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The rise and rise of the Flat White Coffee…

What is a Flat White Coffee?

With the growth of espresso coffee culture around the world various regions have developed their own take on milky specialities like Cappuccino. In the UK we have taken an American influence on Italian recipes and serve latte (a glass of milk in Italy), whilst in the Antipodes the Flat White has developed.

Some would say that a Flat White is very similar to a latte, but this is misleading – whilst there are differences in the proportion of coffee to milk in Cappuccinos and lattes, the key difference in the Flat White is the milk texture.

As coffee distributors we are well aware of the importance of the dairy element – in fact the dairy industry probably benefits more per cup of milky coffee sold than the coffee distributor – not to mention the myriad people involved in getting the espresso from farm to cup.

Espresso is a constant ingredient for all milky coffee drinks – single or double shots are available in latte and flat white – don’t worry about the purists who proclaim that a single shot flat white really isn’t a Flat White, there are many cafes in the heartland of the Flat White that offer this, so like everything in coffee it is subjective and down to personal choice.

Some Baristas will make the espresso into a ristretto for a flat white – the reduced amount of water through the same amount of coffee increases the ‘power’ in the shot – again this is a personal choice. The more important consideration is the freshness of the shot as the crema should be freshly poured to maintain its flavour and mix well with milk…

Don’t be fooled, size doesn’t matter - Flat whites in the UK tend to be served in a smaller cup, but the size of the cup doesn’t explain the difference – you could put a latte in a smaller cup, but it still wouldn’t be a flat white!
When your customer drinks any milky speciality the key to their experience is in getting the milk texture right…

For a Cappuccino, the milk should consist of stiff froth on top of heated milk – if spooned, the stiff froth will push the coffee crema to the outside lip of the cup and your customers’ first taste will be of coffee and milk, not just milk. The acid test for stiff froth is to pick it up with a spoon and turn it upside down – it should stay on the spoon.

Stiff foam is achieved by stretching the milk - place the nozzle of the steam arm just below the surface of the milk in the frothing jug (never filled more than half full), be careful not to blow air on to the milk but into it – as it stretches you will lose the sound you hear in cafes the world over, simply pull your frothing jug down the steam arm to rediscover the sound – at first it will stretch slowly and then latterly more quickly – remember, your milk should be fresh to maximise the protein content – when you have achieved the volume you need to plunge your steam wand to the bottom of the jug to heat it to the desired temperature.

Be careful not to burn the milk – as with placing milk on a stove to boil this will certainly give you bubbles and froth when it overheats – but it will taste burnt and mask any coffee flavour from your espresso.

For a Latte, the milk is heated with a thin layer of foam – the steam wand is placed at the bottom of the frothing jug to heat the milk and then a small amount of foam added as if you were trying to stretch it at the end of the heating time - the thinner texture of the milk feels more like a coffee infused milky drink in the mouth than a coffee per se. If you really want to taste the coffee, request a double shot.

For a Flat White, the milk needs to be silky smooth with very small bubbles or ‘micro foam’ – a small amount of foam is added at the beginning and then this is swirled with the rest of the milk by placing the steam nozzle in the middle of the milk to create very small bubbles and less separation between foamed and steamed milk - before pouring, the milk needs to be swirled to fold the foam back into the liquid – the milk will then pour as a mixture of foam and milk in one pour – the speed of the pour will combine the coffee crema with the silky milk – this drink should have a really full mouthfeel and will go down easy…

Silky milk is the basis for latte art too, so there is a crossover, hence the development of the Flat White in the first place – think of it like the flour tortilla – fold it one way and it’s an enchilada, fold it another way and it’s a burrito - the same is true of the proportions of coffee and milk, the ingredients are the same but just used in a different way!!

Interestingly, top-end Baristas tend to make their milky drinks all the same - they are so adept at producing ‘micro foam’ that they fail to differentiate for the cappuccino! Less adept Baristas will also make all of their drinks the same way, but will often fail to notice…

Either way, be prepared to use a lot of milk to get the right consistency in your milk – only when you have mastered the silky ’micro foam’ required should you actually offer a Flat White – many places now have the Flat White on their menus, but this just adds to the confusion as not all outlets advertising it can actually make it - a simple test is to see if they manually steam their milk – if they do, you’ve got a fighting chance of getting what you ask for! Good luck…

Note: this is an ongoing debate and I am sure there will be opinions that differ from mine – please get in touch, I will be glad to hear from you…

 

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