Tag Archives: Espresso

The Rise of the Flat White

Starbucks has been making big headlines lately after they announced, earlier this month, that they will be offering a new drink at store locations all across the U.S. The drink in question? The flat white. While New Zealand has been trying to stake its claim in the invention of this drink, the general consensus is that it is Australian in origin. Apparently Aussies are even laughing at Starbucks’s attempt to mass market their famous milk-based espresso drink.

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A flat white I had in Sydney

So what’s the big deal?

Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of visiting Australia and staying with a close friend. I had heard much about Australian coffee, and I was excited to grab a cup as soon as I got into town. And then I looked at the menu.

Short black. Long black. Flat white. Cappuccino.

Three of these are not like the other.

Thinking that I’d try something new, when the waitress came back to our table I proudly announced that I would like a short black, please. When she brought me a shot of espresso back, I was rather confused.

Through trial and error, I was able to glean that a “short black” is a single shot of espresso, while a “long black” is an Americano (or sometimes a brewed coffee). A flat white seemed simple enough – I’ve heard people order cappuccinos “flat,” and I naturally assumed that it was the same thing. But upon ordering it, I received a latte instead. What?

At this point I was learning to just roll with the punches, and I got on with my life. Like an ex-girlfriend who has my new phone number, however, the flat white is back in my life and demanding I make amends. It’s making headlines across the U.S. and I’m forced to once again wrestle with the uncomfortable notion that there may, in fact, be a difference between a a flat white and a latte.

As it turns out, there is a rather large difference. The main, obvious dissimilarity is that a flat white is traditionally served in a much smaller container compared to a latte; typically a flat white is around 150-160 milliliters while a latte is 200 or more.

The source of my confusion isn’t how the drinks are different on paper, however, but how they are actually so similar in America.

A flat white is supposed to be halfway between a latte and a cappuccino. While a latte is supposed to be almost entirely steamed milk and espresso, with a dollop of foam at the very top,  a cappuccino is supposed to have a large head of foam that one must sip through before getting to any milk. But if you separate milk-based espresso beverages into their individual parts, there is a third, very important, piece that is not usually focused on in either lattes or cappuccinos. It’s called microfoam. Whether or not it makes it into you morning cup of coffee depends entirely on the quality of barista.

When a bad barista steams milk they pay little regard as to what kind of foam is created. Lattes get no foam, cappuccinos get lots of foam.

When a great barista steams milk, they are able to control how much foam there is. Foam can either be very bubbly, or have a velvety texture filled with extremely small bubbles – microfoam. The best baristas will knock the milk container, or perhaps swirl the milk inside, in an attempt to pop the largest bubbles and maximize the amount of microfoam. Microfoam makes it possible to make latte art, while the thick foam found in many cappuccinos is harder to work with. The barista can then decide how much foam makes it into the finished beverage based on their pour.

A latte is supposed to have no foam, or a very small amount. A cappuccino is supposed to have a wealth of foam. A flat white is supposed to have a dense layer of microfoam. See what I’m getting at here? Many American third-wave coffee shops have turned a “latte” into a flat white. The evidence of this is latte art; the only way to make great latte art is by creating a layer of microfoam with which to draw. The only thing truly setting these drinks apart is the serving size, and that’s where the Starbucks marketing team comes in.

Americans are going to be confused by the flat white. They’re going to call BS on the marketing for it, claiming it’s a cash-grab for a product that Starbucks has sold for years. In my opinion, however, this confusion is actually rooted in the fact that we have been spoiled by well-made lattes topped with a delicious layer of microfoam for years.

If this means the bad baristas are going to have to learn the magic of creating delicious, velvety microfoam in an attempt to copy the Starbucks flat white, I think this will ultimately be a fruitful endeavor. In my experience, the Australia model, while confusing at first, produces outstanding coffee.

The Coffee Guy

For a more in-depth analysis of the differences between a latte and a flat white, check out this great post.

Lola Coffee

Lola Coffee

 

Lola coffee, located in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, was recommended to me by a local friend. He said that Lola “is where you go if you want a great cup of coffee.” That prospect was good enough for me, and I set out with a few family members in tow. Located on the corner of Roosevelt and 3rd Ave, Lola isn’t especially large. It does, however, have a patio area for sitting outside when the Phoenix heat is tolerable.

The Snapshot

A few things immediately struck me when I walked inside: the people who run Lola clearly have an eye for design. The small-ish area for sitting is maximized with bars along the back wall and front window. A few leather chairs and a couch decorate the interior, and three large, wooden tables great for using a laptop or (as one couple was doing) completing a crossword puzzle. The back wall is decorated with a massive, somewhat abstract, oil painting on four large canvases. A large glass case stands in front of the espresso machine, filled with baked goods and topped by jars of homemade cookies and croissants. On the front wall hangs an old wooden door with a glass panel – black marker spells out the relatively simple, no-frills coffee menu. Beside the door a metal sheet with “Lola” cut out hangs.

