The Flat White Debate: What is it, really?

Friday, 12 January, 2018

The Flat White Debate
What exactly is a flat white? Matt Carter went to the source to see if he could settle this debate once and for all!
Words by Matt Carter, originally published in Issue 16 of the Coffee Magazine

This is a cup of coffee that everyone wants and each person seems to have their own idea of what it is! I have often worked a bar shift and had someone come up to me and order one and I have to ask, “What is a flat white to you?” Each time I seem to get a different response.
So when I order a flat white what am I expecting? A double shot of espresso or a double ristretto, in a 150-180ml cup topped up with steamed milk and a thin layer of micro textured foam. The problem with this definition is that it is based on my educated opinion, there is no standard definition.
So I decided to try hunt down its origin and definition on my recent trip to New Zealand and Australia. The one thing everyone agrees on is that the flat white comes from one of these countries. In New Zealand I chatted to Paul who is the General Manager of L’Affare. He has been in coffee for 20 years and as a result has seen these things and many trends come and go. We had a cuppa and a chat and I asked him what the flat white was and who invented it, Paul told me that New Zealand invented it but Australia made it famous. The weather in Wellington is horrific: cold, wet and windy the one day and an earthquake the next, in this environment with a massive take away culture the baristas needed to invent something to keep this little city going. So they added hot milk to a double ristretto, it wasn’t pretty or trendy just functional! A kick of caffeine and a lot of comforting milk! Then Australia discovered it, took it over and made it more trendy and pretty; from there, the world took notice and it became a thing.
Sitting in a great little café in New Zealand on a cold wet day chatting to Paul who has been here forever and hearing him tell me this story I had no reason to doubt him. However I needed to be sure so I went to Melbourne, Australia and hunted around there. I went to the café Proud Mary and their roaster Aunty Pegs and chatted to the owner Nolan Hirte. Nolan is a wealth of knowledge and after I got over my star-struck dumbness I was finally able to ask him about the flat white. His answer was a lot briefer, “Of course Australia invented it!”
In fact, there are a lot of these beverages that get a term but no one really knows what it is. I think that you need to decide for yourself what you want and have a chat to your barista, chances are that they will be more than willing to make your drink your way.
The debate rages and we try to seek the truth, but at the end of the day I still believe that the best cup of coffee is the one you share with a friend. So the question is, what is a flat white to you?

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