What is a Flat White Coffee?

What exactly is a flat white coffee?

The flat white is something of a new kid on the block when it comes to coffee shop menus. Depending on who’s origin story you buy, the drink either hails from Sydney or Melbourne in Australia or Wellington in New Zealand.

There are a number of coffee shops which have tried to lay claim to the first flat white sometime around 1980. The drink has been a mainstay on Antipodean coffee shop menus for a good few decades but only made it over to the UK in the early noughties. By 2010 Starbucks was offering them and the drinks ascent into the Northern Hemisphere’s mainstream coffee culture was most definitely complete.

But what is a flat white? How do you make one? And what is the difference between a flat white and other similar coffees like the cappuccino or caffe latte? All good questions, friend. We have got some answers for you.

The basic composition of a flat white

The first important thing about the flat white is the size of the cup. A flat white comes served in a 160ml cup – usually a ceramic mug, A caffe latte on the other hand is most often served up in a tall glass that holds about 220ml of coffee. Purists will tell you that the original base for the flat white was a double shot of espresso. They may well be right – however double and single-shot versions both exist. The most important thing in this is that the base of the drink is an espresso. On top of that 30ml espresso shot 130ml of milk is then added.

This milk needs to be carefully prepared. You may have heard the term ‘micro-foam’ and ‘micro-bubbles’ used to talk about a flat white. All this basically means is the milk is smooth and glossy with lots of small bubbles in it.
This is achieved by steaming the milk to a temperature of around 50 degrees, as that low-ish temperature really enhances the sweetness and creaminess in the milk.

It is a relatively short steam so you don’t end up with thick dry foam-like on a cappuccino, nor hot milk like a latte – but a wet pourable foamy and slightly viscous milk. Yum.

How is this different to other coffees?

Well, a cappuccino would be a single espresso, topped with 120ml of compactly- frothed milk which has been heated to around 65 degrees. A cafe latte is an espresso topped with 160ml of warm milk and 30ml of stiff foam. A cortado is around 30 ml of coffee topped with 70-80ml of ‘wet’ foam, like the stuff you use to make a flat white.

How to make a perfect flat white

Making a killer flat white is easy, as long as you have an espresso machine with a steam wand. If you do not, here are some of our favourites. It may also be handy to have a metal jug to froth your milk in and a 160ml coffee cup.

  • Make sure your steaming wand, and espresso unit are clean.
  • Then start off by pulling yourself a big old double shot of espresso.
  • Fetch around 20g of freshly ground coffee to fill your portafilter basket.
  • With the flat white we quite a light-medium roast, but each to their own.
  • Tamp the coffee down and attach the basket to the machine.
  • Pour around 140ml of milk into a meal coffee jug.
  • There is 20ml spare here this will save you some waste by allowing for the expansion of the milk as it froths.
  • We find skimmed cow milk will give you a sweeter taste and glossier finish than other kinds. You don’t have to go cow milk though. If you follow the ‘not your mum, not your milk’ principle then Soy milk and Oat milk are probably the best plant milks for this one.
  • Do get the ‘barista’ varieties of plant milks as they froth much more convincingly. Our personal preference is Sproud’s oat milk, which froths well thanks to added pea-protein, but we have not tried everything out there.
  • Blast some steam out the end of the nozzle to remove any dust or dirt inside and check you are cooking on gas.
  • Now start pulling your espresso – which should take around 30 seconds.
  • While the espresso is hitting the cup, get cracking on your milk. Activate the steam wand angle the jug and slowly insert the nozzle into the milk.
  • Heat the milk to 50 degrees Celsius.
  • Some frothing jugs come with a temperature gauge; however, a metal jug will let you take the temperature of the milk the old-fashioned way.
  • Place your fingertips on the metal and leave them there as the milk is frothing, just as the milk starts to feel ‘too hot’ and your fingertips burn a little, you are in the 50 degrees range.
  • At this point the milk should be a little frothy, shiny, and still loose and runny.
  • Pour this over your double shot to fill your flat white cup – and voila, a perfect flat white.

It’s actually a very simple drink, no more or less difficult to prepare than any of the other milky coffees. What do you make of the flat white? Have you ever tried making a flat white? What top tips can you share? Let us know in the comments below.

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