What is a Flat White?
A flat white is a coffee drink made with espresso, steamed milk, and microfoam. Microfoam is steamed milk that has been lightly infused with air, which produces smooth, velvety milk with tiny air bubbles. When adequately prepared, the air bubbles should hardly be visible to the coffee consumer. The key to a successful flat white coffee lies in creating both quality microfoam and a well-balanced espresso shot.
A flat white is traditionally only available in modest (150 to 175 ml) sizes, far smaller than standard lattes. The flat whites served in chain coffee shops are usually non-traditional as their sizes are often closer to 300 ml. This drastically alters the traditional coffee-to-milk ratio because the extra milk dilutes the richness of the drink.
What is the origin of the Flat White?
The origin of the flat white is under debate, with both Australia and New Zealand staking a claim. Some say that it was invented in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1989 by Fraser McInnes. He attempted to make a cappuccino with low-fat milk that refused to foam, but rather than scrap the failed drink; he kept it on the menu as the Flat White. Others trace the drink to Australia in the mid-1980s, where they found it on the menu of a Sydney cafe.
Regardless of where it began, the flat white is now available worldwide, from the United Kingdom to Japan and even the United States, with Starbucks featuring it on their menu.
Be careful not to confuse a flat white with a white coffee, a different drink.
How to prepare a flat white coffee
WHAT YOU NEED
- 18 g ground coffee
- 120 ml milk
AT A GLANCE
A few extra notes:
- Special equipment: Espresso machine with steam wand and milk frothing pitcher
- For brewing espresso, you should grind the coffee to “very fine.” The best option is to use a burr grinder to grind it yourself right before brewing. If you don’t have a grinder at home, try buying your beans at a local coffee shop that will grind them for you. Most pre-ground coffee at the grocery store will be too coarse.
- You can use any coffee types for this recipe, but a medium or dark roast will give the most authentic flavour. You would lose the subtleties of a lighter roast under all the steamed milk.
- The best choice of milk is 1% or 2% dairy milk, as this is the easiest milk for producing the right texture when steaming. Whole milk will give you a creamy and high-fat drink, while skim milk will be airier and less rich.
- You can also use plant-based milk, but be sure to buy one designated for baristas if you want it to steam the same way as dairy milk.
Step 1: Prepare the espresso
Prepare a 60 ml double shot of espresso using an espresso machine. Pull the shot into a preheated 175-ml mug.
Step 2: Steam the milk
You may be able to do this simultaneously as pulling the espresso shot if you have an espresso machine with two boilers or a heat exchange boiler.
Pour the 120 ml of milk into the milk steaming pitcher. It helps if both the steaming pitcher and the milk are chilled. With the steam wand on your espresso machine, begin frothing the milk. Angle the pitcher to create a constant vortex in the pitcher. Continue steaming the milk until it has a temperature near 71 °C (a thermometer can help with this) and a centimetre of froth on top.
For more guidance, we have a whole article on how to steam milk.
Pro tip: Bringing the steam wand closer to the surface of the milk creates an airy froth, whereas keeping the steam wand deeper in the milk yields a creamier microfoam.
Step 3: Combine the milk and espresso
Pour the milk into the cup gradually, holding the jug so that the spout is 5 cm above the cup. Gradually bring the jug as close to the drink’s surface, aiming to pour it into the centre.
Pro tip: Though the flat white is smaller than a latte, the texture of the milk means it’s still amenable to latte art.
How to make flat white at home without a machine?
While you need an espresso machine to create an authentic flat white, you can create something similar using coffee-making supplies you might already have on hand.
First, you’ll need to prepare a powerful 60 ml shot of coffee. You do this with a French press (using a higher than usual ratio of coffee to water), a Moka pot, or an Aeropress. You could also use a Nespresso machine or even a high-quality instant coffee, using less water.
Next, you need to prepare frothed milk. The easiest way to do this without an espresso machine is to use a milk frother, but you can use your French press if you don’t have a milk frother. Fill it halfway with warm milk, and then bring the plunger vigorously up and down. This will introduce air into the milk, giving it the frothy texture you want. If you don’t have a French press, you can make frothed milk simply by adding warm milk to a mason jar and shaking it until it becomes foamy.
What are the benefits of Flat White Coffee?
Milky coffees, like flat whites, are healthiest when consumed as part of a meal or as a mid-morning or afternoon snack.
From a health perspective, studies have shown that the caffeine in coffee can help lower blood pressure and blood lipids and reduce the occurrence of certain diseases. It will also boost your energy and can increase fat burning. Using dairy milk, you will also benefit from its numerous vitamins and minerals and high protein content. In particular, the calcium in milk is beneficial for bone health.
In terms of flavour, a flat white is a more concentrated drink than a typical latte to have a stronger taste of coffee. It is unique in combining the flavour and intensity of espresso with the rich mouthfeel of a dairy-based drink.
What are the differences between a Flat White and a Latte?
A Latte and a Flat White are espresso-based drinks made up of only espresso and milk, and both are popular orders in cafes worldwide.
Want to learn more? Read all about different types of coffee drinks.
The main differences between a flat white vs latte arise from the amount of milk in each. Depending on its size, a latte contains between 175 and 295 ml of milk to accompany a double shot of espresso. This gives it a much creamier texture and milder flavour than the flat white, which often has just 120 ml of milk.
Another difference is the serving style. Lattes are often served in a tall, clear glass that allows the coffee drinker to see the different layers of espresso, steamed milk, and milk froth. In contrast, a flat white usually comes in a wide ceramic mug, like a cappuccino cup.
Finally, the two drinks have different origins. The latte is an Italian drink, and it has been around much longer than the flat white, invented in either Australia or New Zealand.
What are the differences between Flat White and Cappuccino?
A flat white and a cappuccino are very similar because they often contain the same amount of both espresso and milk. The difference is in the texture of the milk. The flat white contains more steamed milk, which is rich and creamy. The cappuccino contains more frothed milk, which is lighter and airier.
For more details, read our article on cappuccino vs flat white.
What are the differences between Flat White and Americano?
The main difference between a Flat White and an Americano is that an American includes no milk. Instead, the espresso is diluted with hot water. An Americano has a flavour very similar to a brewed coffee, but with more body and a creamier mouthfeel. It is much less rich than a flat white, with fewer calories and a stronger coffee flavour.
What are the differences between Flat White and Macchiato?
Though both the flat white and the macchiato are made of espresso and steamed milk, they are quite different in composition and presentation.
A macchiato is mostly espresso with a small dollop of steamed milk, and you serve it in a demitasse cup. It has a robust espresso flavour, with a hint of creamy sweetness from the milk.
A flat white is a much larger drink than a macchiato because it contains four times as much milk. For this reason, it has a much milder coffee flavour and a creamier texture, and it is pretty sweet from the quantity of warm milk. A flat white is served in a ceramic mug and can sometimes be decorated with latte art.
Yes, a flat white coffee contains sugar, but it is all naturally occurring sugar from steamed milk. A 175-ml flat white made using 2% milk contains 6 grams of sugar, but it has no added sugars, syrups, or sweeteners.
A flat white coffee tastes like a milder and creamier espresso, with a silky mouthfeel. When adequately made, the milk and espresso offer a nice balance between bitter and sweet. The flavour profile of the espresso depends on the beans used, but most often, you will taste chocolate and nuts.
Yes, a flat white has coffee in it. More specifically, it has a double shot of espresso made from coffee beans brewed quickly and under high pressure. This produces a shorter and stronger drink than a standard brewed coffee, with a heavier body and creamier mouthfeel.