Perhaps you see coffee as equal parts art project and beverage. Like oil paint or gouache, it's a medium for making pictures of grumpy cat and Minions. Or if you fancy yourself more of an Impressionist, perhaps your beverage is designed to capture the soft-focus pastel magic of a unicorn. Or if you're an abstract artist, maybe this green, vaguely tree-shaped pile of whipped cream passes for a Christmas tree.
But now latte artists have a new material to work with: Edible glitter is popping up in coffee cups around the globe. The sparkly stuff adds pixie dust to an otherwise ordinary froth of steamed milk, and with a little food coloring, it can make a drink look like a shimmering jewel.
That's in the eye of the beholder, of course. For the many people who hate glitter, this is just another way of ruining coffee, a perfectly respectable drink without need for embellishment. "If you get it on you, be prepared to have it on you forever," the comedian Demetri Martin once quipped about the substance. "Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies." It joins our long list of foods that exist mainly for their Instagrammability. (See also: sushi doughnuts, cloud eggs, cheese tea, blue wine, charcoal pizza. I could keep going.)
The trend has been credited to the Mumbai coffee shop Coffee by Di Bella, which began serving its "diamond" and "gold" varieties of the drink to customers this fall. For obvious reasons, it's been popular on Instagram, so it skipped over to the United Kingdom, where cafes in London and Scotland are now offering the drink. The European coffee chain Costa is selling "sparkle coffee" as a special promotion this week. And now, glitter is gaining ground in the United States and Mexico, where a number of independent coffee shops have begun to offer it as an add-on. One of them is Crema Coffee and More, a pop-up coffee shop in Pinellas Park, Florida, owned by April Hall. She got the idea from looking at the elaborate work of cake decorators, and applied those principles to coffee.
"I thought, this could be glamorous just like our cakes are," said Hall. "We need to start making our coffee kind of like our cupcakes."
Hall sprinkles a tiny pinch of food-grade edible glitter - "You don't have to use a lot to make a big impact" - which floats atop the coffee's froth. A 16-ounce latte is $4.95.
At Cafe Antigua, an Oklahoma City coffee shop owned by her parents, Ana Sofia Valdez says she was inspired by Starbucks's Unicorn Frappuccino. Many of her glitter lattes come in the trendiest color of 2017 - millennial pink. "Now we offer glitter in any of our drinks," for an upcharge of 25 cents, said Valdez. Other versions of the drink have popped up in Bellevue, Washington; Kingston, New York; Sarasota, Florida; Santa Ana, California., and even Tijuana, Mexico.
If any enterprising coffee shops get an idea to try the glitter latte, know this: There is a difference between "edible" and "non-toxic" glitter. The former is made of "starch-based food products" and can be digested, and the latter is made of plastic and is not meant to be consumed. It won't necessarily hurt you in a small dose, though: As a maker of glitter pills has found, it will, um, pass right through you. (Which is desirable to some people because of an Internet joke about unicorns. The Internet is a weird place.) It's not the only joke about glitter and bodily functions.
Anyway, buy your glitter from the baking section of a store, not the arts-and-crafts aisle, or else you'll end up like one contestant on a charity edition of "The Great British Bake-Off" in 2012. Actress Sarah Hadland's use of potentially nonedible glitter "prompted so much panic among viewers that 'edible glitter' has now been registered as one of the top ten food concerns in Britain by the Food Standards Agency," according to the Daily Mail. Or, really, don't buy the plastic kind at all, because some scientists have called for a total ban on the material, which affects ocean ecosystems. (For what it's worth, Slate says there wouldn't be much of an impact.)
Given how many cafes have added the drink to their menus in just the last month, glitter lattes are only going to continue to spread. At this rate, expect them to be all over your Instagram within weeks - and in Starbucks everywhere before the summer, by which time we'll all have moved on to the next shiny new thing.