Reversing the usual direction of cultural exchange, Starbucks introduced the Flat White coffee in US outlets. This Australian (we claim) invention had already made it to London and New York. But in 2015 the Flat White at Starbucks was promoted as: “The perfect balance between rich ristretto shots and creamy, steamed milk with our new Flat White espresso drink”.
According to the Starbucks menu, their offering was “Expertly steamed milk poured over ristretto shots of espresso and finished with a Starbucks signature dot”.
A former café proprietor, Alan Preston, has laid claim to inventing the term “flat white”. He attributes the actual style of coffee to Italian cafés in North Queensland, where it was described on the menu as “white coffee – flat” as distinct from cappuccino. Preston says he was the first to use the wording “flat white” on a menu in his Moors Espresso Bar in Sydney’s Chinatown in 1985.
The flat white is Australia’s most frequently ordered coffee. However, in parallel with the pavlova, it is also claimed by the Kiwis. Michael Symons, in his article “Spilling the Beans,” contends that the flat white was indeed invented in Australia, but was perfected in New Zealand. Not just in New Zealand, but in the capital, Wellington. He sees the “Wellington Flat White” as the pinnacle of coffee drinking. This particular article was written for a New Zealand website (not that we’d doubt the probity of such a food pundit).
Symons cites at least three New York coffee shops serving flat whites back in 2012 and also mentions the Australian-funded Flat White cafe in London. At least one visiting American has used his own blog to enthuse about our favourite coffee. Writer and coffee enthusiast Chuck Wendig visited Brisbane for a writers’ festival in 2013 and reported thus:
Brisbane seemed nice enough, I guess?
Then I had a flat white.
The flat white is kind of a nuanced latte — espresso, yes, but less milk, definitely less foam, all of it kind of incorporated together in a very perfect way, and it fast became my favorite coffee drink that you don’t really get in many other places (definitely not here).
So now Chuck can indulge his enthusiasm at his local Starbucks. But is it the same?