What, Exactly, Is A Coffee Printer?

Coffee has come a long way since its origins in Ethiopia and Yemen in the 15th century; nowadays everyone has their favorite way to drink it. Some still prefer Turkish-style coffee, while others rely on the convenience of their French press, drip coffee machine, Aeropress, or single-serve Keurig. Then there are the espresso drinkers, who order complicated lattes and cappuccinos at the local cafe, with their topping of steamed milk — and that pure white foam just happens to be the perfect canvas for a pretty pattern.

Although it may have origins in 19th-century Italy, in the U.S. latte art took hold in the 1980s, as baristas began to create beautiful designs. With the rise of Instagram culture, the practice has only become more popular and the designs have become more intricate. It was only a matter of time till someone created a machine that could make any picture you desired on your drink: the coffee printer.

You can find countless latte printers available for purchase, but Ripples was one of the first companies to market the new technology. It uses 3D printing technology to create pictures that are made from minuscule coffee bean drops, which the company calls "ripples." Many customers have come to expect latte art at coffee shops, so the increased interest in coffee printers isn't surprising. "When they [customers] receive a drink with a unique design or message on it, it elevates the overall experience," Ripples' co-founder and CEO, Yossi Meshulam, told Perfect Daily Grind.

The printers can be used for other drinks and food

Coffee printers, also known as latte art printers, have begun showing up in coffee shops. At Moka Matcha, a New York City-based coffee shop, customers can get a QR code from the barista and use it at the coffee printer to place a design or print of their choosing on top of their drink. Not surprisingly, selfies and cats are two popular choices. Those who've tried it rave about how accurate the depictions are.

Coffee printers vary widely in price, with an Evebot portable coffee printer selling for less than $300, while one of its full-size machines equipped with a QR code to scan and camera sells for just over $1,800. The Ripple Maker, which goes for $2,100, also highlights its use of plant-based extracts such as black carrot, cabbage, and malt to create their colors, all in amounts that are tasteless in your drink. Many other companies offer cartridges described as food-grade, and while it probably is, seeing propylene glycol and sodium dehydroacetate in the list of ingredients may not sound appealing to everyone.

Though primarily used for coffee, the printer's popularity has broadened its use. Most of them can also be used to print on everything from beer to macarons. Guinness even formed a partnership with Ripples to bring the printer into several of its locations, allowing customers the chance to print selfies or "Stouties" on top of their Irish stout.