Aussie cappuccino king says coffee art not all froth

CANBERRA Wed Aug 15, 2007 11:47pm EDT

CANBERRA Aug 16 (Reuters Life!) - Jack Hanna's canvas is the top of your coffee cup.

Hanna is the reigning world champion of coffee art -- embellishing the froth on your cappuccino with intricate designs -- having come from beachside Sydney to beat the Italians in adding flair to a beverage they have claimed as their own.

"Contrary to what most people believe, they don't do that well in the competition. This year they came last," he told Reuters, referring to the Italians.

Hanna, 21, beat contestants from 19 nations at the recent World Latte Art Championships in Belgium, stunning judges in Antwerp with an intricate fern design poured behind his back.

"I can do ferns, tulips, birds, smiley faces, whatever you like," he said. "You have to give judges a photo of what you're going to have on top of the coffee, and then do it so you prove it's not a fluke."

It was the second successive coffee victory for Australia. Scott Callaghan from Sydney won in 2006 in Switzerland.

Hanna has been pouring his coffee masterpieces for three years after helping out a friend in a cafe.

Judges demanded he pour six coffees in eight minutes, with some designs set and others dreamed up as freehand creations. Competitors also had to test the espresso machine and grinder.

Two coffees had to be identical lattes or cappuccinos, two had to be identical espresso-macchiatos with a dash of milk and two were designer beverages.

As well, the size of cups used was strictly regulated.

Hanna's closest challengers were Europeans -- Soren Stiller Markussen representing Denmark and Alice Shchichko from Russia -- but both fell to Hanna's behind-the-back skills.

"Australia has always been very strong in all aspects of the world of coffee. We've had a couple of world champions, so we're actually pretty dominant right now," Hanna said.

Australia's coffee scene is booming with consumption growing from 300 grams per person in 1939, to 2.4 kilograms a head, or 1.26 billion cups a year worth A$3 billion ($2.5 billion) in sales.

But art, Hanna said, did not mean sacrificing taste.

"One of the biggest judging criteria is the taste and then technical coffee skills, and then the art. I was just lucky I didn't spill any," he said.

($1=A$1.22)

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