Flat whites and lattes are staples on barista menus throughout the UK - but which coffee is better, and how can you replicate that unique texture and taste at home?
The secret sauce isn't the ingredients or the mug, but how the coffee is made, and if you try both drinks side by side, you'll notice that there's a pretty big difference!
Today Hoxton Coffee works through our comparison of these popular coffees, with advice about choosing the perfect blend for your taste buds.
What - Exactly - is a Latte?
A latte is a classic espresso coffee topped with steamed milk. It's uncomplicated and balances out the strong, rich espresso with creamy dairy goodness.
Most lattes come with a thin foamy layer on the top (hello, coffee tash!) and can be either steaming hot or iced in the summer.
There are millions of variations on a latte, whether you're a coffee purist or like a tang of sweet caramel, but the concept is the same, whatever the flavour.
How is a Flat White Different From a Latte?
So, a flat white seems identical - it's an espresso and steamed milk.
BUT, there are a few key differences to this coffee blend first made in Australia before hitting our shores:
- Flat whites have less milk than a latte, so they taste stronger.
- The espresso is the same, so there's no additional caffeine.
- Pouring and blending techniques make the characteristic foam top much thinner and silkier than a latte.
The flavour profile changes from a latte because the power of the espresso comes through in a much punchier way, and you don't have as heavy a creamy feel.
How Are Flat White Coffees Made?
As with everything in the world of coffee, there's a degree of disagreement about the 'perfect' flat white!
However, we all agree that the magic comes from the micro-foam.
That's still steamed milk, but it's aerated a slight amount, so you get tiny, very dense bubbles.
The technique is delicate, so your barista pours the micro-foam carefully over the espresso and then gives it a quick dash at the end - hence your signature white dot!
Funnily enough, that's the same approach you get when you have a latte with impressive art on the top, but most flat white drinkers want a no-nonsense coffee without the faff.
The first flat whites weren't intended to rival lattes but instead were an alternative to a cappuccino.
Flat whites are (you guessed it!) flatter than a cappuccino without those big frothy peaks - and so the name was born.
Starbucks, love it or hate it, pioneered flat whites in the states as a 'bold' version of a latte, and it entered the mainstream of coffee commercialism.
What is the Perfect Espresso to Milk Ratio in a Flat White?
Now, we mentioned the controversy, and don't shout if you have a perfected technique that's slightly different!
Every barista has a style or preference, but the fundamental contrast is the balance between milk and coffee.
We asked three accomplished coffee pros what they think:
- One reckons that a flat white should be served in a smaller five oz cup (150ml), where lattes come in a larger 8 oz size (240ml), both with double espresso shots and the smaller milk ratio in the flat white.
- Another feels that a latte is a poor version of a flat white, as the extra milk disguises the intensity of quality espresso - but you can make them any way you wish depending on the brand and the baristas' signature.
- The third recommended serving flat whites in five or six oz mugs, again with a double shot, and using extremely flat, thinly textured foam - whereas lattes can be anything from seven to ten oz (200ml to 300ml).
It's a little interesting that these mugs or take out cups don't conform to the short/tall/venti sizes popular in takeaway coffee, so you will get a slightly different variation depending on where you frequent for your caffeine kick.
What's Easier to Make at Home: Flat White or Latte?
Lattes are easier to make yourself, and you can add hot milk to espresso brewed in a machine or classic Moka pot.
You can heat your milk on the stove or in a microwave and use a frother if you've got one to get that silky texture. Go easy on the frother, though, as it's very easy to get carried away and up with a cappuccino!
A flat white has the same ingredients, but it's a bit more challenging to make because micro-foam is rather delicate.
If you have a milk steam wand, that'll do the trick, but a frother makes bubbles that are far too big.
Flat White vs Latte - Which is the Better Coffee?
The Hoxton Coffee team doesn't award points for 'best' or 'worst' coffees because it's all down to personal taste and how strongly you like the espresso flavour to come through in your morning cup.
A flat white is undoubtedly more specialist because of the pouring technique and lower milk concentration that gives a distinctive taste.
Every coffee house uses its own cup sizes and ratios, but your flat white is basically a smaller, bolder version of a latte.
If you want to appreciate the intensity of the espresso without losing that mouth feel of a dairy-based coffee, a flat white is the way to go - but don't let us put you off enjoying your frothy latte if that's what you love most!