What a flat white is and differences from a latte

There are so many different coffee drinks that it can take a lot of work to track them all. Flat white, latte and cappuccino are coffee drinks that are often confused with each other. If you’re a fan of coffee, then you’ve probably heard of all of them, but what are they? And how do they differ from each other? These coffee drinks are made using espresso, but they differ in many ways. If you’re looking for a new way to enjoy your morning cup of joe, this article will help you understand the difference between a flat white, a latte and a cappuccino.

What is a flat white?

bartender while pouring a flat white

A flat white is a coffee drink similar to a latte but with less milk and milk foam. The name ‘flat white’ comes from the fact that when this coffee drink is made correctly, it should be topped with a ‘flat’ layer of steamed milk. This top layer of ‘microfoam’ should be not too thick, not too thin.

Origins of the flat white

The origins of the flat white are contentious. Some say the first person to coin the term ‘flat white’ was Australian Alan Preston, who opened a Sydney café in 1985. Others claim it originated in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1989 when a barista named Fraser McInnes accidentally made a cappuccino with low-fat milk that refused to froth. 

Flat white vs latte

Latte_ Micheile Dot Com via Unsplash

Photo: Micheile Henderson via Unsplash.com

Both coffee drinks consist of single or double espresso topped with steamed milk. A flat white differs from a latte primarily because it uses less milk – a latte comes in at around 9.14 ounces (250ml), whereas a flat white should be around 5.85  ounces (160ml). The steamed milk or microfoam used in a flat white has a much more velvety texture and glossy finish. 

So size matters, and while lattes tend to be served in tall glasses with a thick layer of foamed milk on top, flat whites are served in smaller cups with thinner layers of foam on top. Another significant difference is that flat whites taste much stronger because of the higher proportion of coffee to milk. 

Flat white vs cappuccino

Many people confuse a flat white with a cappuccino. While the ingredients and cup size are the same, the difference comes down to preparation. Cappuccino usually consists of a simple espresso and two parts milk froth. A flat white is prepared with a more concentrated version of espresso – two espresso shots, ristretto. The milk foam for a flat white is more fine-pored than that of a cappuccino. 

barman serving a cappuccino iStock

How to make a flat white

So how do you make one? Here’s our guide:

First, you need to know that a flat white is made with less milk than a cappuccino, so it will be lighter in colour and texture. Also, while both drinks are made with espresso, the flat white uses less foam than its frothy counterpart.

To make a flat white, you’ll need an espresso machine with an integrated milk frother or steam wand. You will also need 3 ounces of espresso (2 shots), 1 cup of steamed milk, and sugar to taste (optional).

  • Steam the milk and use a frother to froth the milk for at least a minute to create a microfoam.
  • Pour your espresso into an empty mug or cup and let it cool down for about 30 seconds, so it doesn’t scald your tongue when you take a sip. Add sugar if desired.
  • Finally, pour the hot frothy, foamed milk over the espresso and enjoy.

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