As a barista, I make many a flat white. The distinguishing factor for me is always how long to aerate the milk with the steam wand.
My mantra: Give flat whites half the aeration of a latte. You are looking to create the perfect foam consistency.
But let’s back up a second: What is a flat white exactly?
Well, flat whites are akin to the latte, cappuccino, and even cortado. But they’re an experience all their own and definitely merit a deep dive.
That’s why in this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about flat whites, including what they are, where they came from, and how you can make them. I’ll even walk you through my favorite way to make a flat white step by step—so pour a cup, and get ready to read.
What Is a Flat White Coffee?
The flat white is an espresso-based drink that contains steamed milk. For those who value the flavor of espresso, the flat white is a perfect option. Because it is smaller than other milk-based beverages, there is a larger coffee-to-milk ratio, which enhances the espresso’s sharp flavor.
The real differences—and what makes a flat white a flat white—are:
- The size
Flat whites are generally 5-6 oz. This is half the size of many lattes, so the drink’s espresso concentration is much more pronounced.
Less frothy than a traditional cappuccino, the flat white’s other differentiating factor is microfoam.
You create microfoam by using a steam wand to add air to milk before steaming it to 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit. Incorporating air bubbles into the milk creates a velvety texture that sets flat whites apart.
The milk fat’s interaction with steam creates tiny bubbles that rest on top of the milk’s surface. Behind the bar, our rule of thumb is the finer the bubbles, the creamier the foam.
For a flat white, you want to create foam with the finest, most microscopic bubbles you can.
Fun fact: Microfoam is also an essential ingredient to creating “latte” art (and I put it in quotes because it works with the flat white, too!).
Flat White Origin: Where Does It Come From?
I like to think of the Flat White as the lovechild of a cappuccino and a latte when it comes to taste and texture. That’s what it’s renowned for—the harmony of the espresso and steamed milk, and the lack of froth on the top.
But that’s certainly not its factual origin. 😉
The flat white originated in Australia and New Zealand in the 1980s, where it fast became a popular choice among coffee drinkers.
The thing is, there’s quite a bit of debate in the coffee world about whether the drink came from Australia or New Zealand first.
Some attribute the drink to a Wellington, New Zealand barista named Fraser McInnes. It’s said he named it the flat white after a cappuccino he was making in 1989 that didn’t foam as expected.
But the Aussie camp officially laid claim to the flat white’s origin, sparking controversy.
Australians credit a Sydney barista by the name of Alan Preston with inventing the drink first in 1985. There’s even a website dedicated to the story as it’s known down under!
What Makes It a Flat White?
The name “flat white” comes from the appearance of the drink, which has a flat and smooth surface due to the microfoam in the milk. Said another way, flat white lovers aren’t looking for an intense foamy greeting. 😂
If you believe the kiwi version, McInnes goofed on a cappuccino and called it a flat white in apology, meaning not enough foam.
If you consider Preston’s story, he coined “Flat White” as a shorter version of what was going around North Queensland cafes at the time: “White Coffee – Flat”.
Flat White Recipe: How to Make the Perfect Flat White
If you’re a fan of the flat white, you may be wondering how you can make one at home. Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need and I’ll show you how I do it at the cafe I work at in Bucharest, right off the menu!
Tools and Ingredients
Before you learn how to make flat white at home, you’ll need the following tools:
- An espresso machine
- Frother or steamer
- Milk steaming pitcher
- Thermometer for steamed milk
- A 6-oz ceramic cup
- Fresh coffee beans
- A coffee grinder
- Milk (Whole milk’s high-fat content yields the best texture and flavor)
Step 1: Prep
- Grind your beans. If you already have finely-ground coffee, you can skip this step. If you don’t, you’ll need to grind your whole espresso beans to about 16 grams.
- Pour 5 ounces of cold milk into your milk jug and set aside.
- Rinse your cup with hot water to help prevent cold ceramic from shocking the espresso.
- Your espresso maker should be turned on and given time to warm up.
Step 2: Pull the Espresso
Put your cup under the espresso machine’s filter head. Pull your double-shot so it drips right into your pre-warmed cup. To extract the correct amount of espresso, aim for a continuous flow that lasts 20 to 30 seconds.
Step 3: Microfoam the Milk
Now I’ll teach you how to make milk for flat white: Pour cold milk into a milk jug until it is about one-third full, then steam it. Insert the steam wand into the milk slightly below the surface after purging the device to get rid of any remaining water.
Aeration is important here. So, allow the wand to aerate the milk for a few seconds at the beginning of the steaming process. To produce a vortex and incorporate air into the milk, turn on the steam wand and slowly drop the jug. Steam the milk continuously until it doubles in size.
