What is a Flat White: Coffee Drink Definition


Besides lattes and cappuccinos, the flat white is one of the most commonly ordered coffee drinks.

This caffeinated beverage was invented in Australia in the mid-1980s, and by the mid-1990s and early 2000s it was adopted by most coffee shops around the world.

Nowadays, with all these confusingly diverse coffee shop menus, you may not really know what a flat white actually is.

In this guide, you will find a simple definition that will shed some light on what this beverage is all about and how it compares to a latte, cappuccino, or a cortado.

Furthermore, I’ll go over some of its popular variations, such as Starbucks’ Honey Almondmilk and Blonde flat whites.

So let’s dive in!

Related Coffee Drink Guide: What is a Mocha?

What is exactly is a Flat White: Definition

A traditional flat white is made with the same ingredients as those of lattes, macchiatos, cappuccinos, and cortados – whole milk and espresso.

Nevertheless, after having a quick look at the beverage’s definition, it will become clear to you what sets it apart from the rest.

So here’s exactly what a flat white is:

A flat white is an espresso-based coffee drink, made with a double espresso or ristretto shot and steamed milk.

It is served in a 5 fl. oz. to 7 fl. oz. (150 to 200 milliliters) cup and it has a thin foam layer of around 0.2 in (0.5 cm).

It’s usually topped off with latte art.

In terms of caffeine, a flat white is stronger than a cappuccino and a latte, since it’s made with a double shot.

To make things even easier, one may say that a flat white is a cappuccino that has less foam and a more intense coffee flavor.

The Invention of Flat White Coffee:

In the mid-1980s and 1990s cappuccinos outside Italy were often prepared with too much dry milk foam that would rise from the cup.

Many coffee lovers didn’t seem to enjoy how the drink was served – they found it too airy.

Furthermore, the dry foam doesn’t mellow down and complement the espresso flavor the way textured milk (i.e. silky and smooth steamed and foamed milk) does. But back then frothing techniques and milk texture weren’t really a thing.

That’s why consumers started ordering a cappuccino with less to no foam that has a flat surface.

People were calling this drink “flat white” and it quickly became a popular order in many cafes in Australia.

Flat White vs. Cortado

You may also be interested in finding out how a flat white compares to the cortado – another espresso-based coffee drink, but this time – with Spanish roots.

A cortado is made with a double espresso shot, and it’s diluted with just as much steamed milk.

Compared to a flat white, a cortado has less milk, as it’s served in a small 4 fl. oz. to 4.5 fl. oz. (120 to 133 milliliters) glass (usually “gibraltar” glass).

It’s often topped off with latte art and has a really thin foam layer.

To make things even clearer, we can describe the cortado as a “small flat white”.

Both drinks carry the same caffeine strength, but the former has a more pronounced coffee flavor as the espresso is diluted with a smaller amount of milk.

The Flat White at Starbucks: Description

At Starbucks you can get a traditional flat white, made with two or three ristretto shots (depending on the serving size you choose).

Short (8 fl. oz.) and tall (12 fl. oz.) servings contain 2 shots of ristretto, while the grande (16 fl. oz.) and venti (20 fl. oz.) servings – three.

A regular flat white at Starbucks is made with their signature espresso blend – darkly roasted coffee beans that result in a more bold and intense coffee flavor.

The Blonde flat white is made with coffee beans that have a lighter roast profile. They result in a more complex espresso flavor with pleasant acidity and citrus notes.

Another popular Starbucks beverage is the Honey Almondmilk flat white. It’s made with their sweet honey syrup (Honey Blend) and almond instead of regular milk.

What’s also worth noting is that at Starbucks you can order an iced flat white. It comes in three serving sizes:

  • Tall (12 fl. oz.) – has 2 ristretto shots;
  • Grande (16 fl. oz.) – has 3 ristretto shots;
  • Venti (24 fl. oz.) – has 4 ristretto shots.

Iced flat whites and iced lattes at Starbucks are two pretty similar drinks.

Nevertheless, a tall iced latte contains 1 espresso shot, while a tall flat white – 2 ristretto shots. Therefore, the latter is slightly more caffeinated.

Should you order one?

Now that you know what a flat white is, you can tell whether it matches your needs and flavor preferences.

It’s perfect for you if you want an espresso drink with steamed milk, that carries an extra caffeine kick and a more intense coffee flavor compared to a latte and a cappuccino.

A flat white is also ideal if the espresso shot is made with specialty beans.

It will let you better sense the intrinsic flavor profile of the high-quality coffee beans you’re paying for.

You can always go for a cortado if you want a smaller beverage that has an even stronger espresso flavor.

I hope that I managed to answer all of your flat white-related questions.

Leave me a comment below to let me know whether there’s anything else you’d like to know.

Leave a Comment