Everything you ever wanted to know about the flat white

Where was it invented - Australia or New Zealand? The jury is still out on that one, but we find out pretty much everything else there is to know about this iconic coffee.

The flat white coffee is taking the world by storm.
  • Rachel Gray
  • March 2019

We all find it hard to get started in the morning without a caffeine fix and in Australia, the order of choice is usually that signature coffee – the flat white. It’s now taking the world by storm, but where did the flat white first come from? Melbourne barista Craig Simon of Criteria Coffee opens in new window has one theory: “Australia and New Zealand used to serve coffee with a very stiff, foamy blob of texture on the top and people would ask for it to be removed. But without any head on the cappuccino, it was kind of flat. So I think the flat white was a backlash against poorly textured foam on top of the cappuccino.”

Owner of Criteria Coffee, Craig Simon, is a three time winner of the Australian Barista Championships
Owner of Criteria Coffee, Craig Simon, is a three time winner of the Australian Barista Championships

So, what exactly is a flat white?

A single or double shot of espresso with carefully textured steamed milk and just enough foam to delicately create an artistic design on top. Not all coffee tastes alike. Colombian varieties have hints of stone fruits, while Ethiopian beans provide notes of red cherries. Flat whites are one of the more milky coffees out there but its milk-espresso balance gives it a stronger flavour than its counterparts.

Coffee’s origin story

Coffee beans are really the seeds of a berry. Legend has it coffee was discovered by a goat herder in Ethiopia who noticed his goats had more energy after eating the berries scattered across the hillside.

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History of the flat white

The origin of the flat white is a contested issue across the Tasman. Australia’s Alan Preston and New Zealand’s Fraser McInnes both lay claim to making the inaugural milky cup. We know it first appeared in cafés in the 1980s but who was actually the first? Perhaps we’ll never know.

Why you should scrap takeaway coffee cups

On a worldwide-scale, about 500 billion single-use coffee cups are made every year. Most are lined with a plastic called polyethylene, which isn’t recyclable, and the cups end up in landfill. But you can do your bit for the environment – just buy and use a reusable cup.

Do your bit for the environment by carrying your own reusable cup around.
Do your bit for the environment by carrying your own reusable cup around.

What is a coffee worth?

Think you’re forking out a small fortune for your daily cup? That depends where you are and what you drink. If you’re a long black drinker in NSW, you’re a winner, paying only $3.94 per cup. Iced coffee drinkers in Canberra, meanwhile, cough up $5.88 for their drink of choice. As for the trusty flat white – the average cost in Australia is a reasonable $4.

Every day, coffee lovers across the world sip over two billion cups of coffee. In Australia, Victorians consume the most out of all the states, with at least 13 million cups consumed per week, costing $52 million – that’s $2.7 billion a year.