The coffee industry, a drink for all walks of life from different cultures around the globe, is big. So things can be confusing, even to a barista.
But what matters is your willingness to step out to learn and experiment with new drinks.
In this article, we learned about the differences between two similar coffee drinks: a latte and a cappuccino. This time around, I will help you tell a flat white and a latte apart.
What Exactly Is A Flat White
Let’s start from the basics. So what is a flat white? Essentially, it's an espresso drink with a milk based and thin microfoam top.
Microfoam is a fine and smooth layer of steamed milk with microbubbles made using a steam wand and poured into the cup of coffee.
This foamed milk can also be used to make latte art, so it's not unusual to spot a cup of flat white with latte art as well.
Three sentences in and if it wasn't obvious before, you should be able to see where some people may have a hard time differentiating a flat white and a latte.
Why Is A Flat White Called A Flat White
The signature thin and silky "white" microfoam on top of the cup of espresso coffee led to the "flat" part of the name.
This is in comparison with the thickness and the texture of the foam in other espresso drinks such as cappuccino or to a lesser extent, the latte.
Where Is Flat White From
Contrary to the smoothness of its microfoam, the origins of the flat white are more conflicting. The coffee drink made its debut in Starbucks US and Canada back in 2015, which is fairly recent.
According to this global coffee chain, the drink was invented in the 1980s in Australia before growing in popularity in the UK and later on in North America.
The term "flat white" is said to have first been coined by an Australian man, Fraser McInnes, operating a café in Sydney with photo evidence.
However, history can be vague and full of biases. Like the two countries' dispute over the origins of the pavlova, New Zealand also has a different take on the root of this coffee drink.
According to The Culture Trip, a barista in Wellington in the late 1980s claimed to have accidentally made cappuccino with thin foam and called it a "flat white".
The New Zealand Herald suggested that at the very least New Zealand should take some credit for developing this "staple of the urban Kiwi diet" to its current modern form.
But it doesn't stop there. A coffee history author also wrote that this special coffee drink may actually have originated in England from as early as the 1950s, evolving as a thinner cappuccino version for "stingy café patrons" demanding a larger size.
What Makes A Good Flat White
Recipes may vary depending on the location but, essentially, the drink contains 1-2 shots of espresso and microfoam on top.
All About That Espresso
Starbucks revealed that its flat white consists of two Ristretto shots and a thin and smooth layer of steamed milk and is presented with latte art.
Ristretto coffee helps bring out a thicker and sweeter espresso flavor profile due to the lower water quantity and shorter extraction time.
Pulling a double shot enables you to achieve a normal espresso quantity as the water cut gives you comparatively less coffee.
If you're interested in learning more about the Ristretto espresso brewing method, check out this article!
Hit Home With The Microfoam
To make a good flat white microfoam, full-fat milk is textured often using a steam wand to create a velvety foam texture with tiny bubbles to add extra creaminess to the coffee cup.
Then the steamed milk is slowly poured over the espresso and creates microfoam on top (around 5 mm/0.2 inch). This is also where the magic of latte art can come into play.
Can You Make A Flat White At Home
With patience, practice and perseverance, all espresso-based drinks are possible with a standard espresso machine at home.
If you're thinking of making an investment, I have a few coffee machine picks to help you scale down the search!
Otherwise, learn how to make the drink at home following the below steps:
Pull one or a double shot of espresso. If you're doing the latter, consider going for Ristretto if you can with a 1:1 or 1:1.5 coffee to water brewing ratio.
Fill the pitcher with milk using the 1:2 espresso to milk ratio. Submerge the end of the steam wand in the milk to steam milk.
Once it starts heating up, position the milk pitcher so that only the tip of the steam wand is slightly submerged in the milk so that the foam and froth formed are mixed well into the steamed milk.
Slowly move the milk pitcher lower from the steam wand and keep the same distance to stretch the milk while keeping it moving.
When the milk volume has increased by two-thirds or to your desired amount, submerge the end of the steam wand again and wait until the milk temperature reaches around 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Use a thermometer to help you keep track of the temperature; otherwise, "drop" it when it's too hot to touch (shut off the steam wand).
Get rid of any bubbles in both the steamed milk and the espresso by gently swirling them around or lightly tapping the containers onto the counters.
Slowly pour the textured milk on top of the espresso while swirling the pitcher above the cup to make sure the milk is well mixed in with the espresso and the crema is brought on top. Then go all out with latte art if you can!
What Makes A Latte A Latte
In my latte vs. cappuccino article, I've explained that "latte" is traditionally known as a "caffè latte" in Italy, which means "milk coffee".
