May 18, 2017 10:00 am JST

Printing tech takes latte art to a whole new level

Tokyo cafe pioneers super-detailed images on foamy beverage tops

The characters are so meticulously drawn that many customers sip their drinks carefully to leave the top layer intact.

TOKYO A new cafe in the western part of Japan's capital is re-creating popular anime characters with an almost unbelievable level of detail -- especially considering these works of art are created on the tops of foamy beverages.

Animate Cafe Gratte uses printing technology to achieve the effects.

The characters are so meticulously drawn that some customers are hesitant to ruin the designs, carefully siphoning off their drinks from under the character, leaving the top layer intact.

The cafe -- "gratte" is a contraction of "graphic latte" -- is in the back of an anime shop operated by Tokyo-based Animate on the seventh floor of a Parco department store in the Kichijoji district. The standing cafe can accommodate around 20 customers.

The beverages go for 500 yen ($4.40). Customers can pick a base drink, such as iced coffee or orange juice, and the character to be drawn on the cream top.

There are 45 character options, including those from the "Mr. Osomatsu" comedic anime series and "My Hero Academia," a manga serialized in the Weekly Shonen Jump.

NO ORDINARY ART Conventional latte art usually features leaf- or heart-shaped patterns created by pouring steamed milk into a shot of espresso.

The gratte designs are far more intricate. The technology used for these beverages can faithfully reproduce, say, the green hair of Izuku Midoriya, the protagonist of "My Hero Academia."

Animate has applied for a patent for the technology.

"Many customers take pictures of their drinks and post them on social media," said Fumihiro Hatakoshi, an Animate executive who heads the cafe business development section.

The design is so resilient that, if you use a straw, you can sip off half your beverage without destroying the art.

Some customers are so enamored of the design that they leave the cream at the bottom of the glass with the character still at least partially intact.

More than 90% of customers who order grattes are women, Hatakoshi said.

The company, which in 2015 took its chain of anime shops nationwide, plans to widen the selection of gratte characters to appeal to more male customers. Doing so is easier than developing new food items, each of which must reflect a certain character's personality and outlook.

Animate will also start opening more cafes to bring additional traffic into its stores. The gratte technology allows the company to serve drinks of different characters in different locations.

RIDING THE WAVE According to the Tokyo-based Association of Japanese Animations, the country's anime market was worth 1.82 trillion yen in 2015, a record high.

Last year's blockbuster animated film "Your Name" has spurred retailers to collaborate with the industry. Cafes offering "Your Name"-themed food and beverages have opened in several Parco department stores this year.

The store in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district has an area with a makeshift staircase modeled after the one in a famous scene from the movie. Customers are encouraged to take selfies with the stairs in the background.

In Tokyo's Nihombashi district, another department store is creating some anime buzz. Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings' flagship Mitsukoshi emporium has been releasing products tied in to "Kantai Collection" (Fleet Collection), a video game and anime featuring young heroines carrying out naval operations.

(Nikkei)

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