What is a Flat White?

If the concept of a flat white sounds foreign to you, that’s because it probably is.


The flat white coffee drink originated in Australia or New Zealand—the history is disputed—and is sometimes credited to coffee connoisseur Derek Townsend, who opened his first café in 1982. Though, he’s not the only coffee personality to tout the drink: there’s also been a public spat between Alan Preston, an Australian coffee maker, and Fraser McInnes, a New Zealand coffee maker, who also lay claim to the drink and its name around the same time period.


Regardless, the drink has set the world abuzz since. 


What’s the Difference Between a Flat White and a Latte?

First thing’s first: What makes a flat white so distinct? What is a flat white?


It’s all about the microfoam. 


At a glance, a flat white has a lot in common with a latte — they’re practically steamed-milk-and-espresso twins. Getting into the nitty gritty, though, the difference is clearer: there’s less microfoam, which is the result of a process of texturing milk with heat and a whirlpool effect that develops a creamy, silk-like texture. It’s most comparable to a “wet cappuccino,” but the most noticeable element of flat whites is that the milk runs through the drink evenly in a way even a wet cappuccino does not. By comparison, drinkers will notice a layer of big, foaming bubbles atop lattes and encompassing much of the top half of a cappuccino. 


And, though arguable, a differing element among flat white ingredients is often pointed to as being the darker-roast espresso — a difference that will vary depending on who makes it and taste preferences. It’s also customary to serve the flat white drink in a ceramic cup and not a glass.


There is no difference between the drinks in terms of espresso amount, despite flat whites consisting of 6 ounces (or 160 ML) instead of 8 or 12 ounces for a latte. You’re getting the same buzz no matter how you prepare it. 


How Do I Make Flat White Coffee?

While making a perfect flat white will take some practice and instinct, it’s surprisingly less difficult to make than you’d expect. Here’s how to make a flat white.

  • Gather materials. Pick out a 6-ounce ceramic cup to pour into, select your espresso blend, and measure out 4 ounces of milk. A flat white recipe is a simple 4 ounces of milk—whole or 2 percent—and 2 ounces—aka “shots”—of espresso. Then preheat the cup. 
  • Make the espresso. Brew it right into the cup. 
  • Steam milk. Using a room temperature or cold stainless steel pitcher, use a steaming wand to quickly push air into the milk and then swirl until there’s a uniform set of bubbles forming. The bubbles on top should be small. Take care to not overheat the milk; as a rule of them, the pitcher should never be so hot that it’s uncomfortable to touch.
  • Pour the milk. Tilt the pitcher directly into the center of the espresso, slowly. Let the milk pitcher hover over the cup’s top just a tad.
  • Enjoy. You’ve just made your first flat white!

Flat whites have become increasingly popular as specialty coffee has taken off and lured in new customers with new experiences. Because the flat white trend caught on in Australia and New Zealand first, most of the world is still discovering this beverage. 


If you’re a coffee fan, do yourself a favor and try a flat white for yourself! We hope you savor every last drop!