What is a Flat White? Baristas Spill the Beans

You may have heard a lot of buzz about a coffee beverage called flat white in the past couple of days. It may sound like a brand new type of espresso drink has just now made its way to America. But the truth is, Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen has been crafting flat whites at guest’s request for years. And crafting them correctly.

So what exactly is a flat white? The short answer is a flat white is a smoother, milkier version of a cappuccino.

Flat White Rosetta Art at Barnie's CoffeeKitchen

Although there is some debate about the exact origin of the drink, many agree it became popularized in Australia and New Zealand in the 1980s, before making its way to the Europe in the early 2000s. In the past ten years, coffee aficionados in North America have slowly – but assuredly – caught the flat white fever. Only now is flat white in the spotlight.

The name has been attributed to how Aussies and Kiwis order their coffee. A regular shot of espresso is known colloquially as a short black. A larger espresso beverage with more water is a long black. And an espresso with milk is known as a flat white.

Of course, if you’re ordering a flat white from a commercial coffee chain, you can expect that you’re not drinking a true flat white. Barnie’s baristas will tell you how to make a flat white, done right.

Espresso Machine

Barnie's barista pulling a ristretto shot

To make a flat white, Barnie’s baristas pull two ristretto shots. Ristretto is a short shot of espresso made with the normal amount of coffee but about half of the water. This results in a more concentrated, sweeter espresso.

Coffee Beans

Dark roast espresso beans (left) vs. Tucano Espresso beans (right)

At Barnie’s, we use Tucano Espresso to make a flat white, because it is a premium medium roast espresso made from 100% Arabica beans. Tucano Espresso makes for a flawless flat white. Flat whites found at other coffee shops often use a darker Italian roast espresso from Robusta beans (which are a poorer quality). These other espressos do not allow for the creamy, milky goodness that is a flat white.

Heating Milk

Barnie's barista heating milk

The magic of a flat white is in the milk. Barnie’s baristas add full-fat milk that has been heated, but not quite steamed, to the pulled espresso. Steaming will burn the milk and make it too frothy and airy. Not smooth and milky, as it's supposed to be.

It’s important to mention that Barnie’s baristas gently heat the milk in order to create microfoam (or wet foam) when crafting cappuccinos and flat whites. The opposite of microfoam is macrofoam (or dry foam), which has visibly large bubbles. This style of steamed milk is commonly used in our competitor’s cappuccinos and flat whites. The microfoam is more palatable and allows our baristas to paint espresso beverages with elegant designs. You can see the difference below.

Flat White

Cappuccino (left) vs. Flat White (right)

Flat White

(From Left) Typical American Cappuccino, Barnie's Cappuccino, Barnie's Flat White

Flat White

(From Left) Typical American Cappuccino, Barnie's Cappuccino, Barnie's Flat White

The final product should have a velvety consistency. You can feel the density of milk throughout the drink, without the flavorless top layer of foam found on our competitor’s cappuccinos. A true flat white should only be 5-6 fl oz., similar in size to a cappuccino. Anything larger is not correctly proportioned.

I encourage you to stop by a Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen café and taste an authentic flat white, as the Aussies and Kiwis intended.

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