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What’s A Flat White Coffee? 1 Bold Swap For The Basic Latte

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what's a flat white coffee
what's in a flat white coffee

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Move over latte. There’s a “new” handcrafted espresso beverage taking over the specialty coffee scene. 

Meet the flat white: latte’s bolder, understated cousin. What’s a flat white coffee, you ask? Good question. 

In short, a flat white is a drink made with espresso and steamed milk, much like a latte. But what makes a flat white different from a latte, a cappuccino, or even a cortado?

Here, we’ll take a look at all the flat white has to offer, where it originated, and how to make one at home.

So, let’s get brewing.

What’s A Flat White Coffee?

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Origin Of The Flat White

Some say the flat white originated in Australia. Others say New Zealand. And many say both.

We’ll happily stay out of the debate and just say that we’re thrilled the flat white exists, regardless of who invented it.

So, what’s a flat white coffee?

The flat white espresso drink emerged in the 1980s in Australia and New Zealand and was a fresh take on the cappuccino. 

At the time, a cappuccino featured a mountain of airy foam, while the flat white had a thin layer of creamy microfoam instead.

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It’s been said that the first flat white was actually a cappuccino ordered with less foam or “flat.” It’s also been told that the first flat white resulted from a barista’s failed attempt at a cappuccino.

Again, we’re not choosing sides. 

Either way, the flat white became increasingly popular in Australia and New Zealand, and soon after, it made its way to the UK and, later, the US and Canada.

It is now considered a mainstream specialty coffee beverage and may be found on most coffee shop menus.

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Flat White vs. Cappuccino

Whether the flat white was initially a failed cappuccino or a creative coffee drinker’s take on a cappuccino, we know there are some apparent similarities between the two.

Both espresso drink types feature espresso, steamed milk, and foam. This much is obvious. They differ in the proportions and the type of espresso shot used (sometimes).

A cappuccino is the stronger of these two espresso drink types. It typically features two espresso shots with equal parts milk and foam.

So what’s in a flat white coffee? A flat white is typically made with two shots of espresso, three parts milk, and a skinny layer of microfoam (or no foam).

Many coffee shops use ristretto shots for their flat whites. What does ristretto mean?

A ristretto shot is made with less hot water. The result is a smaller, more concentrated espresso shot with a sweeter, richer flavor.

How many ristretto shots in a flat white?

There are typically two ristretto shots in a flat white. You may use a ristretto or a standard lungo (or long shot) for a flat white, but we think the ristretto shot sets the flat white apart from other beverages.

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Latte vs Flat White

Now that we know what’s in a flat white coffee, let’s compare it to a latte.

For starters, a flat white is traditionally a smaller handcrafted espresso beverage. A standard 8 ounces (or larger) is used for a latte versus flat white, typically 6 ounces. (Unless you’re comparing the flat white vs latte Starbucks serves, which are far from the originally intended sizes.)

The flat white has a more concentrated espresso flavor, as less milk (and little to no foam) is used to dilute the espresso.

Additionally, the ristretto shots, if used, offer a more robust flavor.

Cafe lattes are also made with espresso and steamed milk. However, this espresso-based beverage has a higher milk-to-espresso ratio than many other espresso drinks. 

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In general, a latte consists of one part espresso, four parts steamed milk, and one part foam. Most coffee shops use two parts espresso for larger-sized lattes.

Lattes are creamy and delicious. Even with a double shot of espresso, they have a milk-forward flavor and a bit of rich foam. 

So, in summary, the differences between a cappuccino and latte versus flat white lie in the espresso-to-milk ratio, amount of foam, and type of espresso used. 

The cappuccino is the strongest of the three, with the least milk, followed by the flat white and the latte.

But what’s a flat white coffee vs. cortado?

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Espresso drink types
Flat white vs cortado

Flat White vs. Cortado

Whenever someone asks, “What’s a flat white coffee,” someone else asks, “What’s a cortado?” Despite their differences, this lesser-known espresso beverage is often compared to the flat white.

Like the others, the cortado is made with espresso and steamed milk. However, it resembles a cappuccino (rather than a flat white) without foam.

