MUMAC Academy Talks – Manuela Fensore

MUMAC Academy Talks, the format devoted to coffee professionals’ stories is back: the seventh episode discusses Latte Art on traditional and super automatic machines.

This episode features Manuela Fensore, world Latte Art 2019 champion and co-owner of the World Latte Art & Coffee Center training school, together with Carmen Clemente. We talk to her about Latte Art on traditional and super automatic machines.

Born in 1990, she started her career as a barista at the age of 16. Manuela Fensore’s story started with the first course she took at the Barlady Cafè Academy in Milan together with Carmen Clemente, who would go on to become her business partner. After only a few months working in Milan, Manuela wanted to improve her skills and specialise in Latte Art.

She started training every day and, with commitment and perseverance, improved her skills more and more. Manuela then began to win awards. In 2017, she won her first competition organised by Faema, the ‘Thursday Night Throwdown’, taking away an E61 Legend as a prize and beating the most experienced people in the field. In the same year, she took part in the selections for the Italian championships and, in 2018, managed to distinguish herself by reaching the Sigep 2018 final. In January of that same year, Manuela won her first Italian title. That victory earned her a place in the first World Cup in Brazil, where she finished 12th.

Eager for redemption, in 2019 Manuela again took part in the Italian championships and won the title for the second time. She also won the trophy for Best Art Bar in the entire competition. In June 2019, she won the World Latte Art Championship against five other competitors: two and a half years of non-stop hard work had finally paid off. In the same year, Manuela achieved the Golden Jug in the worldwide Latte Art Grading System. In 2021, she also won the Golden Jug in the Italian Latte Art Grading System. Today, Manuela Fensore, together with her partner Carmen Clemente, owns the World Latte Art & Coffee Center, an all-round training school for professionals.

She is the star of the seventh episode of MUMAC Academy Talks, the format dedicated to the stories of coffee professionals and their professional, technological and training experiences.

What are the biggest challenges from the coach’s point of view in training and preparing for a world championship competition?

‘You never feel ready to prepare for a world-class competition, even if you are a world champion. In my case, the work was even more complicated because I had to research figures, new techniques and new elements. Knowing how to do sometimes doesn’t mean knowing how to teach, and I didn’t feel ready to coach Carmen. Then, everything just clicked naturally. I was able to think of myself as a coach and then felt I could accompany Carmen to the podium. It may be that I believed in her from the start and in us as a working partnership, but I knew she would make it! Despite the long and sometimes somewhat arduous journey, the biggest challenge for me was to be able to pass on my drawing technique to Carmen and consequently transfer my designs to her manual skills. The designs made for Carmen were studied by both of us, and the most complex work I had to do was to try to recreate her ideas from scratch, trying to maintain her style without ever changing it. This was the biggest gamble of our lives and winning it has changed us completely.’

What features does an espresso machine need have to guarantee performance in the discipline of Latte Art?

‘The features that an espresso machine needs to have are potentially a very firm and consistent steam wand pressure, and steam that is dry to the touch, with the option to position the wand wherever you want. Maybe even cold touch, to protect the barista’s hands’.

On several occasions, you’ve used super automatic machines for Latte Art demonstrations. What are the main differences between super automatic and traditional machines?

‘The main differences between a super automatic and a traditional espresso machine are to do with the mobility of the steam wand, which is limited in the super automatic compared to a traditional espresso machine. In terms of other features, based on my experience with the La Cimbali S30 and S60, I find the two solutions almost similar. With the new technologies available, we now have super automatic machines that perform so well that you can both perform with Latte Art and interact with the touch display to enter settings and manage settings in the best possible way. This feature is very important for those who know how to handle their own equipment. The option to change the pressure of the steam wand in a super automatic machine also enables me to make the milk emulsion more efficient, unlike on other machines without this option.’

What would you do to make the super automatic machine perform better in this particular discipline?

‘Nothing. The current features they have already allow for very good performance, apart from the small differences with the traditional machines mentioned above. Maybe I’d imagine a machine aesthetically like a traditional espresso machine, but with basically all the internal features of a super automatic machine.’

How important is training in the discipline of latte art when using super automatic machines?

‘It’s important to be able to make creative designs and cups with this beautiful discipline that are not only good to drink, but also beautiful to look at. Training is fundamental, regardless of the machine you’re using, because you need to know about the raw material you’re working with. With very focused knowledge at the core, I think that a person can succeed in striving for perfection, as in my case, even in the face of such high-performance super automatic machines, just as with traditional espresso machines. Regardless of what a person is using, they need to be aware of certain dynamics. As they say: you live and learn.’

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