Step 4: Pour the Milk
Remove the steam wand from the jug once the milk has been steamed. To get rid of any huge bubbles, gently tap the milk jug on the counter. Pour the steamed milk into your cup in a steady stream. You want it to create a nice, even layer on top of the espresso.
Step 4: Serve and Enjoy
To combine the milk and get rid of any last bubbles, gently swirl the milk jug. Controlled and consistent pouring of the steamed milk into the espresso is required.
If you want to practice how to do flat white art, start by pouring gently and then quickly. A smooth and cohesive beverage should be created by blending the milk and espresso. Take a sip and enjoy your flat white’s smooth, rich flavor.
My 5 Tips for Making a Delicious Flat White
- Use an espresso machine if you want to master how to make a proper flat white. A good machine will produce more evenly extracted espresso, with a lovely crema on top.
- Use fresh milk. Whole milk is the best choice for making a flat white, as it has the highest fat content.
- Don’t overpour the milk before steaming. Because it’ll be harder to control your foam, try measuring out your milk in the cup you’ll drink your flat white in first. Then pour it into your frothing steam jug and continue prepping.
- Count when aerating your milk. This is something that helped me make be consistent when I was training how to make microfoam for flat white. When first foaming the milk and adding air with the wand, count: “1, 2, 3”, before plunging the wand into the milk to finish heating it. Counting helps you dial in exactly how long to aerate the milk for your flat whites going forward.
- Practice your pouring technique. Pouring is an art—quite literally! Experiment with how you pour to create flat white or even latte art, like hearts or leaves. After all, what is learning how to do flat white coffee without a bit of fun?
Variations of the Flat White
By now you know you can make a classic flat white with espresso and steamed milk. But there are several variations that you can try, too:
Flat White with Flavored Syrup: Try adding a shot of flavored syrup to your flat white for a sweeter and more aromatic drink. Popular flavors include vanilla, caramel, and hazelnut.
Flat White with Cold Milk: If you prefer a colder drink, you can make a flat white with cold foamed milk. Pull your espresso over ice and add a cold foam. Note: To make cold foam, you’ll need a separate milk frother.
Flat White with Almond Milk: Almond milk is a popular alternative to cow’s milk. You can substitute it to make a flat white.
If you’re going plant-based, spring for the Barista’s version of plant-based kinds of milk because these foam easier. The result is a creamy and nutty drink that is perfect for those who are lactose intolerant or vegan.
So: What is a flat white? The flat white is a 5-6 oz. double espresso combined with steamed microfoam milk. If you want, you can make it with a single shot, but that’ll throw off the classic ratios and experience.
Originally hailing from New Zealand and Australia, the flat white is a delicious and beloved espresso drink. And for good reasons: It combines the best of milk coffee drinks with the luxurious mouthfeel of microfoam.
Because of its simplicity, balance, and focus on the caliber of the espresso and milk, the flat white has become a standard at specialty coffee shops like mine. Today, the bewitching drink is practically a lifestyle!
What differentiates the flat white from others is precisely the steaming technique and ratios you’ll want to nail down when making it at home.
Making it isn’t hard if you have the right equipment, but you will need to practice and hone your technique in order to really learn it (so bookmark this page!)
What is a Flat White? – FAQs
What is a flat white compared to a macchiato?
Remember: “Macchiato” means “to mark” in Italian, so this drink has far less milk than the flat white and half the espresso, too.
How to make a flat white coffee at home without a machine?
Heat up the milk on the stove or in the microwave and use a frothing wand or a whisk to create microfoam. Then, pour the steamed milk over the espresso as in the instructions above.
What is a flat white vs cappuccino?
The foam’s consistency is also very different. Rather than silky microfoam, cappuccinos’ stiff foam peaks define the drink.
Baristas sometimes refer to this style of milk foam as “macrofoam”. It has more air bubbles and almost a defined structure that stands up on top of the milk.
How is a flat white different from a latte?
In a latte, you froth the milk to create a thick layer of foam on top. In a flat white, you steam the milk to create a thin layer of microfoam.
Also when deciding what is a flat white vs latte, the latter will be milkier and have a fluffier foam texture on top, while a flat white will have a more robust espresso flavor and a creamier texture.
This is because the microfoam permeates the drink’s whole body as you sip it, making the entire flat white richer.
Are flat whites stronger than lattes?
It all comes down to how much espresso is in the drink and how much water is used when the espresso is extracted.
What is the American equivalent of a flat white?
How do you make a decaf flat white?
How strong is a flat white?
Is a flat white stronger than coffee?
How many flat white calories per serving?
What’s flat white vs white coffee?
What’s flat white vs cortado?
A flat white is made with a double shot of espresso and a smaller amount of steamed milk, creating a stronger and more intense flavor. In contrast, a cortado is made with equal parts espresso and warm milk, resulting in a balanced and milder taste.