The cortado originates in Spain. The word “cortado” means “cut” in Spanish and refers to the milk “cutting” the bitterness of the espresso.

A cortado is a very straightforward handcrafted espresso beverage.

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A traditional cortado consists of one part espresso and one part milk, which is identical to the ratios of a cappuccino.

But the cortado lacks any milk foam whatsoever. It is simply a shot or two of espresso with equal parts warm milk. It has an espresso-forward flavor and is no-nonsense.

So, the differences between a flat white vs. cortado are the ratio of milk to espresso and the presence or lack of microfoam. A flat white has more milk and features a thin, velvety layer of microfoam.

A flat white has a creamier mouthfeel than a cortado. 

Now that you’re an expert on types of espresso drinks and know what’s in a flat white coffee, let’s look at how to make a flat white coffee at home. It’s easier than you think.

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How to make a flat white coffee

How To Make A Flat White Coffee

We can’t answer the question “What’s a flat white coffee?” without giving you a quick tutorial on making one at home.

While pulling a ristretto shot at home requires some finessing, don’t let this stop you from learning how to make a flat white coffee. 

The easiest way to pull a ristretto vs. lungo shot is to stop your extraction earlier than usual. You might also want a slightly finer grind to slow the extraction and allow more control.

But really, there is no need to master the ristretto shot to make a damn good flat white at home. Start with traditional espresso and experiment from there.

And remember, less is more when it comes to milk. If you steam more than 4 ounces of milk, you’ll end up with a latte vs flat white.

How to make a flat white coffee:

  1. Brew a double espresso (ristretto or long shot) into a 6-8oz cup and set it aside.
  2. Steam 4oz of milk (we use whole milk) with the wand submerged at an angle of about 1cm from the surface of the milk. This will create the microbubbles we’re after.
  3. When the milk reaches 145-150 degrees, remove the wand and tap the pitcher on the counter twice or thrice to break up the more giant bubbles.
  4. Use a spoon to gently swirl the milk and fold in the microfoam, equalizing the texture. The milk should resemble paint.
  5. Slowly pour the milk into the espresso, using a steady stream to avoid breaking up the crema on the espresso. 


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Type of espresso drink
Espresso drink types
flat white

Final Thoughts

What’s a flat white coffee? In short, it’s our favorite drink made with espresso and steamed milk.

Whether you prefer a flat white or latte or cappuccino, there’s no wrong choice here. But if you haven’t tried a flat white, give it a go the next time you’re at your local coffee shop.

Or be brave and make one at home.

We’re not sure if we owe gratitude to the Aussies or the Kiwis for inventing this rich, creamy, bold espresso drink, but we’re sure glad someone was smart enough to come up with it.


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What Is A Flat White At Starbucks?

As you may have guessed, a flat white at Starbucks is like a flat white anywhere else, with one exception.

If you order a flat white at Starbucks, the cashier will ask you which size you prefer. The only way to ensure you get a traditional flat white vs latte Starbucks style is to order a Tall one.

Starbucks will make a flat white in whichever size you prefer, but remember, a traditional flat white is meant to be a small beverage. 

Starbucks will only include two ristretto shots regardless of which size you order.

Therefore, if you order a grande or a venti, you’re just getting a latte with ristretto as the espresso-to-milk ratio will no longer resemble a flat white. 

So order a tall one if you fancy a flat white. 

How Much Caffeine Is In A Flat White?

A flat white features two shots of espresso; therefore, it will have the same amount of caffeine as a latte or a cappuccino, which is about 154mg.

The difference between a flat white and a latte lies in the amount of milk included, which has zero impact on the caffeine content. The flat white will have a more robust espresso flavor but is not stronger in caffeine content.

What’s An Iced Flat White?

Can you get an iced flat white? Sure thing.

An iced flat white is just what it sounds like. It combines two ristretto shots with 4 ounces of cold milk. The difference between an iced flat white and an iced latte is that the flat white has less milk and a more robust espresso flavor.

Some people may prefer this, as the ice already dilutes iced drinks, so less milk means a richer espresso experience.


Heather Calatrello

Heather Calatrello owner of ShedLight Coffee Roasters