Flat White Vs Latte – The Differences Explained

There are many kinds of espresso drinks you can grab at your favorite coffee shop.

While most are distinguishable from one to another, you could easily confuse one for the other when it comes to lattes and flat whites. 

At first glance, you might think there isn’t much of a difference between a flat white vs latte. I mean, both drinks use steamed milk and espresso as a base. How much of a difference can there be?

They might use the same ingredients but there is more than meets the eye between these popular espresso drinks which we will discuss further down below.

latte art foamed milk

What is a Flat White?

Newbie coffee drinkers might look at a flat white and say it’s just a smaller latte. So, what’s so special about it?

Like a latte or cappuccino, a flat white is essentially espresso, steamed milk, and microfoam. What separates it from the other beverages is the different ratios and amounts used for the coffee and milk.

Typically, a flat white is made with a double shot of espresso, making it a viable option for specialty coffee lovers who want the steamed milk creaminess without overpowering the espresso’s flavor profile.

With that said, it is essential to use high-quality coffee beans when making a flat white as espresso is the centerpiece of the coffee drink.

flat white

Other baristas and cafes also use ristretto shots for their flat white recipe. A ristretto coffee is essentially a heavily concentrated form of espresso with a heavier body and bolder flavor. This bodes well with the characteristics of the flat white, giving it a punchier taste.

The main factor that makes the flat white unique as an espresso drink is that it is served in a smaller portion size with less milk and foam, which emphasizes the taste of the espresso even further and even adding to it depending on the beans used.

Microfoam is another essential part of a flat white. These milky microbubbles give the drink its silky and smooth mouthfeel. As an added bonus, these bubbles are what make latte art possible. 

Ultimately, it will depend on the barista’s technique or the coffee shop’s preference for their flat white recipe. You might see some flat whites that use a single shot espresso or sometimes with very little to no microfoam as possible.

The Origins Of The Flat White

The flat white was named after the thin or microfoam layer, which gives it a flat yet smooth texture. The home of this smooth coffee drink comes all the way to the land down under, whether it’s Australia or New Zealand who made it first is still up for debate.

It was touted as an alternative to the foam-topped cappuccino during the 1980s, rising into popularity during the recent years with it being served on the menu in the US, UK, and other countries with a thriving specialty coffee scene.

In Australia, the influx of Italian immigrants after World War II helped catapult new cafes that focused on the more intense coffee made using espresso machines. It is said that the first flat whites were made in Sydney and Melbourne and were a preferred alternative to the foam-topped cappuccino and latte.

The drink’s smooth and velvety texture making it an excellent transitional espresso drink for instant coffee drinkers who were used to the strong brews of old and wanted to forgo the rich foam associated with other milky coffee drinks.

Although, New Zealand is also trying to stake its claim in the invention of the flat white. Some accounts say that the flat white originates from a botched attempt to make the foamed milk bubbles that cappuccinos are known for. Truth or false? You decide!

The drink was introduced to the UK in 2005 when Australian and Kiwi baristas decided to open up shop in the center of London. This move helped pave the way for the flat white to spread to different parts of the world.

Either way, it provided a great alternative to the latte and cappuccino by having a punchier and flavor-packed espresso experience without the heavy milk foam. Since then, the flat white has been one of the top-selling drinks in third-wave cafes all over the world.

What is the difference between a Latte and Flat White?

When you order a traditional flat white and latte, both will be made through an espresso machine and steaming wand, but you can already tell what sets them apart by just how they look when you get your brew.

A latte is served in a bigger cup and in Australia, it is generally served in a 7 or 8 oz glass. Most second wave cafes allow you to choose even bigger servings outside Australiasia too. 

Flat whites on the other hand are typically served using a 5 or 6 oz ceramic cup. This smaller portion size gives way to a tighter milk to coffee ratio compared to a latte or cappuccino giving it a different flavor profile altogether.

The amount of espresso is also different for each beverage. Traditionally, a shot of espresso is used for the base of a cappuccino and latte. Flat whites, as we mentioned, typically use two shots of espresso or even with a ristretto giving it a boost in flavor and caffeine.

milky lattes

Ratios & Milk Makes The Cut

Another key difference between the two is that the latte is sweeter as it uses more steamed milk than a flat white. This is due to the chemical reaction that happens when the sugars in the milk are cooked and caramelized from the steaming process.

In the case of milk foam or microfoam, traditionally a latte would contain at least a 1cm layer of frothed milk while the flat white is often 0.5 cm or less;  this is still enough to produce latte art with. 

Texture-wise, the flat white has a smoother and velvety mouthfeel compared to the richer and more airy frothed milk of lattes.

These days, however; things get a bit murky when it comes to foam as there is not much of a difference between a latte or a flat white. Some specialty coffee shops make their lattes with more steamed milk and microfoam, with a thin layer of frothed milk on top just enough to produce latte art.

I for one used to make flat whites with a double shot of espresso, more steamed milk, and as little amount of foam as possible, giving it a mouthfeel leaning towards a cafe au lait.

What’s Tastier? A Flat White or a Latte?

Decisions, decisions.

Whether you want a brew with a topping of perfect latte art or not, each drink has its own characteristics that can make one better in some ways over the other. All things considered, which drinks are tastier will ultimately depend on your preference.

Flat Whites 

Flat whites are a good option if you’re inclined towards preserving the natural flavors and notes of the coffee. It is a more concentrated form of a latte due to using two shots of espresso and its smaller serving size.

If you’re tired of using warm milk and want a more refreshing drink, you can also yield the same espresso leaning result by using the same recipe and ratio as an iced coffee as well.

This smooth drink might make a better cup of coffee for your morning at home as it produces more caffeine per serving than a latte. It also uses less milk, making it a good choice if you’re watching your calories.

coffee

Lattes

Lattes are best if you want a balanced coffee drink. Using more steamed milk in a latte equals more sugars that are caramelized during the steaming process, making the coffee sweeter as compared to other milky coffee drinks.

Its bigger serving size, higher milk content, and the use of single-shot espresso make it a mellower drink than a flat white. It is also the perfect drink if you plan on adding syrups or flavorings to your cuppa as the milk provides a good base.

The same sweetness and versatility of the hot version can also be found in an iced latte. While I don’t usually recommend it, making your coffee this way can help mask any unwanted flavors or staleness in your coffee beans. 

This can be a good alternative to do if you have bought lower-quality coffee or you have any old beans left in your home.

Depending on how the latte is made, it can make for a drink with a creamier mouthfeel as well due to the layer of foam resting on top.

Summary

It’s all about ratios. This applies to pretty much all coffee drinks you can find. 

Whether you prefer to drink a flat white or a latte, it is best to ask some questions to your barista on how their drinks are made especially if you prefer exploring different coffee shops. Their version of the beverage might be different from the one you make at home or at your favorite café.

If you’re still unsure if a flat white or a latte is the best coffee for you? Don’t be afraid to try out different types of recipes and drinks, you’ll never know what your new favorite is going to be!

Either way, just keep on brewing!

Philip Daniel Felongco

Philip Felongco

Ex-Barista

A life long coffee drinker, Philip has been looking for new ways to enjoy coffee since he started in the coffee industry in 2017. His favorite coffee is a light roast Rwandan single origin. If he’s not binging on food shows or trying out new coffee recipes, you can catch him here at Sip Coffee!