What is a flat white - and how is it different to a latte or a cappuccino?

The flat white became a coffee house sensation when it arrived in this country. But what is it, where did it come from, and why should you drink it?

Since it began to appear in British coffee shops and cafes in the middle of the last decade, the flat white has become a firm favourite of coffee drinkers across the country.

What’s still lacking clarity, however, is exactly what a flat white is – and in particular, how it differs from a latte.

Find out everything there is to know about the caffeine neophyte.

What makes a flat white a flat white?

This is a matter of some contention, even among those in the know. Wikipedia say that a flat white is prepared by pouring microfoam (steamed milk with small, fine bubbles with a glossy or velvety consistency) over a single or double shot of espresso.

It differs in this respect from a latte, which would have a stiffer, taller head of froth, and why it is known as a ‘flat’ white. It is also smaller than a latte, usually served in a 140-165ml ceramic cup; and it is widely regarded as important that the milk should not overwhelm the flavour of the coffee.

Coffee house chain Caffé Nero says the following on its website: “What makes a flat white unique… is the balance of coffee to milk. A good Barista can steam the milk in such a way to make it light and creamy (the texture of double cream).”

Digital marketing strategist and coffee blogger Peter J Thomson adds that a true flat white should be made with poured milk, so that the foam is folded through the whole drink and there is no discernable layer separation between liquid coffee and foam.

Where did the flat white originate?

Both Australia and New Zealand claim the flat white as their own.

There are internal arguments in Australia as to whether the flat white was first served in Melbourne or Sydney, but what is clear is that its first documented appearance was in the latter city’s Moors Espresso Bar in 1985.

Similarly, New Zealanders argue the drink was created in either Auckland or Wellington at some point in the 1980s, but that in any event it was definitely theirs, first.

Flat whites began being widely served in British coffee shops from the middle of the 2000s and they began to be introduced in American outlets early in this decade.  Starbucks added them to its US menu in 2015.

Why should I drink a flat white?

“If you're looking for a coffee that is creamier than a cappuccino but less milky than a latte, you're looking for a flat white,” say Caffé Nero. And because the milk is freely poured, its velvety texture remains consistent throughout.

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