Flat white: the eternal debate

We don't know if because of its flavor, because of the recent general tendency of people to drink less milk, or simply because of fashion, the flat white continues to gain followers among third-generation coffee regulars. As its popularity has grown, so has confusion among baristas and consumers about what a flat white actually is.

Where does Flat White come from?

The flat white is a coffee drink with milk that emerged in the antipodes in the eighties. At that time, the most coffee-loving people in the area began to demand a drink that tasted more like coffee and that, without having an obscenity of air like the more old school cappuccinos, was lighter and silkier.

A few years ago and with the appearance of the so-called third wave of coffee, the drink began to gain popularity in the old continent, especially in the United Kingdom. Probably Australian and New Zealand baristas did not want to give up their favorite coffee once they settled here and it was they who introduced it to the small independent coffee shops in Europe. More recently, its consumption has also skyrocketed in the States and its popularity has only grown exponentially.

There is much controversy over who actually invented it and both Australians and New Zealanders fervently claim its authorship.

And…What is a Flat White?

The controversy not only covers the origin of the drink, but also its composition and preparation. Alex Bernson did a massive survey at Sprudge to try to draw conclusions regarding the substance and shape of the drink, and it seems that the result was not very illuminating, although some general conclusion could be deduced.

If we finally venture out and order a flat white from our trusted barista, it is normal for them to serve it in a cup of about 150-170 ml, which is the size of a cappuccino. This, or a little smaller, would be the original recipe. It is true that fortunately for some and unfortunately for the most purists, in some places it is served in different sizes to suit the consumer's taste. Would anyone serve a small, medium or large cut?

Like a cappuccino or a latte, the base of the flat white is espresso, and it is most commonly served with a double shot. Usually with a shorter ratio such as 1:1 or 1:1.5 to make it more intense, although this statement is very debatable since in a double ristretto less coffee has been extracted and the resulting flavor will be much more acidic. What you will have is a drink with more body if we compare it with an espresso or double espresso.

In some of the international coffee capitals, such as Melbourne, the flat white is served with a single shot of espresso for a more balanced and sweet drink. However, for their New Zealand neighbors, defenders of the double shot , this is nothing more than a violation of the original recipe.

The milk in our flat white, unlike a cappuccino, will have a thin layer of cream on top and this is where the name of the drink comes from. After the Second World War, Italian immigration to the antipodes brought espresso drinks with them. Our local friends must have felt quite frustrated drinking their cappuccino prepared with such aerated milk that they had a hard time finding the coffee under so much dry foam and they began to order their “flat” cappuccino, that is, with a light layer of cream. of milk more pleasant to drink.

So, it's not that different from the rest of the milk drinks that we already knew, right?

Yes and no. In many cases it may not be that different, especially if we are talking about flat whites with a single shot of espresso. The truth is that many cafes serve cappuccinos, flat whites and lattes that are practically the same and we wouldn't be able to tell which is which if they put them online.

In view of this, there are already some coffeeshops abroad that have grown tired of all these labels and are encouraging themselves to simplify their menu by offering only black coffee - black coffee either in espresso or filter - and milk - coffee with milk - at the same time. Ultimately, we should trust the professionalism of the barista, who knows perfectly the coffee he is working on, its origin, its flavor and roasting profile, and the best way to combine it with milk based on the customer's preferences.

As a barista, if I was asked for a flat white, what would I serve?

If you read between the lines, the two main ideas that prompt a customer to order a flat white are:

  1. He wants a drink with milk.
  2. You want the coffee to predominate over the milk.

Therefore, at Hola Coffee we would lean toward a relatively small drink, 120 - 150 milliliters, depending on whether its contents are a double ristretto or an espresso. Regarding this option, we would bet on an espresso with a ratio equal to or greater than 1:2 if we have a coffee with more acidic notes and/or light roasting, and on a double ristretto of 1:1.5 if we have one more chocolatey or with a medium roast profile. What it is about is obtaining a balance of flavor, where we look for a sweet drink with well-marked coffee, but that is not excessively acidic or sour (a risk that is run with a double ristretto).

Pablo Caballero

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