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…

6 thoughts on “Will That Be A Latte Or A Flat White?

Add yours

  1. Hi Andai,

    What other cafes did you get to visit in Wellington?
    Mojo, Supreme Coffee, Ripe, Havana Coffee Co. (Fidel’s and Ernesto’s) are some of the leaders and have several locations.
    The differences bw a Flat White and Latte is:
    1) Size. FW is 5oz/150ml cup Lattes much larger which makes for a higher ratio of espresso to milk
    2) Microfoam is flatter and more velvety in texture than is typically the case with a latte.

    What were you doing so far down near the bottom of the earth?

    1. So far I have been to Ernesto’s, Mojo (a few of them), Esquire, Clarks’s (at the lib), Enigma, Cafe Victoria, the two at Te Papa, Cafe 95, Joe’s Garage, Laffare, Fuel,… and in a couple of hours I will be at Fidel’s I have a back log of posts that will be coming online shortly….

      Thanks for clearing up the latte/flat white distinction. I am getting a few people now who are coming to a consensus on the difference.

      Are you also big into coffee?

  2. Yeah in a big way,

    Originally from Wellington, Aotearoa now in New York City. I roast a bit and have an little brewing setup in my apartment. You’re from Seattle? Love the blog, it heightens my interest in visiting Seattle to check out the coffee there. Very high on the list.

    You’ll find a lot of variation in how the FW is served even in Wellington alone. Places like Esquires (I’m assuming here) will probably do it in a larger cup whereas the places I mentioned (and the other more conscientious cafes) will do a double ristretto in a 150ml tulip.

    Google Petone, they have a nice little coffee culture of their own. Can’t speak to the coffee as it’s been a while. You should also visit Ripe in Moera. Take a tour of the new Mojo roastery that just opened up near the train station. Also check out Supreme Coffee’s new single origin bar at 39 Ghuznee St (bw Cuba and Eva) One of the only places that I know that seem to be trying to change perceptions in NZ. They have a Clover, drip is traditionally frowned upon and not offered.
    Happy drinking.

  3. I can see that you are an expert at your field! I am launching a website soon, and your informationNike Dunk SB will be very useful for me.. Thanks for all your help and wishing you all the success in your business.

  4. It is usually considered quite bad to use a spoon when pouring milk. The spoon contracts a lot of bacteria over the day. Most people do this because they are unaware of how to froth the milk correctly for each kind of coffee. They just froth it one way and use the spoon to adjust. If taught correctly you should be able to froth the milk and pour it directly into the cup without tampering to achieve the correct milk style for the coffee. Just another little tid bit for you.

  5. A few decent coffee shops in London are making Flat Whites: Nude, Espresso Room, , Flat White(!!) and Dose. And I’m sure Gwilym and his coffee cart, Climpsons, Kaffeine and Taste of Bitter Love also make them – and make them well.

    They can now also be found in places like Starbucks and Costa in London. However, they’re no comparison to a trained barista making the real thing.

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