Is Practicing Latte Art Without Coffee A Good Idea?

Learning to make latte art takes time, even though baristas can make those rosettas, tulips, and hearts seem effortless. If you're trying to replicate this art at home, you might find that you're burning through a ton of milk and coffee each morning, which don't come cheap. Unfortunately, the only way to perfect the skill is to practice it repeatedly, so could there be an economical solution that doesn't involve wasting precious espresso and milk? Frothing up dish soap and water is one popular option. Just pour the mixture into a cup full of water and food coloring to start making latte art.

Dish soap's ability to replicate a frothy, milk-like texture is actually pretty remarkable, as the bubbles form tight air pockets when steamed. As far as efficacy is concerned, dish soap, food dye, and water seem to work quite well — but the method isn't without controversy. One Instagram user commented on a video demonstrating this hack, "As a barista, I'm wondering how using dish soap on your steam wand doesn't ruin it or clog it?"

If you've ever worked with a professional espresso machine, you know that almost nothing is supposed to touch the steam wand besides milk. So will this hack harm your machine? Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a definite answer, but there are some factors to keep in mind if you want to try this hack.

Is dish soap bad for your espresso machine?

While the supply list for this hack may seem pretty innocuous, you should exercise caution whenever you're using any non-coffee or milk substance around your espresso machine. Even while cleaning your coffee maker, you're only supposed to use water and a steam wand-specific cleaner. There doesn't seem to be an official statement regarding this hack from a leading roaster or espresso manufacturer. Worth noting is that most professional cafés use dish detergent and sanitizer — not dish soap alone — in their cleaning routine, so how this might impact the machine in the long term is unclear. One brand that promoted this hack with its own YouTube tutorial, however, is none other than espresso machine giant La Marzocco, which is as close to an endorsement as we could find.

If you're concerned about dish soap damaging your machine but still want to avoid wasting milk, try heating regular, watered-down milk. With this trick, you can try pouring without using a whole latte's worth of the stuff, and it should foam in a fairly similar fashion to fat-free or reduced-fat milk.