Will That Be A Latte Or A Flat White?

There is one item you will find on every espresso menu here in New Zealand that you will not find anywhere else except Australia (at least as far as I know). This is the espresso drink known as a Flat White… which is the drink that I have been ordering since I came to the country. So then you ask, what the heck is a flat white

This is the question that I have been asking and it seems that almost everyone has a slightly different take on exactly what a flat white actually is. When I first came to this country, I order my flat white at Auckland International Airport. The reason I ordered a flat white and not a latte is because a friend of mine who visits this country on a regular basis told me that is what they call lattes here. Of course I was surprised to see lattes on the menu too so naturally I had to ask the barista what a flat white was?

According to this particular barista, a flat white was espresso shots with steamed frothy milk. OK I thought, that sounds like a latte to me so I then asked her what a latte was? Oh she said, its lots of steamed frothy milk and espresso. OK then I thought, that sounds like a latte to me so I then asked her, what was the difference between a flat white and a latte? Well she said, a latte has less coffee and a lot more froth, less milk..OK then I thought, now that sounds like a cappuccino… which was also a menu item. So I then asked her, what is the difference between a latte and a cappuccino? Oh she said, a cappuccino has cocoa powder sprinkled on it. At this point I decided to stop asking questions, get my flat white and get out of there … oh and by the way, the flat white she made was pretty good actually…

Still not quite sure of the difference I decided to give it another try and talked to one of the baristas at one of the Fuel Espresso stands. He seemed knowledgeable. What he told me was that a latte was more frothier than a flat white and a flat white usually had more espresso. Maybe this is what the other barista was trying to say in a slightly less elegant way… but I still wasn’t clear on the differen

The barista who actually helped me understand the full story was Mui of Clarks Cafe at the Wellington City Library. The do really great espresso at Clark’s and the baristas there are pretty cool, so I decided to ask them. Rather than just telling me the difference Mui pulled me over and actually showed me the difference. He explained before he started that lattes were creamier while flat whites were, ‘flat’. Oh , I guess that means that lattes use whole milk while flat whites use skim (trim) or low fat milk? Not quite he explained as he placed two small espresso cups on the counter. You use the same milk for both, but the difference is in the part of the milk you use after steaming the milk.

“Imagine these cups have espresso shots in them.” he said I will start with a latte. After steaming and frothing the milk he simply poured the frothed milk into the cup. He then took the second cup and this time using a metal spoon he scooped back the froth from the milk, then holding back the rest of the forth with the spoon, he proceeded to pour the milk underneath into the cup. He finished up by pouring a little of the froth on the top. That was the flat white.

Finally with the two cups next to each other he then continued to explain that if you were to try scoop or skim back the frothy milk from the top of the latte you would not really see the milk underneath since the whole milk would be more frothy or airy. He then demonstrated the exact same maneuver on the flat white and you could clearly see the milk underneath the froth. As he explained, the flat white was more ‘flat’ than the latte. That right there was the difference between the flat white and the latte.

If you were to compare what Mui did with the typical coffee shop in Seattle (or in the US) you will see that in the US, what we call lattes are what the Kiwis call flat whites. Often many baristas in the indie coffee shops in the US will after frothing the milk, bang the metal pitcher on the counter three to five times to remove some of the air. Many will also use the spoon to hold back the froth as they pure the milk then add the froth to the top. In other words, they tend to make flat whites.

Well there you have it…

New Zealand Coffee Culture, My First Impressions…

This post has been a long time coming. For a while now, I have been looking forward to checking out the coffee culture in New Zealand. Part of the reason for this is because word on the street is that espresso is huge deal here. But little did I know what I was in for! I sit here writing this post in a small café called Enigma enjoying some of the best espresso I have ever tasted. Yesterday I was at a café called Ernesto right on Cuba St in the Cuba district of Wellington. The coffee there was also pretty amazing! In fact their coffee is from a local roasting company called Havana Coffee Works. I first read about the owners of this company a few months ago in Idealog and about how Havana Coffee Works came to be. I will be writing more about Havana Coffee Works in a later post. But my main point here is that I have been enjoying some great coffee here in Wellington and also in Auckland.

Though I had heard that Wellington, New Zealand had quite a bit of a coffee culture, little did I know how seriously Wellingtonians and Aucklanders take their coffee? Just about everywhere you go, the coffee shops, the cafes, the bakeries, the restaurants all seem to do a pretty amazing job with coffee. There are also quite a few espresso stands, espresso carts and trailers (kind of like the Skillet for those of you from Seattle). It is interesting for me to note that many folk here will order espresso drinks to do with their meals rather than just scones or other sweets as I am more used to. And since just about every café here serves hand pulled espresso drinks, I would venture to say that Wellington probably has way more espresso serving places per capita than Seattle… but this is just my own unscientific observation. But even at both the Auckland and Wellington airports, I counted more than six coffee shop/cafes at each airport…. and this was not after exploring the whole airport, but just checking out the in the sections I happened to be in.

A short while ago, friend of mine from Seattle, who flies in and out of New Zealand on business pretty regularly, recently told me something interesting about the coffee in New Zealand. He said, and I quote,” I have never had bad coffee in New Zealand.” As we continued to chat, when he was basically saying and I paraphrase is that you can’t get bad coffee in New Zealand. Yes I know this is hyperbole so please don’t write to me pointing out the fact that this is probably a false statement. But one thing I have to admit though that in the few days that I have been here I have yet to have one bad espresso drink. Even at the Auckland airport, where I first drink my first official New Zealand coffee, my latte or as they call it here, flat white, was pretty good actually (by the way, they do have flat whites and café lattes and I am still trying to figure out the difference between the two). I say this remembering the awful, awful latte I ordered from the Seattle’s Best Coffee stand at SeaTac airport this past August when I was about to catch my flight to Amsterdam. Now I know someone is going to get offended and write to tell me that they have had bad coffee in New Zealand, and that may be the case. I can also tell you that if I do find a place here with bad coffee, I will certainly do the write-up. And there are tons of places here to try out and review, which I will… with the places I have check out already, so far, so good…

So if coffee is so big in New Zealand, then how is it that you really don’t hear about it much as you would with Seattle coffee or even European coffee like in Italy? From the little I have been reading about New Zealand culture in magazines like Idealog is that New Zealanders (or Kiwis) are not really known for promoting themselves. They tend to be more laid back and not as aggressive about promoting themselves as you find American or even European businesses. But this I feel will probably change in the near future as some in New Zealand realize that in the global economy, self branding and promotion is essential… and I suspect this will eventually trickle down to the coffee industry and culture…

Anyway these are my first impressions in a country of in which I have been present for less than a week and will be here for a few years to come… and so I will certainly be doing a lot of sampling and exploring of the coffee scene here in New Zealand and especially in Wellington.

In the meantime you may be wondering what the Ground Offerings blog is going to be doing about posting articles on Seattle coffee culture? That will continue to happen via our Seattle based bloggers. In addition, we will be posting regularly on coffee culture around the world. If you are interested in coffee and would like to write for Ground Offerings, please let us know via the Contact Us link above.

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