Though someone who doesn’t drink a lot of coffee probably won’t find much of a difference looking at a Flat White vs Latte, the devil is in the details. And these two drinks have a few crucial differences.
Lattes are the classic espresso beverage that every other deviates from. Just pull a couple of shots, steam milk, and add them together. Flat Whites are a little more specific—calling for richer milk and more concentrated espresso shots in their truest form.
Everyone has their opinions and ways of doing things, and I certainly have my own.
As a barista with over 5 years of experience (before I took up writing as a career), I can tell you that there is a world of difference between the two drinks—if you are willing to dive into the details that make them each special.
Below, I’ll go into some detail about each of these beverages, how to make them, and point out to you the contrasts between them.
It should be a quick education (less than 5 minutes), but it’ll prove to be a helpful guide whether you make these drinks yourself or savor a newfound appreciation for them from your local café.
The first drink that any barista-in-training learns to make is the classic latte. Learning how to make this one drink teaches one all the basics of an espresso machine and the hands-on skills it takes to work it.
A latte is a very popular coffee drink that’s made by combining two core ingredients: It has espresso and steamed milk.
Espresso is a type of strong coffee that’s made using an espresso machine. The espresso machine uses hot water at high pressure to brew the coffee in what is called “pulling a shot”. This creates a small amount of very concentrated coffee that’s known for its rich and robust flavor.
Most espresso machines pull double-duty and have a milk steamer attached. These bring a pitcher of cold milk to a nice 150-160°F in just half a minute.
At the same time, with the right technique, the steaming wand aerates the milk (incorporates air bubbles throughout) to help create a velvety texture (we’ll just skip the fact that lattes can come iced, for now).
With both those elements, you have what you need for a latte. Those shots get pulled into your cup/mug and you pour the steamed milk right on top of the espresso.
Flat White vs Latte: How is the Flat White Different?
Flat Whites also have the same core ingredients. Just good ‘ole espresso and steamed milk.
So, what gives? What’s the difference? Well, it depends on whom you ask, but the flat white vs latte distinction boils down to a few critical factors:
1. Flat Whites are often exclusively made with fatter milk.
Some say lattes have a lot more milk, but that depends on the cafe making it. Others point to the difference in size, but this also varies from place to place, with some coffee shops only offering one size of flat white.
What is true though is that most coffee shops use whole milk for their flat whites (in my experience). If you are willing to venture down the road of subtly, that does make a sizable contrast.
But there are a couple more distinctions.
2. The milk is foamed rather than steamed.
While the pitcher of milk is on the steaming wand, the barista is trying extra hard to make extra smooth microfoam.
Sure, it’s a difference in technique, but it contributes to the overall difference in the drink. This microfoam consists of as small of “air bubbles” inside the milk as possible. This foam is a little denser, a little heavier.
3. The last difference is not in the milk but in the espresso.
While still following essential espresso-pulling basics, Flat Whites change the calculus in one area. They call for short shots, sometimes referred to as ristretto shots.
These espresso shots don’t call for a special espresso roast, white beans, or anything crazy-different in the coffee itself. In fact, the shots use the same temperature water, the same amount of pressure, same grind size and consistency of coffee—with one notable difference.
It uses just a little less water.
Some do half the water and others ¾ the water of a normal shot. This one difference is probably the biggest.
Flat White vs Latte: A Quick Side-By-Side Comparison
|Classic Milk Type||Whole||2%|
|Milk Steaming||Dense Microfoam||Fluffier Foam|
|Espresso Water Volume||.5-.75 oz||1 oz|
As you can see, the distinctions between latte vs flat white are minor, but there are enough of them that we can tell that it is intentional. And those minor changes, when taken together, do make a difference.
Not everyone will be able to tell flat white vs latte apart (or care to do so), but if you’re someone who wants to grow a deeper appreciation of coffee, there are worse places to start. There is a lot to appreciate in both espresso-based drinks!
What’s the Difference Between Steaming and Frothing Milk?
You may have heard about frothing milk. Since the milk’s texture is an important characteristic of Flat Whites especially, you’ll want to pay attention to it if you’re making your own coffee at home.
Steaming milk is the process of injecting steam into milk to heat and aerate it. This creates the best foam for use in lattes and cappuccinos.
On the other hand, frothing milk involves using a tool to whisk the milk to create the foam. Frothed foam tends to be billowier with less microfoam.
So, there is a difference and one you should expect from cafes using professional equipment. But, if you are young in your home-brewing journey, steaming vs frothing isn’t something to get discouraged over.
Yes, most people prefer steamed milk, but frothed milk is in the ballpark and respectable if that’s where you’re at.
You can focus on the type of milk and nailing the lower-volume espresso shot as you try your hand at homemade Flat Whites. When you’re ready, we have a full in-depth guide on steamed vs frothed milk that’ll teach you more.
TL;DR – Flat White vs Latte
While the differences between Flat White and Latte may seem minor, they make big impacts on the drinks’ identities. The core ingredients are the same, but Flat White calls for richer, microfoamed milk, and more concentrated espresso shots compared to Latte’s fluffier foam and steamed milk.
While not everyone may be able to tell the difference between these two espresso-based drinks if not in a coffee shop, you certainly can now!
If you’re interested in how the Flat White stacks up against the almighty Cappuccino, this article should be next on your reading list.