk into this layer of foam. So you have to mitigate how much air you are allowing to get into the drink itself.

Why do baristas whack the metal milk pitcher on the counter?

No matter how carefully we steam the milk, there still ends up being some level of bubbles in there. So we tap to pop them. Tapping the pitcher actually ends up sending vibrations through the milk and allows for those bubbles to pop so that the milk is that much smoother. To create the design, I pierce the espresso and lift the color of the espresso as my contrast. For a heart, you stay right in the center the whole time as you wiggle and level the cup.

How did you get the nickname Nicely?

My senior year in high school I played a character named Nicely Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls and I was voted most courteous for the third year in a row. My best friends said, "That’s it. That’s your nickname, you’re Nicely." So it stuck. It does give me something to live up to.

Stop by The Hart & the Hunter for a free-pour work of art from Nicely and check out the slideshow for more pictures. Images by Bonnie Tsang.

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance
Loading More...