Mugshot: Just what is a flat white?

A flat white - a single espresso shot topped up with stretched milk.
A flat white - a single espresso shot topped up with stretched milk. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Australians and New Zealanders both claim the flat white as their own. What it is depends a bit on who makes it and what they serve it in. But it is, more or less, a single espresso shot topped up with stretched milk.

The most obvious difference between a flat white and a latte is that a flat white is served in a cup, and a latte in a glass.

(True story: a friend of mine - a young Prahran arty type then - visited Adelaide in the 1980s. He went into a cafe and asked for a latte - in a glass. They brought him one of those big old-fashioned milkshake flutes. Adelaide has changed.) But what do they teach baristas at barista school?

Andy Easthope is in charge of barista training for Five Senses. He says the main thing in making a flat white is to stretch the milk less than for a latte or a cappuccino.

''Flat white drinkers are looking for creaminess and a good balance of coffee and milk flavours - stretching the milk a bit less makes it feel creamier,'' he says. That desire for a more balanced flavour is why we are seeing flat whites served in smaller cups: less milk equals more coffee flavour.

A flat white also has less foam than a latte - about half a centimetre: just enough to get that creamy mouthfeel when you lift the cup to your lips. ''And the foam should be smooth and glossy,'' Easthope says.

The reason a flat white tastes different in Britain, says Amy Malone, from Melbourne's Auction Rooms, is because baristas there use a double shot. Malone worked at Kilimanjaro Coffee in Edinburgh before she came to Melbourne just over a year ago.

''We also tend to serve it a bit cooler to balance the double shot,'' says fellow Auction Rooms barista Michael Sinclair, who worked in Liverpool before he arrived in Australia last September.

How about, er, Spain? ''I haven't been in ages,'' says Sinclair. ''Though you can get a flat white in Paris - at Telescope.''

Commenting by email, Irish barista champion Colin Harmon, from 3FE Coffee in Dublin, says, ''Even during my time in Australia I saw flat whites being prepared and served in a multitude of ways. The variance increases the further you go from Oz and New Zealand.

''At 3FE we sell coffees as espresso with steamed milk, so we've abandoned the whole idea of naming milk drinks. We only really do one size, and you can call it what you like once you pay for it. In saying that, I would use a double shot, a quarter to half a centimetre foam depth, in a five-ounce cup if you put a bullet to my head.''