How To Make a Flat White (And What Is It?)

It often happens that people who have managed to avoid the prevalent ‘coffee culture’ find themselves in a café or coffee shop, simply asking for what they might term a plain coffee.

Coffee menus today can be confusing, especially when confronted with 20 different drink types. To cater to this market, but still have the quality of an espresso drink, the flat white was created.

In this article, you will learn how to make a flat white. And what a flat white is, plus why it’s so popular.

What is a flat white?

Coffee menus can be quite confusing, as already mentioned, even to an habitué.

There are the well-known cappuccinos and lattes, the slightly less well-known Americano and macchiato, the even less well-known ristretto and doppio, and the totally unknown affogato and cortado.

It is no surprise that the occasional visitor to a coffee establishment throws up their hands and says “just give me a coffee with milk”. 

This is where the flat white comes in. It is simply a coffee with milk – no syrups, no sprinkles, no foam, no whipped cream.

Flat white coffee is fairly common around the globe today, but it is a relatively recent creation. It seems that it was first made in either New Zealand or Australia in the 1980s.

It is difficult to verify since these two countries tend to argue about the origins of many things, like Pavlova and Russell Crowe, both countries claiming the achievement.

How to make a flat white coffee

How to make a flat white coffee

But is it really as simple as just coffee with milk? That would be the most basic drip coffee with a splash of milk from the fridge.

A flat white is more than that, and it takes a well-trained barista to make one.

It starts with a shot of espresso in a ceramic cup. Of course, in these days of ultimate choice, driven by the marketing department, the cup can be regular, medium, or large. The word ‘small’ is rarely used, with its connotation of lower value.

While the shot is pouring, the barista steams the milk, careful to make it velvet smooth but without the foam.

The steamed milk is then carefully poured into the espresso shot, slowly so that the crema rises to the top.

Any foam in the milk jug is held back with a spoon until the last moment, when a good barista will use a little foam to decorate the surface of the drink, with their latte-art skills.

Flat white vs latte vs cappuccino

In Italy, a cappuccino is a breakfast drink, and never drunk after 11 a.m. Whether because of the amount of milk or just tradition, like bacon and eggs, you may have to accept some gentle ribbing if you order a cappuccino in a Tuscany village café after your evening meal.

In most cafes, a cappuccino is a single shot of espresso, filled with steamed milk and topped with a layer of about 4 cms of milk foam.

An expert barista will spoon the foam onto the top of the cup rather than pour it all and hope it stays on top of the milk.

A Café Latte is, as it translates, a milky coffee. Often served with a double shot of espresso, the steamed milk is added and there should be about 2cms of foam on the milk.

A flat white is really just a latte with no foam – the milk is flat. It also usually has a double shot of espresso, and without all the milky foam the coffee flavor comes through strongly.

Whereas in a latte and cappuccino the milk smooths out the coffee taste, a flat white seems to enhance it, and the flat white is becoming the go-to drink for enthusiasts who like the blend of milk and espresso.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a flat white taste like?

A flat white could certainly be described as an espresso with steamed milk, as opposed to the latte and cappuccino which could be described as steamed milk with espresso.

That is to say, the coffee flavor is stronger and it is less milky than the other two drinks.

What is a flat white at Starbucks?

Coffees at Starbucks are usually a slightly different recipe to the rest of the world, as they always try to differentiate themselves from the other coffee chains and ‘mom and pop’ stores.

The Starbucks flat white starts with two Ristretto shots – that is, espresso shots with the extraction process halted halfway through so that there is only half as much water as a regular shot.

This adds sweetness to the drink, since the longer the extraction time the more of the harsher oils and flavors come through.

The steamed milk is then added and finished off with a dot of foam in the center of the drink as a Starbucks’ signature.

How many calories are in a flat white?

The amount of calories depends on the size of the drink. A medium flat white is usually served in a 16oz (475 mills) cup. Based on the milk and coffee content, the calorie count is about 220 cal.

The same size cappuccino has only 151 calories, because of the amount of foam, the foam being part milk and part air bubbles.

Latte unsurprisingly comes in about halfway between flat white and cappuccino.

So if you are trying to lose weight, but are not so serious about it that you give up your favorite beverage, think about cappuccino. And if you are not Italian, have one any time of day.

Final thoughts on flat white coffee

The flat white is a popular coffee drink that originated in Australia and New Zealand.

It’s more of an espresso with milk than it is steamed milk with espresso, which makes the flavor stronger and less milky.

The difference between this coffee and other drinks like latte or cappuccino boils down to how much foam there is: the smaller amount of foam on a flat white means you’ll get all of the rich flavors without any extra calories from added cream or sugar.

Whether you want to save some calories while still enjoying your favorite morning beverage, order a flat white over either latte or cappuccino!

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