Flat White vs Latte: What’s the Difference?

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The flat white and latte are two of the most popular coffee beverages in Australia, but do you know the difference between them?

They’re very similar and often confused. And with good reason, as we discuss below.

To help you wrap your head around the age-old flat white vs latte debate, we’ve put together this post that explains the differences between the two drinks.

We also walk through their interesting history and how they evolved to become a core part of our coffee culture.

Definitions

Latte

The first problem we run into when comparing these two drinks is the definitions themselves. The latte, in particular, has a long history that originated outside of Australia and has changed over time.

However, the definition we will use, which relates to the latte we drink in Australia, is as follows:

A latte consists of a single espresso shot which is then topped to the brim of a 200ml glass with steamed milk. It has a 1-2cm layer of milk foam on top.

Flat White

The flat white started becoming popular in Australia or New Zealand (or both) during the 1980s.

A flat white contains either a single or double shot of espresso topped to the brim with steamed milk. It is served in a 150-170ml ceramic cup and has a thin layer of milk micro foam on top.

Here’s what the dictionaries say:

A flat white is a cup of strong coffee with hot milk poured on top, similar to a latte but smaller and less milky. – Collins English Dictionary

A type of coffee made with espresso and hot steamed milk, but without the froth characteristic of a cappuccino. – Oxford English Dictionary

So what’s the difference?

First things first, let’s clear up what they have in common. The ingredients themselves are identical: espresso and steamed, textured milk.

Traditionally, the difference between a latte and a flat white is that a flat white would be stronger i.e. have a higher coffee to milk ratio. This is because a latte is usually served in ~200ml glass, while a flat white is generally served in a smaller ceramic cup.

Another factor that has contributed to flat whites being stronger is they have often been made with a double shot of espresso. This can vary from cafe to cafe and from barista to barista.

Finally, a latte will appear to contain more microfoam than a flat white. This is not just because of the higher amount of milk vs coffee, but also because the narrow shape of the glass means the milk foam layer on top is thicker than with the small, flat, ceramic cup that the flat white is served in.

The flat white, therefore, only has a thin layer of textured velvety milk microfoam on top.

However, there is no set coffee to milk ratios for either drink, and there’s no standard serving size either. There’s not even a standard number of espresso shots that each contains.

You’ll note in our latte definition we use a 200ml glass but in reality, this can range from 150ml to 220ml, depending on the cafe or coffee shop.

Likewise, with the flat white, the serving size is often determined by whatever ceramic mugs they use.

Because the differences between the two drinks relate almost completely to the shape and size of the cup, if you order a flat white or latte as takeaway, you’re probably getting the exact same drink!

History

Flat White

The earliest roots of the flat white are fairly contentious. Both Australia and New Zealand have claimed the flat white their invention over the course of history. Now it is at the core of the well-established coffee culture in both countries.

In Australia, the drink can be traced back to Queensland where “White coffee-flat” was offered in cafes during the ’60s and ’70s.

Moors Espresso Bar owner in Sydney, Alan Preston, added it to their permanent menu in 1985.

Other references include the Parliament House cafeteria advertising a “flat white only” sign during a seasonal problem with milk cows that prevented froth from forming correctly.

In New Zealand, the flat white is claimed to have been created in Auckland in 1986 by Derek Townsend and Darrell Ahlers of Cafe DKD as an alternative to an Italian latte.

A second claim comes from Wellington, where an early version of the drink was prepared at Bar Bodega in 1989.

Further, author Craig Miller claims to have prepared the flat white in Auckland during the mid-1980s.

RELATED: Flat White Vs Cappuccino

Latte

Originating in 19th century Europe, the latte emerged at the time when combining milk and coffee became popular.

In Italy, a caffè latte is usually made at home for breakfast. The coffee is brewed using a stovetop moka pot, and heated milk is poured into the cup. Unlike the latte that you’ll get at your local coffee shop in Australia, the milk in the Italian version is not generally foamed.

RELATED: Latte Vs Cappuccino

Latte vs Flat White FAQ

Is flat white stronger than latte?

A flat white is a type of coffee that’s stronger than a latte, but less intense than an espresso. It is stronger in flavour because it has a higher espresso to milk ratio. It can also be stronger than a latte in terms of caffeine because it sometimes contains two espresso shots.

Why is it called a flat white?

Before European coffee made it to Australia and New Zealand, there was simply instant coffee with or without milk i.e. white coffee and black coffee. Immigrants from Europe following World War II brought with them a new type of coffee: espresso. The common drink was a cappuccino, but the foamy top wasn’t to the liking of everyone. Therefore, the flat white was invented, as an espresso based milk drink aka “white” but without the frothy milk top aka “flat”.