Darn, I'm doing a lot of controversial blog topics at the moment, and I'm sure that this one is going to be the same! The trend of espresso-based drinks made a comeback many years ago, with the third wave coffee scene emphasising this through the desire of coffee shops wishing to develop their knowledge as well as quality of their coffee to an 'artisan' level. Not too soon after this landed the holy grail of specialty coffee shops: the Flat White.
The origin of the flat white is a bit of a debate: with most believing it's origin came from either New Zealand or Australia. However, we're not entirely sure where exactly the coffee started, and who was the person who first brought the drink into fashion.
But what I can tell you is the drink itself...kinda.
Kinda? Well, there's one tiny problem with the flat white. Because of the vagueness in its origin, there's also a bit of a vagueness in its preparation and how it is made. Think coffee chain cappuccinos and their higher level of dry foam in comparison to the specialty market.
However, we can emphasise that there are certain factors of the coffee which make it distinctive, and which has now contributed to its cult following and popularity:
It is stronger than the average milk-based drink.
- The taste of espresso should be most prominent in this drink compared to its larger sister - the latte, hence the frustration at a "milky flat white" or a "large flat white" (but with the same amount of shots as the original size). This isn't a thing, and baristas across the country moan at this. Even the chains don’t offer more than one flat white size, so there is absolutely no excuse.
The milk is steamed to a different texture.
- Hence the term, the ‘flat’ white. The milk texture of the flat white is iconic, and takes a lot of practice, time and skill to develop into something wonderful. Decorated elegantly with some form of latte art (controversial, I know), with silky smooth to the touch milk - sweetened naturally by the steaming process - the flat white should not have any ‘frothy body’ on top of the drink.
Sometimes the espresso is different - whether that's via a ristretto shot or something else.
- I’ve recently noticed a trend in using a different kind of shot, such as a ristretto (shorter and sweeter), to make the flat white more distinctive. I know for sure that Costa Coffee uses a different form of their regular espresso in their flat white beverages, as I actually find the drink tolerable; unlike their other coffees. However, this isn’t technically a necessity. Most coffee shops remain with their usual espresso shot recipe as their foundation.
It's a small drink - usually 6oz.
- the drink is known as a 'short' beverage, meaning that it should almost be viewed as a more condensed and saturated version of another coffee. This means that all features of the coffee are prominent, and the customer can taste all of the complimentary areas of the beverage in a perfect balance. If you’re a coffee shop who nails the flat white (consistently), then I bow down to you, because there are several factors (such as milk texture, temperature and the espresso recipe), which could be slightly off and result in the entire balance of the drink being thrown off.
So there’s the four key factors which make the flat white the iconic little drink that it is. If you’re not keen on a strong coffee with no foam, and isn’t steamed to death so that the drink is burnt beyond repair, then maybe the flat white isn’t for you. Stick to your regular cappuccino for that, you’ll be much happier I promise!
As much as I like to say that there's a lack of consistency between the shops regarding the creation of the flat white, this is partly the charm for me. If I have faith in a coffee shop and know they aren't going to completely wreck my coffee (just call that my coffee spidey senses), then I enjoy seeing each individual shop's take on the drink. Of course, you won't get a dramatically big difference in variation between the specialty shops, but certain areas of the drink are jigged around, and it's definitely the beverage which provokes the most joy and fun from the barista.
Have a wonderful Sunday, everyone!