Flat White: The Emerging Superstar of the Coffee World

Coffee enthusiasts enjoy a rich palette of amazing beverages as coffee beans have a lot to offer. Many people can’t even imagine starting their daily routine without their favorite drink and the market, along with coffee shops and baristas,  is becoming more and more creative in order to keep up with the consumers’ demands. 

Just as we get comfortable with our new favourite way to drink coffee, let’s be frank, they already know what we want at our beloved coffee place, the flow changes and there is a new trend to make us question our daily caffeine choices once again. Should we risk it and try something different? If we talk about coffee then absolutely, the answer is yes and the flat white coffee is the perfect example.

What is a flat white coffee?

The debate about the flat white is a never-ending story, but this is common with many beverages because each country, as well as each coffee shop, has something new and interesting to add to the recipe. However, there is a common ground and each cup of flat white coffee usually has the following ingredients:

·         Two shots of espresso

·         Thin layer of foam

·         A cup smaller than a latte cup

Does the list seem short? Maybe, but the magic hides in the preparation; the thin layer of foam needs to melt with the drink rather than just stay on the surface. This is the reason why we can differentiate between flat white coffee, cappuccino, latte, and similar drinks.

The famous relationship between milk and the flat white

Many coffee drinks depend on the proper addition of milk which lightens up the bitter, rich taste of caffeine. Flat white coffee is no different and what makes it truly special is an even mix of liquid milk and smooth velvet foam, a balance that is not always easy to achieve.

To put it simply, when milk is frothed with a steam wand several different layers form in the pitcher, and each is different. The goal is to create microfoam by blending the liquid milk with large bubbles and then pour it carefully into the cup. The way the foam settles into the drink makes all the difference and good baristas like to test their skills in this particular step of the preparation. Also, there is another sign which flashes flat white coffee when you taste the beverage. Crema is caramelized coffee that floats on the surface of an espresso shot. It is sweeter but also very fragile, and it can easily be drowned under the weight of the liquid milk. Flat white solves the issue by merging milk with the crema thus forming a smooth coil rich in taste and texture. 

The Origins of the Flat White

I don’t surely know if I really was the first to do so but I can prove I had the Flat White on my permanent menus starting in 1985. People say it was there, but no one seems to have any proof do they?

Alan Preston 2015

The answer to the question of what is a flat white coffee? brings to the surface a very interesting debate that has been going on for years; the one related to the origin of the drink. We can’t really envision what a flat white coffee is unless we get some understanding of where it comes from and this question is not easy to answer. 

The quote above is a good example of the cultural dispute which soared over the years as the popularity of the flat white began to spread all over the world. A famous Australian coffee enthusiast Alan Preston, who is originally from North Queensland, claims he was the first one who put the flat white coffee to the menu, thus positioning Australia as the winner of the conflict. By the time the flat white supposedly made its debut, in the 1980s, Australian cafes were heavily influenced by the Italians who introduced Espresso and its wonders to the local community. In the 1960s, Australia had enough Espresso machines to rank third in the world (staying behind Spain and Italy) which gives us some idea of how much they were invested in the new coffee trend which freshened up the market. 

However, the cultural background is not always easy to track, especially when there are more players involved in the story. New Zealand also claims the prize, stating that the flat white coffee was invented by one Derek Townsend in 1984, but the real proof is lacking. Regardless, there are many anecdotes discussed at coffee tables, even legends like the one stating that Derek could make over 1500 flat whites and that he used bare hands to grind the perfect coffee beans, and all this just adds up to the flat white’s interesting story and its popularity. Although the answer remains unclear and the conflict may never be solved, the general background, a more narrow pinpoint on the map, can at least give us some insight into this interesting topic. 

Flat White takes over the scene

When we say coffee, what countries pop into your mind? Is it Italy, Brazil, Colombia, or maybe Finland and Norway which hold the first place regarding coffee consumption? 

What is interesting about the flat white coffee is the trip it took in order to reach customers who are constantly hungry for new recipes and fresh ideas. It originated from an area that is not as prominent regarding coffee as some other parts of the world, and then it reached countries where coffee fights a tough battle against drinks like tea and similar beverages- which is a long but fruitful journey. So, we have already stated that the flat white comes from Australia/New Zealand but where did it go from there?

Coffee enthusiasts from Down Under wanted to order their favourite drink everywhere they go and it was just a matter of time when will the flat white coffee shine on the coffee shop menus, that board that proudly presents new trends in the industry. One of the countries it reached first was surprisingly the tea-drinking United Kingdom where an Aussie and two New Zealanders opened a cafe bar dedicated to the drink back in 2005, right at the time when customers became more curious about trying out new types of coffee. If we remember that the flat white comes in a smaller package, with less milk but with silkier texture, it is easy to conclude how the drink spiked the interest of health-conscious coffee lovers who have less time to spare. 

After having a successful debut in Europe, a few years later the flat white coffee crossed the ocean and migrated to the U.S.A. where it had yet another significant impact on the market proving the tendency of American consumers to be receptive of the new trends from the Commonwealth. Canada followed the lead and in 2018 we could already see the sales of the flat white spiking up to 81% which is a good indicator of a promising future.

If we look at the whole picture, the flat white’s steady rise in the popularity shows just how versatile coffee recipes are and how changing one detail, like carefully adding microfoam to the coffee base, in this case, makes all the difference. So let’s end the story by a quote of Peter Giuliano (the Speciality Coffee Association’s Chief Research Officer) who once said; “The latte is a popular drink so I am not surprised to see it top the list, but the flat white’s popularity is worth noting.” Well, we couldn’t agree more.

Tutorial on how to make the Flat White: 



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