By: Molly Jacob & Eliana Reyes
Latte art—the pretty designs of expertly maneuvered milk on top of lattes—is so valued at the new LoCo Joe, baristas who excel earn more money than their inartistic counterparts. Juanita Tool and Steven Freeman, who have been close friends for over seven years, opened LoCo Joe earlier this month in Purcellville.
Aspiring baristas start as bar temps, cleaning tables and working the register. Under the guidance of more experienced baristas, such as Chris Dodson, formerly of Hypnocoffee, they build their repertoire of skills, starting with pour-over coffees then using the lever-operated espresso machine.
From there, says Tool, who also owns the Purcellville Community Market, “one of the milestones would be to get proficient at latte art.” And that’s how baristas get a raise. The testing program is not in place yet, but Tool has assigned Dodson to come up with the plan.
When baristas have proven mastery over latte art in an in-house test, LoCo Joe’s pushes them to compete. “They have to participate in those [competitions] and be proficient at nice designs,” says Tool. Along with the heart designs and the classic rosetta, a floral fern-like shape, Evrett Taist, barista at LoCo Joe, lists some of the other possibilities: “You can make a dragon. You can make a swan. You can make all sorts of stuff.”
But latte art isn’t as valued across Northern Virginia as it is at LoCo Joe. Beanetics in Annandale, Caffe Amouri in Vienna and Northside Social in Arlington do not increase wages for this latte-making skill.
“One’s talent at latte art doesn’t directly equate to a higher wage at Northside,” barista Jack Snyder told us through an email. “None of the folks I asked here have heard of a shop that implements a pay scale dependent solely upon latte art. Latte art is definitely a skill, and has its place in craft coffee, but is largely a gesture from barista to customer—something to show that the person who made your drink cares about making good coffee. It, like plating in culinary fields, is a visual mark of creativity and craft. But even the most beautiful drink can taste awful.”
Besides an interest in caffeine—yes, there will be cuppings, like a wine tasting, but for coffee—LoCo Joe also creates in-house Italian sodas, with unconventional flavors such as black forest cake and (nonalcoholic) mojito, which are handcrafted by Freeman. Along with Italian sodas, Freeman also makes a French cream soda with notes of strawberry and New York egg creams, an eggless chocolate soda, that Freeman explains with: “You’ll never do a milkshake again.”
Food offerings include baked goods from Joy’s (including soon-to-be-introduced bacon cookies), bagels from Royalicious, gluten-free and dairy-free macaroons and brownies from A Better Choice Bakery and coffee from M.E. Swing’s. / LoCo Joes, 550 E. Main St., Purcellville.
*This post has been updated