A flat white with latte art

A flat white is a coffee drink consisting of espresso with microfoam (steamed milk with small, fine bubbles and a glossy or velvety consistency). It generally has a higher proportion of espresso to milk than a caffè latte, and a thinner layer of microfoam than a cappuccino. Although the term "flat white" was used in the United Kingdom to describe a type of espresso-based drink in the 1960s, the modern flat white was developed in Australia and New Zealand.


Anette Moldvaer states that a flat white consists of a double espresso (50 ml/1.5 fl oz) and about 130 ml (4 fl oz) of steamed milk with a 5 mm (0.25 inch) layer of microfoam.[1] According to a survey of industry commentators, a flat white has a thin layer of microfoam (hence the 'flat' in flat white), as opposed to the significantly thicker layer of foam in a traditional cappuccino.[2]

The recipe for a flat white, however, varies between regions and cafés. In Australia a flat white is served in a ceramic mug, usually of the same volume (200 ml, 7.0 imp fl oz) as a latte glass. However, some Australian cafés will top a latte with extra froth, while others may pour a flat white slightly shorter.[3] New Zealand flat whites are more commonly served in a tulip shaped cup (165 ml, 5.8 imp fl oz). In both Australia and New Zealand, there is a generally accepted difference between lattes and flat whites in the ratio of milk to coffee and the consistency of the milk due to the way the milk is heated.

A true flat white ought to have the same quantity of extracted coffee as any other beverage on the coffee menu (generally 30 ml, 1.1 imp fl oz) but because it is served in a smaller vessel (175 ml, 6.2 imp fl oz) it has stronger flavour than say a latte which is normally served in a 225 ml (7.9 imp fl oz) vessel and is subsequently milkier. The consistency of the milk is another point of difference between a flat white and a latte – a latte has a creamy, velvety layer of milk on the surface which can vary in depth depending on where you buy your coffee. A flat white has a thinner band of the textured milk, ideally with a shinier surface.

Origins and history

"Flat white" coffee has been recorded since at least the 1960s. In Peter Shaffer's play The Private Ear (1962) a character says that he took a woman to an espresso bar in South Kensington (London). Another character asks, "And held hands over two flat whites?"[5]

There are references to the beverage in Australia in the 1980s. A review of the Sydney café Miller's Treat in May 1983 refers to their "flat white coffee".[6] Another Sydney newspaper article in April 1984 satirised a vogue for caffè latte, stating that: "cafe latte translates as flat white."[7]

At Moors Espresso Bar in Sydney, Alan Preston added the beverage to his permanent menu in 1985.[8][9] Preston claimed he had imported the idea to Sydney from his native Queensland, where cafés in the 1960s and 1970s had frequently offered "White Coffee – flat".[10] Other documented references include the Parliament House cafeteria in Canberra putting up a sign in January 1985 saying "flat white only" during a seasonal problem with milk cows that prevented the milk froth from forming.[11][12]

Bar Bodega in Wellington, which also claims to have originated the drink.

However, the origins of the flat white are contentious, with New Zealand also claiming its invention.[13][8] One New Zealand claim originates in Auckland, by Derek Townsend and Darrell Ahlers of Cafe DKD, as an alternative to the Italian latte,[14][15] and a second New Zealand claim originates from Wellington as a result of a "failed cappuccino" at Bar Bodega on Willis St in 1989.[13] Craig Miller, author of Coffee Houses of Wellington 1939 to 1979, claims to have prepared a flat white in Auckland in the mid-1980s.[13]

Similar beverages

The flat white is similar to an original Italian cappuccino, which is a single espresso with microfoam served in a 150–160 ml (5.3–5.6 imp fl oz) cup.[16] The flat white, however, has a higher proportion of coffee and less foam.[1]

A flat white usually has a higher proportion of espresso to steamed milk than a caffè latte and the layer of froth is thinner.[3]

The Spanish café con leche is similar, but uses scalded milk. In a flat white, the milk is steamed without frothing approximately to 54 °C (129 °F).[17] Steaming the milk to this temperature retains the fats and proteins in the milk which retain a sweet flavour, lost when milk is steamed to scalding temperatures.[18]

Outside Australia and New Zealand

The coffee style was exported to the United Kingdom by 2005, and by 2010 was being sold in Starbucks franchises there.[19] By 2013 the flat white was available in Australian cafés in New York City, with Hugh Jackman co-owning one of them and endorsing the product.[20] With the flat white becoming increasingly well known globally, large coffee shop chains such as Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Caffè Nero, Cafe Coffee Day, and Pret a Manger added flat whites to their menus. Starbucks debuted the flat white in American stores on 6 January 2015.[21]

Related terms

In the UK, the phrase flat white economy has been used to describe London's network of internet, media and creative businesses.[22][23]

See also


  1. ^ a b Moldvaer, Anette (2021). The Coffee Book (2nd ed.). London: Dorling Kindersley. pp. 403–04. ISBN 9780241536940.
  2. ^ "What is a flat white? – Coffee Hunter". Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  3. ^ a b Carmody, Kathleen (20 April 2004). "Coffee culture". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 April 2010.
  4. ^ "New Zealand's dedicated coffee culture". Tourism New Zealand. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
  5. ^ Shaffer, Peter (1982). The Collected Plays of Peter Shaffer. New York: Harmony Books. p. 83. ISBN 0517546809.
  6. ^ "Miller's Treat," café review, Liz Doyle and Brett Wright, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 May 1983
  7. ^ "It's time to dare to be the same," Jenny Tabakoff, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 April 1984
  8. ^ a b Robertson, James (27 September 2015). "Australia and New Zealand culinary war in new front over flat white inventor". goodfood.com.au. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  9. ^ "Australian food history timeline-Birth of the Flat White". Australian food history timeline. Archived from the original on 4 February 2016. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  10. ^ Pearlman, Jonathan (28 September 2015). "Who invented the flat white? Row breaks out between Australian and New Zealand cafe owners". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  11. ^ Green, Roger (11 January 1985). "Cows Frustrate ACT's Espresso Artists". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  12. ^ "How Canberra lost its froth," Milton Cockburn, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 January 1985
  13. ^ a b c Hunt, Tom (13 January 2015). "Kiwi claims flat white invention". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  14. ^ Dixon, Greg (22 July 2008). "The birth of the cool". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
  15. ^ Macdonald, Laura (13 January 2015). "Baristas battle to claim flat white as their own". The New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 16 April 2015. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  16. ^ "L'Espresso Italiano e il Cappuccino Italiano Certificati" (PDF). Istituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  17. ^ "What is a flat white coffee? | Coffee, Tips and Tricks". Barista. 27 February 2019. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  18. ^ "Milk Frothing Guide – Hello Milk!". CoffeeGeek.com. Archived from the original on 4 July 2011. Retrieved 7 April 2010.
  19. ^ Wallop, Harry (5 December 2009). "Starbucks to sell 'flat white' for those who are fed up with milky coffee". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
  20. ^ Jumpertz, Caroline (5 August 2013). "New Yorkers finally warm to the humble Aussie flat white". The Australian. Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  21. ^ Frizell, Sam (2 January 2015). "Hipster Drink of Choice Gets Co-Opted by Starbucks". Time. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  22. ^ Cumming, Ed (8 March 2015). "Can hipsters save the world?". The Guardian.
  23. ^ "Brexit could harm growth of 'flat white economy', report warns". Business Reporter. 5 April 2017. Archived from the original on 5 April 2017. Retrieved 8 April 2018.