Put simply, a flat white is smaller cup of coffee with a greater proportion of coffee to milk ratio – giving it a more intense coffee hit with a dairy mouthfeel.

The flat white is, excuse the pun, the hottest new coffee drink over the past decade, and is crafted by artfully pouring micro foam over a shot or two of espresso.

Is a flat white stronger than other coffees?

At the heart of a flat white is a robust espresso base, but it’s got the same double shot as you would find with other coffees, but it tastes stronger because of the coffee to milk ratio. The strength and quality of the espresso play a pivotal role and it's this strong espresso base that differentiates a flat white from other milk-based coffees, such as cappuccinos or lattes, and gives a rich and intense coffee flavour.

How does flat white differ from cappuccino and latte?

Flat whites are paired with micro foam milk, a key characteristic of the flat white. Micro foam is essentially steamed milk, but it's unique in that it has small, fine bubbles and a glossy or velvety consistency, distinct from the usual frothy milk found in other coffee drinks.

Unlike a latte, where the milk is also steamed but with a thicker froth, the micro foam used in a flat white has a smoother, more velvety texture and this subtle yet significant difference results in a creamier and more refined taste.

But, it’s not just the texture of the milk, but also the ratio of milk to coffee. The proportion of coffee to milk in a flat white is much lower than lattes, though there’s still no set ratio and it varies between cafes and baristas. This contrasts with lattes, which have a far greater milk content than their flat white counterparts. This means that flat whites have a more pronounced coffee taste and the milk doesn’t overpower the espresso taste.

Another difference flat whites and other milk-based coffee drinks is the texture and temperature of the milk. The milk is usually heated to a specific temperature that enhances its natural sweetness without scalding it. The result is a micro foam that is smooth and velvety, contributing to the overall sensory experience of the drink.

How big is a flat white?

Though this differs between cafes, a flat white is generally served in a smaller cup and is usually around 160–180 ml, which further accentuates the coffee's intensity. It is often presented in its own unique flat white cup along with specific latte art for flat whites created by pouring the micro foam in such a way that it blends with the crema, the creamy, golden-brown foam that sits atop the espresso.

Who invented the flat white and where does it come from?

The flat white, depending on who you believe, comes from Australia or New Zealand. Both Australia and New Zealand lay claim to its creation, each with its own version over the birthplace of the flat white, but who do you believe?

Australians say that the flat white originates in Sydney all the way back to the 1980s when espresso coffee culture surged within the city.

Conversely, New Zealanders claim that flat white originated in Wellington during in the 1980s as a result of a barista’s mistake - a cappuccino was made with an insufficient amount of foam and the barista tried to cover up the mistake by calling it a "flat white” and hailed it a brand new coffee drink!

But, it’s really not clear who invented the flat white or where it really came from – there’s not much solid evidence surprisingly, but it did undoubtedly come from New Zealand or Australia.

December 08, 2023 — Guy Wilmot

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