Is Ordering A Flat White Just A Trendier Way of Ordering A Latte?

Seriously, what’s the difference? Award-winning barista and coffee shop owner Momiji Kishi explains.

After slinging espresso at Toronto’s Dark Horse Espresso Bar and working for Detour Coffee Roasters in Dundas, Ont., award-winning barista Momiji Kishi decided to strike out and open her own coffee shop, one that’s more about making human connections than catching a WiFi signal.

The internet-free HotBlack, on Queen Street West in Toronto, garnered attention from the likes of the New York Times for not letting its customers get online. But even without international press, Kishi’s little storefront is eye-catching, thanks to its bright red design features and dedication to serving the ultimate cup of coffee (its slogan is literally “Best. Coffee. Ever.”).

While you won’t find a WiFi signal, you will spot a flat white on the menu next to the lattes and cappuccinos.

So we decided to ask this coffee expert: is a flat white just a trendier way to say latte?

The flat white gained popularity Down Under, as well as in the U.K., but it has remained somewhat of a mystery in North America even after Starbucks debuted its own version of this drink back in early 2015.

Kishi says the flat white originated in either Australia or New Zealand (the flat white’s origin story generates fierce debate). “People there call milk drinks white coffee and non-milk drinks black coffee. So flat white means milk coffee with a tiny bit of foam on top. Like, not as foamy as a cappuccino,” explains Kishi, noting how a cappuccino is usually one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk and one-third foam.

A latte is espresso and steamed milk, with a little bit of foam on top. “A flat white has a little bit less foam, but it’s like a latte,” says Kishi. Flat white devotees sometimes go a little bit further when differentiating it from a latte. Some say the magic of the flat white lies in how the milk is steamed and poured (it should be free-poured, which leaves rich micro foam throughout the beverage).

This makes it seem sweeter — and less milky tasting — than a latte (it has caramel notes) with a luxurious mouthfeel. The espresso also comes through more in a flat white.

Unlike the big coffee chains, most independent cafes skip over the massive cardboard vessels and free pour their flat whites into 6-ounce (or just slightly larger) cups. (A Starbucks tall — its small — is 12 ounces, for comparison.)

Kishi, even with all her expertise, stresses that you should just drink what you love, regardless of the coffee trends du jour. She estimates about 10 to 15 percent of her customers order flat whites, and like all of the white coffees served at HotBlack, they all come adorned with latte, or milk foam, art. It’s all part of serving the best coffee ever.

Momiji Kishi was a panelist at Chatelaine: The Big Dish event in Toronto on October 29.Click here for more interviews and stories from the women who took part.

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