TOKYO: An hour’s train ride from Tokyo will take you to Sakado, Saitama Prefecture, where you can find a mug full of fluffy animals to savor with your tongue as well as your eyes.
“Customers order them so they can post pictures on SNS or share with friends,” said Junichi Takahata, the owner of CafeChoco Tea. By “them,” Takahata means works of 3-D latte art, which became popular after customers began taking pictures of their beverages and posting them on social networks.
As the photos spread, more customers came, and not only from nearby neighborhoods. Some latte sippers came from Tokyo and Gunma Prefecture, north of Saitama. Even Chinese, South Koreans and Ukrainians have showed up.
Midori Uzawa, a 32-year-old who works in the fashion industry, sometimes stops by. “It is enjoyable from 360 degrees around,” she said of her frothy beverage. “I almost always order [a 3-D latte] when I bring my friends.”
The kawaii-topped lattes are popular among high school students and couples.
The foamy animal might be a big polar bear relaxing in a bath of hot chocolate, or a cheerful rabbit waiting in a green tea latte for a high-five. Sometimes, a bear, rabbit, panda and dog mingle together in a chai latte. The drinks start at 750 yen (a little more than $6).
A large cup can currently hold up to seven animal figures. “The latte art keeps evolving, by season, by occasion, so it is enjoyable coming back,” Uzawa said.
Takahata is working on expanding the animal capacity of one cup.
Takahata’s 3-D latte art came into being after a period of trial and error. His mediums are at least two different consistencies of foam and three chocolate sauces.
The first foam, which becomes the base of an animal, is made by frothing milk to a certain thickness, until it is almost double its original mass. It can be “blown away by just a sneeze,” Takahata said. When finished, the base foam has to sit for three to five minutes, until the bigger bubbles on top break up and leave a firmer, silkier cream behind.
The second foam is of a softer consistency, with fewer bubbles so as to better hold the chocolate sauce; it is used to form the shape of an animal’s face.
Takahara uses three kinds of chocolate sauce, each with its own thickness, dabbing them on the frothed faces with art sticks and toothpicks.
It takes about 12 minutes to create beverages that are “so kawaii I don’t want to drink” them, as Maki Okamura, a 31-year-old mother of two, said. The figurines will keep their shape for 20 minutes, if customers only want to feast their eyes on their milky drinks.
Similar treats can be found in Tokyo. In the fashion district of Harajuku, there is a cafe called Reissue. Another is Oshiagenyanko within walking distance of Tokyo Skytree.
Animal-topped coffees are not only a cafe thing. Japanese toymaker Takara Tomy last month launched a remodeled 3-D latte art maker, the Awa-Tachino 2, for 4,104 yen. “The first model became a big seller,” said Misayo Aruga, a manager of the company’s public relations department. “With the remodeled version, it is easier to make foam.”
According to the company, most customers are mothers who want to make latte art with their children at home.
This article originally appeared on Nikkei.