What is a flat white? Here’s all about this espresso drink: how it’s different from a latte, and how to make a flat white at home!

Flat white

Flat white, latte, cappuccino: what’s the difference? These espresso coffee drinks are so similar that it’s hard to tell them apart. In fact, some coffeehouses have such slight differences that there’s not really a huge distinction! But as true coffee lovers, the flat white has our heart: it’s super smooth and still has enough foam for latte art (Alex’s new passion). Turns out, you can make a delicious flat white at home that rivals any coffee shop! Here’s more on what a flat white is and how to make this tasty drink at home.

What’s a flat white?

flat white is a coffee drink with espresso, steamed milk and a layer of foam on top. It’s similar to a latte and cappuccino, but has a thinner layer of foam on top. Modern coffee shops have very small differences between these three coffee drinks, and often times the lines are blurred. Generally, the major differences between a flat white vs latte vs cappuccino: are

  • Flat White is the least frothy, with about ¼ inch microfoam at the top. The steamed milk is stretched 20-25%.
  • Latte is medium frothy, with about ⅜ inch microfoam at top. The steamed milk is stretched 25-35%.
  • Cappuccino is frothy but not foamy, with about ½ inch microfoam at top. The steamed milk is stretched the most of the three, at about 30-50%.

Here’s a graphic that shows the approximate foam to coffee ratios for each of the espresso drinks!

What is a flat white?

What’s microfoam?

One special thing to note about a flat white is the type of foam you want to get. You want the milk to get to an almost “wet-paint” like texture, which baristas call microfoam. It can be tricky to get to that texture without a steamer, so we’ll show you how to approximate it with some various tools you might have on hand.

Ready to make a flat white at home? Here’s the equipment and ingredients you’ll need to have on hand for the perfect flat white!

Method 1: Steam milk with an espresso machine (preferred)

The best tool for steaming milk for a flat white? An espresso machine with a steamer! This makes the most perfect micro-foam with the creamy “wet-paint” texture. Of course, espresso machines are large and can be pricey, so they’re not for everyone. But they do make the best flat white! Go to How to Steam Milk for details.

Here’s the espresso machine we use: it’s middle of the road price-wise and works great. If you want to make a perfect flat white, this is the best way to do it. But you can do it by simply frothing milk with a whisk: see below!

It’s also helpful to have a metal pitcher with a temperature sticker that shows you the temperature of your milk while you’re steaming it. We love ours!

How to make a flat white

Method 2: Froth the milk

You don’t need an espresso maker to make a great flat white at home! You can simply heat and froth the milk, which makes it nearly as good. You won’t get the same microfoam texture as a steamer, so it’s not quite what you’d expect from a coffee shop. We recommend reading How to Froth Milk before you start. Here are three options for the home barista for frothing milk, one of which you probably already have on hand:

  • Handheld milk frother. A handheld milk frother is inexpensive and gets the milk extremely frothy, so it’s easy to make a macchiato or cappuccino. A perfect flat white is a little trickier, but it does work.
  • French press. If you have a French press for making coffee, it’s great for making foam! It makes a nice frothy foam with bubbles a little larger than the frother.
  • Whisk. A whisk works too! This handy tool whips up the milk pretty well: it also has a bit larger bubbles and generates a little less foam than the other methods.

Espresso makers for the job

Remember that if you don’t have an espresso machine, you’ll also need a way to make the espresso! Here are the top methods for making espresso:

  • Espresso machine: Again, it’s the best and easiest option! Here’s the espresso machine we use.
  • Handheld espresso maker: Use a small manual espresso maker: it’s cheaper and portable!
  • Aeropress: For the cheapest option, you can use an Aeropress; go to our Aeropress Espresso recipe. It doesn’t have quite the same flavor (it comes out much more bitter than the previous methods), so we don’t recommend it unless you’re in a pinch.
Espresso

Best ingredients for a flat white

Once you’ve got your equipment handy, you’ll need your ingredients! Here’s what you’ll need to make a flat white:

  • Espresso roast coffee: The roast is important to get the right dark, bitter flavor. Use a fine grind on the espresso when you make it.
  • Whole milk: Whole milk froths the best because it has the highest milk fat. You can also use 2% milk, but you lose a bit of the richness. The most important part about the milk: make sure it’s as fresh as possible! Milk that’s close to its expiration date does not foam well.
  • Oat milk: What’s the best vegan milk for a flat white? Oat milk! It’s the best non-dairy milk in terms of frothing ability: it easily beats out almond, coconut and soy milk.

