What is a Flat White?

You’ve undoubtedly seen Starbucks’ advertisements for their newest espresso drink: the Flat White. If you look at their chalkboard drawing to explain a Flat White, more questions are easily raised.

Courtesy of Starbucks

Courtesy of Starbucks

It’s espresso and milk? How is that any different from a latté? Or a cappuccino? Well now that I think about it, what is the difference between a latté and a cappuccino?

All three of these espresso drinks have a bit in common. All are broken into three portions, all involve espresso, and all contain steamed milk. How can they be so different?

Part of the differences between the three drinks lies within the portions of the milk used. All three contain steamed milk, but only cappuccinos and lattés use foamed milk. The difference between those two is how much foamed milk is used. In a latté, it’s one-third espresso and two-thirds steamed milk with a light dusting of foamed milk on top. In a cappuccino, the drink is divided into even thirds: one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third foamed milk.

A Flat White is one-third espresso and two-thirds steamed milk, but technically, a Flat White uses a specific part of the steamed milk, making this espresso drink far more difficult to master pouring.

As Starbucks explains it, “Steamed milk is folded into itself creating a velvety microfoam that gives the Flat White its silky texture and signature white dot.” That sounds rather magical, doesn’t it?

A Flat White does use the microfoam of the steamed milk, which is the middle portion of the steamed milk. In a jug of steamed milk, there are three layers: the liquid hot milk at the bottom, the microfoam in the middle, and the foamed milk at the top. The foamed milk is very obvious and has large, puffy bubbles. The liquid milk has no bubbles, and the microfoam has tiny bubbles and is lighter than the steamed liquid milk, yet is heavier than the foamed milk that rises to the top.

A Flat White only uses that middle portion of the microfoam milk, which gives it a creamy, yet far more espresso flavor than either the latté or the cappuccino, which only use the liquid milk and foamed milk.

The I Love Coffee blog has a fantastic image to illustrate how these three drinks use the different portions of steamed milk.

flatwhiteIt may be tough to create a Flat White at home, but it’s easy enough to brew your own lattés and cappuccinos at home thanks to the Nescafé Alegria A510. And who knows, maybe future versions of the all-in-one espresso machine will include a Flat White option!

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