What is a Flat White Coffee & How is it Different to a Latte?

Let’s find out

what is a flat white

Coffee culture has been undergoing a massive evolution over the past two decades. Gone are the days where having a cup of instant coffee could satisfy that thirst for a brew. Tastes in the UK have changed with the emergence of coffee shop culture, with espresso-based drinks becoming the norm rather than a drip or instant coffee drink.

One drink that has taken the country by storm is the flat white. Five years ago, you’d struggle to find one this side of the hemisphere, but now it’s everywhere; the very definition of third-wave coffee – moving towards a truly quality product. 

The flat white has been on speciality coffee shop menus around the world for a while now, with many drinkers often ordering it without knowing exactly what it is. Let’s take a look at the history of the flat white, how to make one, and what sets it apart from a latte or cappuccino.

What is a Flat White?

A flat white is an espresso-based drink that contains steamed milk. This is what makes it so similar to a latte or cappuccino to the average customer (who probably don’t know the difference between a cappuccino or a latte either.)

The appeal of the flat white is that it’s a milk-based coffee drink that holds a strong taste of the espresso shots. It is made with a small amount of steamed milk and thin layer of microfoam. 

Therefore, having a flat white that allows you to still get that espresso kick from your coffee but also to get the creamy texture of steamed milk. A flat white is sort of the best of both worlds in terms of strength and milky texture. 

Now where did this drink originate and what exactly are the differences between this and other milk-based coffee drinks?

The Origins of The Flat White

Not many are aware that the flat white originates from the southern hemisphere. It is debated whether the drink originates in Australia or New Zealand but both nations can definitely be credited in shaping the drink we now know. 

It is assumed the drink either emerged in Wellington, NZ or Sydney, AU, with a couple of baristas in each city adamant they coined the term. Whether this is a bit of a flare-up of a national rivalry or if either has a claim to the drink, we’ll probably never know.  

In these countries, it has been around down under since the 1980s, emerging far earlier than in the UK. In the years since, it has popped up on menus in the US, UK, and elsewhere and is now a speciality café standard. When Starbucks began to serve flat whites as a “bold” alternative to the latte in the USA, it became clear that the drink had entered the mainstream.

The Differences between a Cappuccino and a Latte

As mentioned before, some coffee drinkers will order their drinks a bit uneducated on the exact differences. How are you meant to understand the difference between a flat white and a latte if you don’t first understand how cappuccinos and lattes are different? 

The differences between the two lies in the way milk is used, the amount that is used and how it interacts with the coffee. Both use espresso shots to give the beverage that coffee flavour but the cappuccino will use a single shot of espresso and a latte will often use a double shot of espresso. 

The real difference is the ratio of coffee to milk. The cappuccino is often stronger as it is a smaller drink with less milk to coffee. The coffee cup for a cappuccino is typically smaller than a latte cup, usually between 150 and 180 ml. The espresso is topped with a thick layer of milk foam on top to give it a more frothed texture. It is split evenly into thirds of espresso, steamed milk and foam. 

Traditionally, a latte is larger and has a milder coffee to milk ratio. It is served with just a little foam in a glass or cup of around 240 ml. There is a velvety texture to the drink due to less foam and more steamed milk. 

What is the Difference Between a Flat White and a Latte / Cappuccino?

Lattes and flat whites are more similar than a flat white and a traditional cappuccino, but both bear similarities. For example, while the latte and flat white are similar in texture, the cappuccino and flat white share similarities in size. A latte normally comes in at around 240 ml – whereas a flat white should only really be around 160 ml. 

However, in most cafés and coffee houses, a flat white is a small latte with a little less milk, always made with 2 shots of espresso. The foam is rarely dry and is usually velvety: it’s a mix of frothed foam and liquid steamed milk. This is similar to the preparation of a latte and both are perfect for latte art thanks to the thin layer of foam. 

Like the cappuccino, however, there is a smaller ratio of milk to coffee. This makes it a stronger drink like the cappuccino and is why it has proven so popular. The milk in a flat white contributes or improves the taste of the drink, while espresso still dominates in the mouth.

How to Make The Flat White

Prepare a double espresso shot and pour the steamed milk into your 160 ml cup. The steamed milk must have a microfoam layer, but must not have a stiff foam layer as you use for a latte or cappuccino.

The Flat White or The Latte?

So what should you order at your local coffee shop now you know all the differences and how it is made? Well, this will obviously come down to personal taste as well as the coffee itself perhaps. 

If you like stronger coffee, you should consider a flat white over a latte. This is because the general consensus is that a flat white is smaller than a latte and it has a higher espresso to milk ratio.

If you enjoy the nuanced flavours of speciality coffee but want something dairy-based, a flat white could be a better option than a latte. Because it has less milk, a flat white will allow you to more fully experience the sensorial profile of the beans. But is it objectively better? No. There are many ways to experience regular and speciality coffee and we each have a personal preference.

Experiment With Speciality Coffee

As we mentioned, there are a huge amount of ways to experience coffee. The brewing method and milk ratios are just a couple of factors in the final product. Bean profile and flavours will also play a huge roll in how coffee tastes. This is why at 80 Stone we have a number of different and exciting wholesale coffee beans for you to choose from. As a coffee roaster, we can create some really interesting flavour profiles with our local roastery, giving you different tastes to experiment with. 

One other factor comes down to the barista and the equipment. If you have the best materials but not the know-how to make the coffee, it will affect the taste. This is why we offer La Marzocco coffee machine leasing and commercial coffee machine rental opportunities. This allows your baristas to get the best results with the coffee used in your establishment. If you feel your baristas need some help preparing the coffee, we also offer a barista training course on-site. 

Let us transform your coffee experience with exciting new flavours, skills and equipment. Get in touch today!