The Coffee

Evernote Camera Roll 20131229 120408Lola’s menu is comprised of espresso drinks and automatic drip coffee. No manual drip methods are available, but what Lola does do, they do well. I chose a normal latte, which they served in a ceramic mug with simple coffee art on top. My dad ordered a hot chocolate (I didn’t inherit my love of coffee from him) and they asked if he wanted whip cream. My dad said yes, and instead of pulling out a pressurized can of store-bought whip cream, the baristas used their own, homemade, brown sugar whip. I tried some of my dad’s, and it far exceeded my expectations.

The espresso was great, and it’s no wonder considering Lola roasts all their own coffee. I enjoyed my latte immensely – it was creamy and smooth from the well frothed milk, and left a bright finish from the lightly acidic espresso. Along with coffee, my family purchased a “Sal De mar” chocolate chip cookie, sprinkled with Maldon sea salt. The cookie was delicious and went perfectly with our respective cups of coffee.

The baristas at Lola were cheery and helpful, speedily pulling our shots and smiling the whole way through. I could tell they enjoy working there, and their happiness was well represented in our mugs.

Final Thoughts

Evernote Camera Roll 20131229 130534Phoenix isn’t exactly known for its coffee scene, but places like Lola make me re-think my preconceived notions about where a great cup can come from. Lola and smaller coffee shops like it are living reminders that you don’t need to be from Seattle, New York, or San Francisco to make great coffee. Dedicated employees, a passion for design, attention to detail about the small things, and a cheerful attitude go a long way in pushing forward quality coffee all around the world.

Next time you’re in Phoenix, don’t hesitate to stop by Lola Coffee. You won’t regret it.

The Coffee Guy

Links:
Lola’s website
Facebook

Bluebird Coffee Shop Review

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One of the perks to going to school an hour north of NYC is that I occasionally get to venture into the city for an adventure or two. The problem is that the barriers to entry are large – logistics of where to stay, how to save money, and who to hang out with have prevented me from getting into the city nearly as often as I’d like. Today is one of those opportunities I rarely have – a free evening in New York City with little on my plate, and a hankering for good coffee.

Bluebird LogoToday I find myself at Bluebird Coffee Shop in East Village, Manhattan. Good coffee has slowly been seeping into this turf – one that until recently has been heavily steeped in the likes of Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks. In March of 2010 the NYT ran an article titled “New York Is Finally Taking Its Coffee Seriously” where it outlined some of the quality coffee that was only then starting to pierce the veil of commodity coffee. One of the coffee shops covered in that article is Bluebird Coffee Shop, where I just ordered a standard latte.

The Snapshot

Bluebird Coffee Shop is small, located on the corner of 1st Avenue and 1st Street in East Village. It has a bar that can be sat at from the inside or outside, and three small tables (they can fit your coffee or your laptop – not both). Half of the room is dedicated to the coffee bar and storage shelves in the back. They serve whatever is in season from Counter Culture, with several roasts for sale by the bag. Their menu is composed of espresso drinks and drip coffee. To my chagrin, no pour-overs are available. Still, the coffee is excellent, and the shots are pulled well. The environment is minimalist, the music is low but enchanting. It’s the type of place to stop while on your way elsewhere, not necessarily ideal to stop and smell the roses.

Since I’ve been sitting here, several locals have come in for an espresso shot and to discuss coffee with the barista. This is a place that depends on regulars.

The Coffee

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Lattes are hard to make poorly, but equally as hard to make excellent. I ordered one because, well, I felt like one. That being said, it was excellent. And I don’t use that term lightly. The barista frothed the milk to exactly the right consistency, and the shots were pulled without flaw. The latte art was impeccable (I had already taken a sip in the picture on the right) and from the conversations the barista was having with customers I could tell he loves his craft.

While it was hard to tell the specific notes of the espresso due to the creamy and delicious milk, I could tell that they had light, fruity tones to them. Definitely nice for a summertime latte. I just got into town, and it was exactly what I needed after a day of flights and time change.

 

Final Thoughts

Bluebird Coffee Shop is worth visiting if you can make the trek to East Village or if you live nearby. A few notes: they have a $10 minimum for card swipes, but gladly accept cash. They have bags of freshly roasted Counter Culture for sale, and they also sell KeepCups (which I can personally endorse having used one for months). Additionally, wifi is free, as is people watching!

 

The Coffee Guy

Find Bluebird Coffee Shop Online:
BluebirdCoffeeShop.com
Bluebird’s Facebook Page
@bbcsnyc
Instagram