Flat white coffee in red cup

What is a Flat White Coffee?

Flat White Coffee - The history of the Flat White


So, what is a flat white coffee? Know your flat whites from your lattes? Or are you not sure whether you could pick out this decadent, velvety drink from a crowd? We regularly get asked by our customer how to correctly make a flat white. Opinions do vary on this and a flat white coffee made in one shop might not be the same as that made in another. So, we've put together this blog post with our views on the flat white.

Flat white coffee pouring milk

These silky, trendy little cuppas have been the latest big hitter to rock the world of the UK’s speciality coffee, and we love these little cups of luxury. 

A flat white boasts several key unique attributes that differentiate it from its other luxe cafe counterparts. They’re an elegant and classy affair that has proven to be a real threat to even the previously unrivalled giants (lattes and cappuccinos had better watch their back) of the traditional speciality coffee drinks menu.

For this type of drink, baristas use a more velvety, glossy frothed milk (with tiny little air bubbles) to showcase the beans’ flavour profile in the finest possible way. A flat white provides drinkers with the creamy mouthfeel that comes with the richness of milk, with a strong coffee flavour that the espresso contributes (two birds, one stone, methinks). 

If you’re looking to fill these gaps in your speciality coffee know-how, and learn a bit more about the flat white, have a read below of our comprehensive summary of this divine, now trendy alternative to the latte and cappuccino.

So, what is a flat white coffee? 

A flat white coffee is all about decadence - no doubt about it, it’s certainly more of a sit-down-and-indulge than a grab-and-go kinda beverage.

We’re here to help you keep up to date with the newest innovation to make its mark on the menu board. Amongst the coffee community, the overall consensus is that the key traits that set a flat white apart are:

  • The size of the cup - a flat white is significantly smaller (a latte is traditionally around 240ml, whereas a flat white requires typically about a 160ml cup) 
  • A flat white is also made up of one or two shots of espresso (like a latte or cappuccino), so it’s the milk that makes the difference. We think that all coffees should be served as a double shot, but that's a discussion for another day!
  • For a flat white, the milk is micro foamed, to create smaller bubbles and a uniquely velvety texture. 
  • The micro foamed milk combines beautifully with the espresso without overpowering the coffee. This means that the milk is the supporting act, rather than the star of the show. That role is left, quite rightly, to the coffee beans. 
  • Usually, a great flat white will have some form of latte art on top. If the texture of the milk is just right then it's fairly easy to pour a pattern when finishing off the drink.

All of these elements combine to make a far more potent drink (thanks to the higher coffee: milk ratio). The milk has a silky texture, plus the steaming process gives it that characteristic lush, glossy finish. At the same time, this beverage enables coffee connoisseurs to experience the full depth of the bean’s rich flavour profile. Make mine a flat white, eh. 

What’s the history of the flat white? 

Sounds yummy, right? But this swish, rich drink is a relative newcomer to the UK speciality coffee industry. For some reason, it took a considerable amount of time to reach us (even taking into account the distance). Just half a decade ago, very few in this side of the hemisphere (let alone the UK), would have been able to tell you much about a flat white.  

So how has it worked its way up, to establish such a name for itself and make a mark on our coffee drinking preferences?

The Aussies are generally credited with the creation of the flat white, as it originated pretty organically. It came into being through a process of speciality coffee creating evolution, in either Australia or New Zealand’s coffee culture, during the 1980’s. 

The flat white, supposedly, came about when customers asked for a version of a cappuccino that was a bit closer to the instant coffee that they were already familiar with. So baristas prepped a ‘flatter’ version of this classic beverage. Over time, it earned a place in speciality cafes in its own right. 

We recommend using full cream cows milk for the perfect flat white. It's the easiest to texture correctly and at the right temperature brings fantastic sweetness to the drink. If you prefer to use alternative milk there are loads of great options, the Oatly barista milk is one of the easier options and steams really well. 

Top tips for making the most beautiful flat white coffee going:

Now that you know the key traits to look out for (plus a few bits about its history and origins), the next step to take is learning how to make a flat white for yourself. The microfoam bit might sound pretty technical, but don’t stress yourself - it’s a lot less scientific than it sounds. 

So, for those of you who are sold on the idea of a flat white for your next morning pick-me-up, we’ve put our heads together to create a step-by-step process.

  1. Make an espresso shot using some fine, speciality coffee beans.
  2. Steam the milk. Make sure to aerate the milk correctly, not too much and not too little. The milk should have a glossy texture but shouldn't be foamy
  3. Make sure that you swirl both the milk and the espresso shot (pay particular attention to the milk). By doing this, you’ll be ridding them of any bubbles, and creating that distinctive tell-tale flat white silky texture. It is important to make sure the espresso and milk combine.
  4. Continue to pour combining the espresso and milk and as your cup gets close to filling up bring the milk jug closers and move side to side to create a lovely pattern!

Pouring a swan info a flat white coffee

When it comes to the flat white’s role in the UK’s coffee-drinking scene, we take great delight in the way that this coffee-plus-frothed-milk variety has prioritised the taste that the beans themselves bring to the cup. We’ve found that it makes for a great cup of coffee and is the perfect ratio of espresso to milk. One thing is clear - this new soon-to-be classic isn’t giving up its spot in our speciality coffee scene any time soon.


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