How to make a flat white at home

Got your equipment and ingredients? Let’s make a flat white! Here’s how to make this tasty drink at home:

  • Make the espresso using an espresso machine, espresso maker, or Aeropress.
  • Steam the milk (espresso machine method): See the recipe below for all the particulars: follow it carefully!
  • OR, heat the milk on the stovetop then froth it. A temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit is perfect: that’s where the milk is hot to the touch but not simmering. Then froth using your desired method until the milk is frothed into small, even bubbles. Wait for 30 seconds to 1 minute to allow the foam to incorporate a bit into the milk so that the drink is creamy enough.
  • Overall, experiment to find the method that’s right for you. Everyone has different equipment and different desires for their latte. Play with the method until you find what’s right for you!
Flat white

Latte art basics

Want to make latte art? You can actually learn how to make some simple designs on the top of your flat white at home. Note that it does require an espresso machine. Here’s our tutorial on Latte Art Basics!

More espresso drinks

We’re coffee-obsessed over here, so we’ve made all the coffee drinks for you to try! Here are a few more we recommend tasting:

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Flat white

Flat White


  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

What is a flat white? Here’s all about this espresso drink: how it’s different from a latte, and how to make a flat white at home!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 espresso shots (2 ounces)
  • 4 ounces steamed milk

Instructions

  1. Prep for the flat white: Grind and tamp the espresso, but don’t pull it. Store your milk jug in the refrigerator: the colder the milk is the more time you have to get the right texture.  Or, rinse it in very cold water, dry and refrigerate for a few minutes. Fill your milk jug to just below the spout, about ¾ cup, using very fresh whole milk (or oat milk for vegan). 
  2. Make the espresso: Use an espresso machine or manual espresso maker to make two shots of espresso and pour it into a mug (or try our Aeropress Espresso).
  3. Steaming method (espresso machine): Heat the steam wand. Once prepared, place the wand just below the surface of the milk about ½ inch from the side, tilting the jug slightly. Keep it in that position for about 5 to 10 seconds, stretching the milk by about 20 to 25% in height, with very slight movements up and down. Once stretched and slightly foamy, lower the nozzle about another ½ inch and tilt the pitcher just enough to get a spinning vortex, which incorporates the foam, turning it into a velvety microfoam. Keep that still and spinning until the temperature is about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. (Using a pitcher with a temperature sticker is very helpful.) Turn off the steam before removing the wand from the jug. Wipe the wand with a clean cloth. Turn it on for 1 second to purge the nozzle.  Tap and swirl the pitcher to incorporate any bubbles on top. The final texture should look like wet paint or melted ice cream, smooth and velvety. You’ll use only about half of this quantity and can discard the rest (see the * note below). 
  4. OR, heat the milk to scalding and foam it (without espresso machine): Heat the milk to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot to the touch but not simmering. Measure with a food thermometer, or you can approximate by testing with your finger. Use a milk frotherFrench press or whisk to froth milk into small, even bubbles. For a latte you’ll want small bubbles and lightly thickened milk (if you’re using a milk frother, don’t go too far: you want the milk to mix in with the coffee so you don’t need too much froth**). For the French press method, note that it’s useful to have at least 1 cup to have more milk to work with: this makes enough for 2 drinks. We highly recommend reading How to Froth Milk if this is your first time frothing. Wait 30 seconds to 1 minute to get the foam to incorporate into the milk and separate slightly (exact timing depends on your foaming method).
  5. Serve: Tap the milk container on counter and swirl it to break down any large bubbles. Pour milk into center of the espresso, ending with light foam. 

Notes

*This makes enough for 2 drinks, because it’s easiest to steam a larger quantity of milk. Discard the extra milk. If you have an espresso machine with two espresso taps, you could use this to make another flat white. (The milk becomes less frothy while it sits, so it’s not ideal for waiting to make another espresso.)

**The milk frother works well; for the French press pump vigorously until frothy, about 25 times. Do not overwhip, as the foam will deflate!

  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Espresso machine
  • Cuisine: Espresso

Keywords: Flat white, What is a flat white, How to make a flat white

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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