Flat White has been appearing in our coffee shops over the last couple of years and seems to be growing in popularity. So what is it exactly?
It’s an espresso-based drink from Australia (but perfected in New Zealand), currently spreading around the world and becoming particularly popular in the US. This is surprising as many Americans are used to Starbucks-style coffee which can taste harsh to the European and Australian palate, but it seems the Americans are coming round!
There are several things about the flat white that are in sharp contrast to Starbucks coffee. First is the rich and velvety texture of the flat white, and the second being the size of the serving, typically a 5.5fl.oz cup rather than the 20oz monsters served in some outlets. However, they say sometimes it’s quality that is more important that quantity, and this is a perfect example. The massive ‘venti’ drinks can be like drinking a pint of hot coffee-flavoured milk (this is exactly what it is after all), whereas the flat white is a far more subtle balance of smooth milk and coffee blended together.
So how do I make a flat white?
You’ll need the following ingredients. Please beware of substituting any of these or skipping parts that you don’t think are important – the flat white is a subtle drink and needs to be made properly to avoid it tasting just like any other coffee.
Use good quality fresh coffee beans, not roasted too dark (unless you have a strong preference otherwise). Something like a Lavazza Super Crema or an equivalent Illy / Segafredo will be just right. Avoid using cheap beans or anything that has been sitting around for a while, it will ruin the finished drink.
Grind the coffee beans to espresso grind just before making your flat white.
Heat a 165ml ceramic coffee cup – this doesn’t have to be exact but refrain from using anything that’s very much bigger or smaller if at all possible.
Make a double shot of espresso, avoiding over extraction which wil result in a more bitter flavour. If you’re using a traditional espresso machine, make your espresso on the strong side. If you’re using a capsule or pod machine such as a Lavazza Modo Mio, then limit the amount of water dispensed slightly more than you normally would.
Whole milk. Please don’t use semi skimmed or skimmed milk, it simply won’t work! If you’re on a diet, then avoid flat whites and stick with a skinny cappuccino.
Milk. This part is arguably the most important and is what differentiates a flat white from other milky coffees. The perfect milk for a flat white should not have any of the dry foam on top of it that is typical for making a caffe latte or cappuccino. The term used for what you do to the milk is “stretching”. This is achieved by keeping the tip of the steaming wand slightly lower into the milk than usual so as not to break the surface of the milk at all. Your aim is not to introduce air into the milk. The heating of the milk and circulation of the milk in the frothing jug will result in the milk becoming stretched. The volume should more than double in size and the milk should appear somewhat glassy and shiny when done. The milk should be heated to approximately 60� C / 140� F.
If you are using a coffee machine at home that doesn’t foam milk, don’t worry. An alternative is to use a hand-held electric milk frother, though the same principle still applies – make sure you don’t break the surface of the milk, and if necessary fold the milk at the end.
If you’ve got it right first time, your milk will have no dry foam on the top. Once you’ve got your milk ready, pull your espresso. Just before pouring the milk, bang the bottom of the milk jug onto a towel or cloth on your work surface to break any large air bubbles in the milk, and swirl the jug round a couple of times. Gently and carefully pour the milk into the espresso so that the crema from the coffee sits on top of the milk.
If you’ve done this and ended up with silky milk in your cup with a crema on top, then congratulations, you’ve just made a flat white! Like most things, practice makes perfect so the more you make this, the more you will refine your technique. It won’t be long before you’re making them without thinking about it, and then you can start getting clever with latte art if you want to really show off!
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