While some coffee connoisseurs may be able to differentiate between a flat white and a latte, there are many coffee drinkers who’d have difficulty telling the two beverages apart. To help you distinguish between the two when choosing which style of coffee to enjoy, we’ve identified the main differences in these beverages below:
Amount of espresso added
There are coffee purists that would say a single shot flat white is not a true flat white. But generally, when it comes to how much espresso is added to a flat white or latte, you can choose to have either a single or double shot, depending on your preference for coffee strength.
Size of the beverage
You’ll find in most cafes that flat whites are often smaller than lattes. This is why some people may experience confusion thinking that a flat white is a small latte, but this is far from the truth.
Milk, the defining factor between a latte and flat white
If we determine that the amount of espresso is generally a constant in a flat white and a latte, then the defining factor that makes these two beverages very different is how the milk is prepared and poured. To make this part of the coffee preparation process easier to understand it’s important to note that when you froth milk with a steam wand it separates into three layers. These layers are the heated liquid milk, which sits at the bottom of the heating jug (pitcher), the microfoam, a velvety layer of small bubbles that forms in the middle of the heating jug and the firm froth or the large bubbles which sit at the top of the heating jug.
The separation process of the milk is called “stretching” and after this is complete a barista will either swirl the milk around to blend the froth into the liquid, resulting in a more seamless jug of the velvety microfoam. Another method which will accomplish this is tapping the jug on a countertop, but this is often unnecessary if the milk’s been swirled efficiently.
Crema: how you can tell if a flat white’s been made correctly
Crema is defined as the orange caramelised layer of coffee which sits at the top of an espresso shot. While the crema is hidden beneath the stiff froth with a cappuccino or often discoloured with liquid milk when you have a latte, a correctly made flat white has the milk blended seamlessly with the crema, to create an even dusky, rich orange swirl. By grasping the importance of the colouration this also helps with correctly blending a latte.
A good latte is blended with the liquid milk and topped off with a fine dollop of froth. To be able to create striking latte art, the froth and milk levels must be perfect and the crema mustn’t be totally blended with the milk or hidden by the froth, so there are contrasting colours to work with on the surface.
Because a flat white still has more of the dusky coffee crema on the surface, the flavour of the coffee is stronger than a latte, which is more creamy, with froth and milk on the surface. So whether you choose a latte or a flat white is dependent on how rich you prefer the coffee flavour.