What Is a Flat White and How Is it Different From a Latte?

Two white ceramic cups with saucers

The love of coffee is a form of art.

To be a true enthusiast, you need to know all about the different types of coffee.

With this in mind, there’s a current craze over flat white coffee. The National Coffee Association claims it is slowly becoming a first-choice drink for most Americans.

The only thing is, it looks and almost tastes like a latte. Yet, both brews allow you to enjoy the sensorial taste of the coffee beans.

A common question asked is: what exactly is a flat white? And, is it different from a latte?

Let’s get to know about the rich and bold flat white and what sets it apart from the more mild and sweet latte.

Understanding the Flat White

It isn’t enough to know that flat white is a type of coffee.

You’ll find great fulfillment in understanding how it’s made, and where it originates. To know the difference between a flat white and a latte, you need to understand each of them in these ways. It can also make for an interesting conversation piece around friends and family.

Let’s begin with the flat white. 

History of the Flat White Coffee

Flat whites have a very controversial history. That’s what currently makes it the most interesting type of coffee.

In 1989, Fraser McInnes, a barista, was trying to make a cappuccino in his cafe in Wellington, New Zealand. But, there wasn’t enough fat to froth the milk towards the end of summer. Instead, McInnes gave the customer a double espresso topped off with a silky foam layer.

When McInnes handed the coffee to the customer, he said:

“Sorry, it’s a flat white.”

After this, his business partner included the flat white in their cafe menu.

In a nutshell, a flat white is actually a failed cappuccino.

Though, things got more interesting in January 2015 when Starbucks introduced the flat white. On their website, they say it originates from Melbourne, Australia.

Without a doubt, this became an issue for the New Zealanders. So far, the mystery pretty much remains unsolved.

What Is a Flat White?

With its controversial origin, it becomes hard to tell what exactly a flat white is. Since it’s a brew claimed by different countries, it can be made and served in different ways. 

Flat Whites in Australia and New Zealand

Despite the controversy, these two countries appear to make flat whites the same way. This involves:

  • Two espresso shots.
  • 4–5 ounces of steamed milk.
  • 0.5 ounces of foam.

The major similarity is in the source of milk. Milk from Australia and New Zealand comes from free-range cows. It should be heated at the right temperature to achieve the silky texture that a flat white needs.

Flat Whites in America

Starbucks is known for its unique coffee specialty. Without a doubt, the Starbucks flat white appears to be a completely different drink.

Through their January 2015 press release, Starbucks released their flat white recipe. They use two ristretto shots and a layer of velvety steamed whole milk topped off with a latte art dot: 

The unique aspect of this Starbucks recipe is the ristretto shots.

A ristretto is a “short shot” of strong espresso. This gives the flat white a sweeter and stronger coffee flavor. Have a look at this:

How to Make a Flat White

Despite its controversial origin, baristas say that there’s no official way to make a flat white.

With that, the basic way to make a flat white is this:

Step 1: Brew 2 Shots of Espresso

You can brew your espresso at home using an espresso machine or an ordinary coffee machine.

The two espresso shots should fill a large ceramic cup of 10–12 ounces. Set the espresso aside and move to the next step.

Step 2: Steam the Milk

Steam the milk at 55–66 degrees Celcius using a milk frother (our top pick is the Grunen Wolken Handheld Milk Frother). The milk forms a thin microfoam layer and has a velvety texture.

Use a pitcher and steam wand for a few seconds to keep the foamed milk creamy.

Step 3: Stretch the Milk in a Pitcher

Stretching blends any large bubble with the milk to make the velvety microfoam. To do this, thump the pitcher on the counter and lightly swirl the foamed milk.

Step 4: Pour the Steamed Milk Over the Espresso Shots

The steamed milk will cover the espresso shots, forming a thin 5 mm layer of microfoam. This is why it’s called the “flat white.”

The thin microfoam layer allows you to get creative and add some art if that’s your specialty.

It’s usually served in a smaller ceramic mug.

What’s the Difference Between a Flat White and a Cappuccino? 

This is an important question since McInnes meant to make a flat white instead of a cappuccino.

A cappuccino has a lower coffee to milk ratio compared to a flat white. It has a 1:1:1 ratio of espresso, steamed milk, and a thick layer of foam.

A flat white has a thin layer of foam, which is called “microfoam.” The microfoam forms when the milk is steamed. For a cappuccino, the foam layer is formed by milk froth.


Flat Whites vs. Lattes

You need to know the differences first before making a latte or a flat white.

The confusion may arise because flat whites are sometimes called “small lattes.” In reality, these two drinks are completely different in appearance and content.

strong drink

The flat white and latte are different in the following ways: 

Flat Whites Lattes
Origin New Zealand Or Australia America
Ceramic Cup Cappuccino mug Tall glass
Espresso Shot Double shot of espresso 1–2 shots of espresso
Steamed Milk 4–5 ounces 8–16 ounces
Microfoam 0.5 ounces 1–2 ounces
Texture Creamy Milky
Taste Smooth, milky, and stronger espresso taste Sweet and smooth drink
Brew Strength Medium Light

To sum it up, have a look at this chart:

For a detailed look into all espresso drinks, watch the video below:

Make Your Flat White at Home Using the Nomad Coffee Club Monthly Subscription

Are you more of a flat white or a latte person?

You don’t need to choose. You can make both of these tasty brews right from the comfort of your home.

The Nomad Coffee Club offers organic and ethically sourced coffee at your convenience. Through our monthly subscription boxes, you will:

  • Pick a coffee plan that suits your lifestyle.
  • Get a different coffee selection each month.
  • Receive freshly roasted coffee beans.
  • Have flexible and adjustable doorstep delivery.

You can join our monthly coffee subscriptions for either 3, 6, or 12 months.

The best part is, a part of your coffee subscription payment helps build the Nomad School in Kenya.

Join the club today and learn more about us here.

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