Last week, Starbucks released the Flat White to much fanfare, and much confusion. Though it's been a crowd favorite in Australia for ages, uninitiated 'Mericans weren't sure what to make of the new permanent menu addition, which sounded kinda like a latte, but also kinda like a cappuccino, and had a mysterious white dot right smack in the middle. To get some answers, we went behind the bar of the busiest Starbucks in America with a barista vet who guided us through the entire process -- and of course gave us plenty of samples to taste. This is what we learned:
As our intrepid Starbucks pro Aubrey explained, one of the key differences between the Flat White and your standard latte or cappuccino is that the Flat White is made with whole milk. (Those other guys use 2%.) But you still have to steam it as usual. Once you've got that part prepped, it's time to move onto the espresso, which is really what makes the Flat White unique.
Each Flat White is made with two ristretto shots -- just in case you don't spend all your time in coffeehouses brag-ordering cortados, a ristretto is a "shorter" shot of espresso, meaning there's about half as much water. That makes them more concentrated and slightly darker in color. Because they're shorter shots, they also won't hit the standard white measuring line on those glasses.
Those two mini shots get dumped into a cup, then the steamed milk is poured straight down the center until it forms a distinctive white dot. (Of course, nothing's stopping your barista from going nuts with some intricate astronaut art.) And just like that, another Flat White is born. But how does it taste?
Everyone wants to know what makes this thing different from a latte or cappuccino, and really it's that ristretto. The more concentrated espresso makes for a bolder and even nuttier drink -- despite the ample amount of steamed milk in this thing, it feels like you're getting so much more coffee than you get in those other guys. The layer of foam is also paper-thin by comparison. Just check out the lineup for proof. (That's a latte on the left, cappuccino on the right.)
Basically, if you want a more intense kick to your usual grande latte, opt for this drink instead. It's for bold-coffee lovers who also enjoy an ungodly amount of whole, steamed milk in their morning joe.
While we were there, Starbucks invited us to try their latest flavor in the Reserve line, Ethiopia Konga. The stuff is dropping next Tuesday, and if you're a fan of surprisingly fruity, low-acid coffees, you're going to be very into this. Keep an eye out for it at your nearest Reserve location (it'll have that star and upper-case "R" logo out front).
The Flat White isn't exactly revolutionary, but Crocodile Dundee might've been onto something here. This new permanent player fits right into the existing Starbucks "espresso beverage" line, with just enough of an edge to set it apart from the rest of the foamy pack. Try one out if you're looking to switch up your usual order, or just want your roommate who spent a semester abroad in Sydney in 2009 to finally shut up about it.
Kristin Huntis a Food/Drink staff writer for Thrillist, and probably isn't Starbucks barista material. Follow her at @kristin_hunt.