No, a “flat white” drink is not the same thing is a latte or cappuccino, and it’s not just a latte in a smaller cup. What distinguishes a flat white from its espresso-based cousins has nothing to do with the espresso beans, the size of the drink or the amount of milk.
A traditional latte is composed of espresso topped with steamed milk and tastes like milky coffee. A cappuccino is usually finished with frothed milk; frequently this means a fat dollop of dry foam with large bubbles. By contrast, a flat white consists of two shots of espresso topped with microfoam.
What’s microfoam? To make any espresso drink, milk must be frothed with a steaming wand. When the milk is frothed, three layers form: heated, liquid milk at the bottom; microfoam in the middle; and dry foam with large bubbles at the top. Microfoam is the golden ticket to a great espresso drink: it has very small bubbles and a velvet-like, smooth texture.
While cappuccinos and lattes can taste gritty or too bold in flavor, microfoam always folds seamlessly into any espresso drink to form a smooth, uniform consistency. That means your flat white will always be creamy, even-bodied and not too harsh in bitterness.
Flat whites originated in New Zealand in the 1980s and have been popular everywhere ever since. It’s even offered on the Starbucks menu in the United Kingdom (hurry up, America!), and has been named as part of the Third Wave Coffee Movement, which specializes in improving high-quality coffee production and brewing specialty coffee.
So go ahead and share your new coffee acumen. How can you tell if your flat white is actually a flat white? Order both a latte and a flat white at the same time and taste test your two drinks. In Austin, you can find the real deal at Houndstooth Coffee and Wright Bros Brew & Brew.
One final flat white win? Only microfoam can be poured into latte art.