Similar to flat whites, it's also an espresso drink with creamy steamed milk, making it less bitter and easier to drink for both casual coffee drinkers and coffee aficionados.
Many latte variants can also be made by adding your favorite flavored syrups, spices, and more.
What Makes A Good Latte
Flat white, cappuccino, and now latte. Its goodness is also determined by well-extracted espresso using quality coffee beans and properly prepared and poured milk.
To be fair, each coffee shop has a slightly different recipe for preparing espresso-based drinks. For lattes, similar to flat whites, both a double or single shot of espresso work.
The Milky Way
With the help of a steam wand on your espresso machine, milk is heated up to make steamed milk and create thin, soft, and silky milk foam around 0.5 inches (13 mm) thick, less than a cappuccino.
However, using frothed milk to create a proper milk foam layer is not necessarily a must. Some prefer to make latte art with wet microfoam instead.
How To Make A Latte At Home
To make a latte, you can basically follow the flat white recipe just with a slight tweak with your pour.
You can brew the same amount of espresso by pulling either a single or double shot of espresso depending on your choice of coffee strength.
A double Ristretto shot also works with lattes as well. Also, use more milk. You can use whole milk or another option that you prefer.
What Is The Difference Between A Latte And A Flat White
Now that we've covered our bases, let's dive into the main discussion: Flat white vs Latte - Which one is for you?
Is Flat White Stronger Than A Latte?
The answer is yes. Especially when the espresso in flat whites is made using the double Ristretto shot technique, the espresso flavor is more intense and concentrated in a lower amount of water and extraction time.
Moreover, the sweet taste of milk does not overpower the coffee flavor in flat white due to the higher quantity of coffee in one serving.
On the other side, the infamous second-wave dairy-based coffee drink, latte, favors the sweetness of milk more.
And the drink can become even sweeter with additional ingredients such as syrups, whipped cream, and so on.
Another thing that affects the strength of the drink is, though in the flat white recipe section, I've mentioned using the 1:2 espresso to milk ratio, it's not really a standard ratio.
Rather, it's each barista's choice. Additionally, the serving cups can vary in different coffee shops as well.
Nevertheless, generally, the cups of flat whites are smaller and/or shorter than those of lattes to carry more steamed milk and accommodate a half-inch layer of foam in some cases.
A common scenario is a ceramic cup for flat whites and a taller glass cup for lattes.
Which Has Less Milk: Flat White Or Latte?
I think it's been abundantly clear until this point that, in this flat white vs latte battle, flat whites have less.
This allows you to still fully experience the signature espresso flavor and kick across your taste palate with hints of the blended creamy milk that last till the last drop as long as the steamed milk is poured properly. So if that's your cup of Joe, go for it!
What Is Healthier: Flat White Or Latte?
Though the espresso taste is milder in lattes, their caffeine content difference would largely depend on the recipes of each barista.
If the espresso base for both flat white and latte is the same, none inherently has more caffeine than the other.
Otherwise, a double shot will have more caffeine content than a single as the latter is more diluted. So if you have questions about this, ask the barista.
What about calories: flat white vs latte? If you use the same espresso shot and whole milk to steam and make foam for both, since flat white is smaller in quantity, it's not unreasonable to say that latte has a bit more calories.
However, if you've been enjoying your nonfat latte every morning and now want to try out a flat white at a specialty coffee shop, there's a high chance they're using whole milk to best create that velvety microfoam texture.
Either clarify that you want low-fat milk or make some at home where you have full control over what you consume. And try to not add unnecessary sweet things!
Why Is A Flat White More Expensive Than A Latte?
This has only come into question in recent years when popular coffee chains started to add flat white to the menu, such as Starbucks back in 2015.
Since both share the same base ingredients, many argue that flat white should cost as much as latte does, if not less due to its smaller size.
And according to The Telegraph, there are two main reasons for this price difference.
First of all, some believe that creating the microfoam layer for flat white demands more skill than for a latte and whole milk has to be used to create the right velvety texture.
But the higher price point seems to have been more likely set due to its high perceived value.
With a background from and wide popularity in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, when flat white started to appear more in North America, it was promoted as a third-wave coffee drink, something hipster and different for snob coffee lovers that prefer the off beaten path.
This made flat white appear to be much cooler than the ever-so-common latte and cappuccino, hence, the slightly higher price tag.
With this article, I hope you have an easier time distinguishing flat white and latte.
Coupled with your knowledge about cappuccino in a previous article, you should be able to identify warm milk and espresso drinks like a barista at specialty coffee shops or become one yourself!