Just the other day, someone I know was giving me grief over where I buy my coffee. The word "douche bag" was used at some point which is fine with me. I've come to realize that some of the things I enjoy are also enjoyed by the "bags of douche". Does that make me a douche bag? Maybe, but that's a subject for another time. Back to coffee, the fact that Blue Bottle baristas create a nice little piece of latte/cap art was pointed as a sign of ultimate douche-baggery. But I think people miss the point of why the art is there. It's not to heighten my enjoyment of the coffee. It would taste exactly the same whether the art was there or not. However, it is an indicator that the barista who took the time to learn how to make the art most likely also took the time to learn how to pull a good shot of espresso, steam milk properly, etc. Most importantly, the fact that Blue Bottle is obsessive enough about coffee to have their baristas learn how to make art means they are also obsessive about the quality of the coffee they source, roast and serve.
It reminds me of the story regarding Van Halen and the infamous bowl of no brown M&M's. The larger than life rockers were known for their eccentric rocker habits and even wrote into their contracts that one of the requirements the venue provider had to have was a bowl of M&M's in the dressing room with every brown M&M removed or the contract would be voided with full payment due to the band. Crazy? Well actually not really. The band used the brown M&M's as an indicator of whether the venue provider actually read every detail of the contract. If they failed to notice a small clause like that, what else would they have missed? Security requirements? Sufficient power for all the equipment? Whether their stage could support the weight of the band's lighting equipment, etc? And more often than not, if they went into the dressing room and saw a bowl of M&M's with the brown ones still included (or no bowl at all), there would also be something much more critical that was overlooked. In one case, the floor collapsed because the venue provider didn't read the section that showed what Van Halen's stage equipment weighed and that they needed to sufficiently prepare their floor to support it.
I'm not saying that every place that serves coffee with some art on the top is a great coffee place but based on experience, I've gotten far fewer bad cups of coffee from places that make their caps/lattes with the art versus places that don't. As with all things, your mileage will vary but next time you see a barista hastily pour steamed milk into your espresso, ask yourself what else she hastily did when making your drink.