Both a flat white and a latte are very popular espresso-based drinks in coffee shops all over the world. We are sure any barista can make a latte or a flat white without a thought.
At first glance, it’s hard to tell what the difference between a flat white and a latte is. They contain the same ingredients: espresso and steamed milk. But placed side-by-side, you can instantly see the difference between these two popular coffee beverages.
What Is A Flat White?
The flat white originated in Australia or New Zealand. If you order a flat white in your local coffee shop, in most cases you’ll get a smaller cup of coffee than ordering a latte. This little espresso-based drink has a stronger coffee taste than a latte because of the higher espresso-to-milk ratio. The silky milk foam is perfectly mixed with the espresso, resulting in a smoother mouthfeel.
The milk in a flat white is steamed to form air bubbles but mixed back with the steamed milk. This results in a velvety texture called a ‘microfoam.’ Thanks to its milk texture, a flat white is ideal for latte art. The bold and rich espresso also makes a great background for the coffee art, which is poured with steamed milk.
Because espresso is such a major component in flat whites, baristas tend to use higher quality espresso beans to make it. Some use ristretto, a highly concentrated kind of espresso.
What Is A Latte?
The latte is a milky coffee that originated in Italy. In fact, the name ‘Caffe Latte’ means ‘coffee milk’ in Italian. Think of a latte as milk with some coffee splashed in. It makes for a very balanced drink without a strong coffee flavor. It’s the perfect drink for someone who wants to make a gradual transition from drip coffee to espresso drinks.
Latte contains espresso and steamed milk topped with a layer of foamed milk. A flat white, by comparison, has no layer of milk foam. It’s just a flat layer of the steamed milk.
How Many Shots Of Espresso In A Flat White and Latte?
The amount of espresso shots in a latte varies depending on how much latte you want. As you might expect, a bigger latte gets more espresso. It can be single or double-shot, or even triple-shot espresso.
A flat white can also be made with one or two shots of espresso, but a traditional flat white uses a double espresso shot. Some baristas may make flat white with two ristretto shots.
There’s no strict standard, often you’ll get roughly the same amount of coffee for both popular espresso drinks in many cafes.
The Main Difference Is In The Milk
Flat whites and lattes may contain the same ingredients, but the ratio of milk to coffee and the texture of the hot milk separate these two coffee drinks.
A flat white is made with milk that has been steamed into a smooth, velvety microfoam. The small bubbles give the flat white its “silky” texture. The flat white has less milk than a latte with the same amount of espresso due to the smaller serving size.
A Latte is also made with foamed milk, but it has larger bubbles, and the drink is thicker than a flat white. The latte contains more milk than the flat white, which is one of their main differences.
Latte art is optional for both. It’s easier to pour latte art on a flat white because of the thin layer of foam, but it is possible to make it on a latte, too. It wouldn’t be called latte art if you couldn’t do it on a latte.
The Steaming Process
A barista steams milk using a steam wand, a straw-like contraption attached to an espresso machine.
The first step in steaming is to aerate the milk. The barista places the tip of the steam wand into the milk and turns it on. This will cause a whirlpool effect that pulls air bubbles from the surface into the milk.
Once there are enough bubbles in the milk, it’s time to emulsify it. Baristas call this process ‘texturing.’ They dip the steam wand further into the milk to mix the bubbles evenly.
The difference between these two drinks is how you texture the milk foam. If you add just a small amount of air into the warm milk, you’ll get silky micro foam with a thin layer for a flat white. If you stretch the milk stronger and create large bubbles, the foam will be creamier for a latte. If you go a bit further, you’ll get thicker froth for the traditional Italian cappuccino.
Serving Cup Sizes
Traditionally, a flat white comes in a smaller cup, 5 or 6 oz (150 mL – 180 mL). The cup size of a latte usually falls between 8 to 12 oz (236mL – 350 mL), sometimes even served in 16 oz or even bigger cups.
That’s why some people think a flat white is just a small latte. That would be the case if the espresso to milk ratio was the same as a latte’s. The coffee ratio is higher in the flat white’s smaller cup, making flat white taste stronger than a latte.
The traditional sizes aside, different coffee shops serve latte and flat white in different cup sizes. Your local coffee house may have a different serving size than a nearby Starbucks. Generally speaking, though, a flat white is served in smaller cups due to the ratio of espresso and milk.
Taste: Flat White Vs. Latte
Even though they contain the same ingredients, a flat white and a latte taste very different. This is because of the ratio of coffee to milk in each drink and the mouthfeel.
A flat white is a stronger espresso drink than a latte even when they are made with the same double shots of espresso. It contains less milk and foam, has more coffee flavor, and is overall a smaller serving with a bigger punch of caffeine.
A latte is a bigger drink than a flat white and contains a lot more milk. For this reason, the coffee taste of the espresso is nearly drowned by the milk. It’s a nice drink for someone who wants caffeine but doesn’t necessarily like the bitterness of coffee.
Lattes have a creamy mouthfeel and thicker foam than a flat white.
Starbucks Flat White Vs. Latte
Starbucks always makes its own standards, so we will discuss them separately here.
By default, a flat white in Starbucks contains steamed whole milk with three shots of ristretto, served in a 16 oz cup for Grande size. This is 454 mL, much larger than your usual flat white. A Grande Starbucks flat white has 220 calories and contains 195 mg of caffeine.
Starbucks’ Grande latte has two shots of espresso mixed with steamed milk with a light layer of foam. The Grande Starbucks latte is 190 calories and contains 150 mg of caffeine.
You may be wondering why the flat white gets more caffeine than the latte. Because the Starbucks flat white and the Starbucks latte both come in the same sized cup, they need to alter the espresso ratio so that the flat white still contains a greater espresso to milk ratio and stronger taste.
At first glance, a flat white and a latte are the same drink. They contain the same ingredients and look very similar when presented to a customer but taste different.
The essential difference between the two is the size of the drink and the coffee to milk ratio. The larger drink, the latte, has more of a milky taste as a result, while the smaller flat white has more of a punch of coffee.
Whether you prefer a strong taste of a flat white or the mild, milky flavor of a latte, there’s a drink for you.