a flat white

What Is A Flat White? | Detailed Guide & Easy Recipe Included

Last Updated on 16/01/2022 by Miki

As an Australian resident, it’s safe to say that a flat white is one of the most popular coffee here. To be honest, I’ve never heard of it until I came to Australia in 2005. I drink espresso at home, but I enjoy a good flat white, especially with beautiful latte art at a cafe when I catch up with my friends. Taking photos of coffee when I see the amazing latte art on top is one of my favourite things to do. Kudos to the barista. I still remember the moment I saw the 3D latte art at a cafe for the first time when I ordered a cup of flat white. It was incredible!

What Is A Flat White?

Basically, it is an espresso-based drink with steamed milk and a very thin layer of velvety microfoam. Doesn’t it sound delicious? The flavours come from the espresso that is mixed with the milk. However, the taste also comes from the foam on top of the flat white. Most people describe the texture of the foam as velvety, fluffy, and airy.  You are going to find my easy recipe for making a flat white at home in this post, so keep reading.

Is A Flat White Different From A Latte?

To put it shortly, a flat white has less milk and less foam (now you know why it’s called “flat”!) and therefore you would taste a stronger coffee flavour than a latte. This makes a latte milkier than a flat white. Another difference is that it is served in a ceramic cup whereas a latte in a glass. So, the answer is yes, there is a difference between a flat white and a latte although both contain the same amount of coffee.

Is A Flat White Different From A Cappuccino?

I know there’s a lot of confusion among coffee drinkers about the difference between a cappuccino and a flat white. They’re both made with a shot of espresso, but cappuccinos are often served with a thick layer of foam and usually topped with cinnamon or chocolate. Flat whites are much thinner, and although they also involve milk, the milk is made with rich, heated milk while a cappuccino has milk that is steamed until it is frothy. A cappuccino is a thicker, richer drink. If you prefer a more mellow, delicate coffee experience, then you should go with a flat white. I used to drink a cappuccino with extra cinnamon on top while living in Japan, but my preferred choice between the two has become a flat white here in Australia. Why? Well, it is almost always the case when I order a cappuccino at a cafe, it is served with chocolate on top, not cinnamon. I don’t like too much sweetness in my coffee, so I stopped ordering a cappuccino. I’m glad to find a flat white. So, there is definitely a difference, at least from my point of view.

What Makes A Good Flat White

I love catching up with my friends at a cafe. I’m the one who usually chooses where to meet because they know I enjoy checking online reviews and selecting one before visiting a cafe. Most of the reviews are pretty accurate, but of course not always. Can you imagine how disappointing it would be after having an awful cup of flat white, especially with high expectations from the positive reviews? Well, what makes a good flat white then?

The Beans

First of all, it has to use quality coffee beans. Arabica beans are the most popular ones by making up approximately 60% of coffee production globally. It also needs to be freshly roasted and ground. Who doesn’t love the freshly ground coffee beans!?

roasted coffee beans

The Milk

Secondly, how you texture milk is an important element of a good flat white. You want to aim at beautifully textured silky milk. When milk is overheated, it tastes unpleasant. The temperature should be 55-60°C (Do not exceed 65-70°C). I’ve had some bad cups at cafes when this happened. From my experience, some customers requested their coffee extra hot when I was making coffee at a bakery in the past and I always wondered why they would like the taste of coffee with overheated milk… I still don’t know.

pouring milk into coffee

The Pour

Lastly, how you pour the milk into coffee also determines a good flat white. You might see an excellent barista can free pour straight from the milk jug by using the speed of pouring and tilting the jug to control how much froth, foam or liquid milk to pour into the shot. A good flat white should have an even mix of liquid milk and silky velvety foam called “microfoam”.


A flat white has been known for decades and it has become increasingly available all over the world. You might wonder where it was originated from or you thought it was invented in either Australia or New Zealand.

Australian Alan Preston opened Moors Espresso Bar in downtown Sydney in 1985 and claimed that he invented the term “flat white” whereas Fraser Mclnnes, a former barista in New Zealand, claimed that he invented the term in 1989 while he was working at a cafe in Wellington.

The truth is? Well, it remains unknown…

Flat White Calories In A Cup

Many people enjoy daily morning coffee at home or at a cafe. Some are more health-conscious than others. If we think about only calories, espresso/short black must be the best choice. However, milk has its nutritious value like a good source of calcium. So, is a flat white good choice?

It consists of one shot of espresso with two parts of steamed milk. A small serve of 220ml has 120 calories and 7 grams of fat. If you swap full milk to skim milk, the calories will reduce to 70 calories and almost no fat. According to USDA, one slice (25 grams) of white bread contains 66 calories, which means the calories of one small cup of a flat white are just a little less than two slices of white bread! Do not forget if you make or order a large size or even the second cup. Some people like theirs with sugar that will add extra calories too. Speaking of calories, you might want to check this article. Enjoy your cup of flat white moderately 🙂

How To Make It At Home

You can absolutely make your own flat white at home. Here is an easy guide to follow:

  1. Pull a shot of espresso in a cup (You can make it double if you like)
  2. While pulling the shot, steam the milk to 55-60°C (Do not exceed 65-70°C)
  3. Give the milk jug a thump on the bench and swirl the milk lightly around the jug to make the milk smooth and velvety by dispersing any bubbles
  4. Make a latte art on the surface as desired

I would like to share a video from YouTube so that you could get an idea of latte art. This video is especially for a beginner and I’m sure it will help you get the basic skill.

What Milk Do You Use For Flat White?

Starbucks also provides its flat white recipe online. I totally agree that they recommend using whole milk for a better texture. I have tried skim, soy and almond milk as well and whole milk has brought the best result in texture. I don’t particularly prefer the taste of whole milk though. It is too rich for me and I usually order skinny flat white at a cafe and sometimes soy milk for a change. I tried making a flat white with unsweetened almond milk at home and I didn’t mind it at all. It seems like some people don’t like the taste of it because it’s too sweet. Just definitely no sugar in coffee for me! What is your favourite milk for coffee? What do you usually use at home?  Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Final Thoughts

A Flat White is a popular coffee drink that is reminiscent of the Australian coffee tradition. It is comprised of a shot of espresso and milk that is steamed to the perfect texture. The name Flat White is derived from the appearance of the drink. The drink was popularized and perfected in Melbourne, Australia. It is more than just a coffee drink, it is an Australian tradition. It is good to see the popularity has been spread all over the world. We all should share our love for coffee, shouldn’t we?

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