flat white sitting on table

What is a Flat White? And How Do You Make One?

A flat white is a popular coffee beverage characterized by smooth microfoam and rich, flavorful ristretto espresso. In this guide, we’ll explore the characteristics that make a flat white special and share the techniques for making a perfect flat white at home.

In the ever-evolving world of coffee, the flat white stands as a testament to simplicity and sophistication. Hailing from the bustling third-wave cafes of Australia and New Zealand, this espresso-based beverage has swiftly captured the hearts of coffee connoisseurs around the globe. But what sets a flat white apart from the myriad of coffee choices? In this guide, we’ll explore the characteristics that make a flat white special and share the techniques for making a perfect flat white at home. 

What is a Flat White?

A flat white is a popular coffee beverage characterized by smooth microfoam and rich, flavorful ristretto espresso. Flat whites are well-loved because of the velvety texture, balanced ratio of coffee to milk, and the absence of thick, dry foam that you might find on other espresso-based drinks like a cappuccino. A flat white is typically no more than 5-6 ounces so that the strong espresso flavor has a chance to shine.

The key distinction between a flat white and other espresso-based drinks like a latte or cappuccino is the texture of the milk and the balance between coffee and milk. In a latte, you typically have more steamed milk and a thin layer of foam, while a cappuccino has equal parts of espresso, steamed milk, and foam. In contrast, a flat white aims for a smoother, velvety texture with minimal foam, allowing the espresso's flavor to shine through.

The Origin of the Flat White

There’s actually quite a bit of debate as to where the flat white originated. Baristas in both New Zealand and Australia claim the beverage, though most sources assert that Melbourne cafes were serving flat whites as early as the 1980s. Flat whites evolved in Australia likely due to the strong Italian influence from the 1950s. Italian expatriates helped begin the rise of the strong coffee culture that permeates Melbourne and other Australian cities today.

What You Need to Make a Flat White at Home

Want to enjoy a flat white from the comfort of your home? Grab the following ingredients and equipment.

Flat White Ingredients

A flat white requires very few ingredients to make. All you need are the following ingredients:

Since the recipe for a flat white is very simple, it’s important to always use high-quality milk and coffee to ensure you create a delicious beverage. The type of water you use can also have an effect on the taste of your flat white.

Flat White Equipment

You’ll need the following equipment when making a flat white at home.

  • Coffee grinder
  • Espresso machine OR alternative espresso brewing equipment
  • Steam wand OR milk frothing equipment
  • Steaming pitcher

How to Make a Flat White With an Espresso Machine

Since a flat white is made with velvety microfoam, an espresso machine with a steam wand is the best piece of equipment to have. An espresso machine will allow you to create an authentic, delicious flat white. 

Here’s how to make a flat white with an at-home espresso machine:

1. Pull Your Espresso Shots

Most baristas make flat whites with a double shot of ristretto espresso. A double ristretto shot typically requires about 19g of coffee and 30 seconds of brew time. 

Learn more: How to Pull a Shot of Espresso

2. Steam Your Milk

A flat white is known for having microfoam which gives it that velvety texture. To steam perfectly foamed milk for your flat white, start by submerging the top of the steam wand just under the milk surface (you only need about 4-5 ounces of milk for a flat white). Turn the steam wand on and let it aerate the milk for a few seconds to introduce air into the milk to create foam. After a few seconds have passed, submerge the steam wand further into the milk and continue the steaming process.

Keep an eye on the temperature and your hand on the milk steaming pitcher to make sure the milk doesn’t scald.

3. Pour Your Flat White

Pour your flat white once the ristretto espresso is ready and the milk has been steamed. Tilt your cup at a 45-degree angle and hold the steaming pitcher about 5-6 inches above the cup. Pour the steamed milk into the deepest part of the espresso so that the milk blends with the rich espresso. Keep your pour slow and steady so the milk and espresso have time to blend.

Flat whites are perfect canvases for latte art! Learn how to pour your own latte art with our handy guide: How To Pour Latte Art (Pro Tips for Beginners)

How to Make a Flat White Without an Espresso Machine

You can also make a flat white by steaming milk on the stove or using a milk-steaming appliance and brewing espresso using an Aeropress, Moka pot, or French press coffee maker. Keep in mind it won’t be exactly like a flat white from your favorite coffee shop, but it will still be tasty. 

Follow the steps below to create a flat white without an espresso machine.

1. Brew Your Coffee

You’ll need to brew a highly concentrated batch of coffee to substitute for your espresso. A typical flat white features a double ristretto shot which equates to about 30g of espresso. You might need to play with the ratios of coffee and water in your brew method of choice before you make something you’re happy with.

2. Steam Your Milk

You can use a milk frothing pitcher, an electric whisk, or even a French press coffee maker to make steamy foamed milk at home. If you use a French press or electric whisk, we recommend warming about 4-5oz of milk in a pot on the stove beforehand (aim for a temperature around 140F). Warming the milk beforehand makes it easier to create a foamy texture with your whisk or French press. Keep in mind that this process takes a little bit longer than it would with a steam wand, but don’t give up! The end result will be worth it.

3. Pour Your Flat White

Once the concentrated coffee is ready and the milk is steamed, pour your flat white. Remember, a true flat white is only about 5-6 ounces once finished. Be sure to pour the milk slowly and evenly so the microfoam fully incorporates with the rich coffee.

Learn more: Espresso vs. French Press: What's the Difference? | How to Make French Press Espresso

Which Milk Makes the Best Flat White?

Since flat whites are fairly simple espresso beverages, the type of milk you choose greatly influences the end result. Here are some of the best milk options when making a flat white at home.

Whole Milk

Since microfoam is key when making this beverage, whole dairy milk is the best to use for a flat white. Whole milk has the perfect amount of fat content to create the velvety microfoam characteristic of a flat white. Whole milk also supports the rich flavor of ristretto espresso which is the true star of a flat white. 

Want to take your flat white to the next level? Use fresh milk from a local dairy!

Oat Milk

Oat milk is by far the best dairy-free option to use for a flat white. Aside from the fat content which helps support microfoam, oat milk also has plenty of vitamins and a fantastic flavor that complements espresso very well. Barista-grade oat milk is best to use as it contains extra thickeners which makes it much easier to steam.

Learn more: 5 Best Oat Milks for Coffee

2% Milk

Though you lose a bit of richness when using 2% milk in a flat white, you can still use it when you want a lower-calorie option. Microfoam made with 2% milk isn’t as luxurious as it is with whole milk but can still make an enjoyable flat white.

Final Thoughts

With time and patience, you can master the finer techniques of steaming milk and pulling espresso shots so you can make your own flat white at home. Keep practicing! You’ll be a skilled home barista in no time.

Remember that great coffee is instrumental in making a delicious flat white. If you’re looking for the right roast for your flat white, we’ve got you covered with a wide selection of blends and single-origin coffees that are the perfect partners for espresso beverages. We’ve found that Belly Warmer in particular is a favorite among home baristas.

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