Whether you’re sick of snobby baristas who stick up their noses at your order, you’re really, truly trying to stick to your budget this month, or you just want to learn something new, so you can literally treat yourself to a hot, frothy drink whenever, wherever, making flat whites at home, is not as hard as you might think. Sure there are some special tools and techniques involved, but if you’re dedicated to the drink and want to be able to make one yourself in the comfort of your own home, with whatever beans you want (single-origin or otherwise), you can. Here’s what you need to know.
What is a Flat White?
Before we dive right in to the process, it’s best we start out by getting one thing straight: A flat white and cappuccino are not the same thing. While they might look similar and have the same basic ingredients (steamed milk and espresso), there are differences that distinguish them from each other. There’s some debate as to what differentiates these two drinks, but in general, a flat white is made up of a double shot of espresso and microfoam—steamed milk with tiny air bubbles that, when done correctly, should have a velvety texture with no large bubbles. A cappuccino is known and loved for its thick layer of dry or microfoam on the surface of the drink but has a layer of more fluid steamed milk underneath.
The milk for a flat white is steamed to 130°F so the milk retains a natural sweetness that can work to temper the flavor of the espresso and create a very palatable and easy to drink cup. A cappuccino is served with hotter milk, steamed to 140°F.
To make a really great flat white, or any other espresso and steamed milk-based drink for that matter, you need two things: high-quality espresso and that silken microfoam. Since flat whites were invented as a way to truly taste the flavor of the espresso (the milk is a subtly sweet addition that blends with the coffee but doesn’t overpower it), choose a high-quality espresso that you know and love, and you’re already half way to a delicious drink.
As for the milk, go whole. It will be easier to steam to that key creamy microfoam and, of course, taste better.
The Tools and Technique
So you have the ingredients on deck, now it’s time to gather the tools. To make the espresso, any machine you have will work just fine, whether it’s a Bialetti Moka Espress that you fill up and pop on the stovetop or a high-end home espresso machine from La Marzocco. You need one double shot of espresso for one flat white, which typically takes about 15 grams of coffee and 60 milliliters of water. While the shots are being poured by your tool of choice, get to steaming the milk.
At-home milk steaming is a bit more complicated than at-home espresso making. If you have an espresso machine with a steam wand, you’re set: purge the wand by letting some steam run through it briefly, then insert the wand at a 15 degree angle about 1 inch below the surface of the milk, and steam until it reaches about 130°F (or until the pitcher is too hot to touch). Gently swirl and tap it a few times on the counter, and it’s ready to pour.
If you don’t have a machine with a steam wand, it will be incredibly difficult to get the microfoam you need for a perfect flat white, but you can still use the following methods to steam milk and make a similar, frothy drink.
- Use an electric milk frother or steamer
Or, heat the milk to 130°F on the stove top or in the microwave, then
- Froth it up in a blender
- Use a frothing wand
- Whisk in a bowl with an electric hand mixer with beaters
- Use a pump (manual) frother
- Use a French press as you would a pump frother
Perfecting Your Pour
This is the hardest part about creating a coffee shop worthy flat white at home if you care about the presentation or “latte art.”
If that’s not something you’re interested in, simply pour the microfoam or steamed milk into your espresso and you’re good to go. If you want to create some art in your cup, try this:
- Tilt your espresso filled coffee cup slightly towards you with your non-dominant hand, the pitcher of steamed milk should be in your dominant hand.
- Slowly pour some milk into the center of the espresso, then bring the edge of the pitcher directly to touch the cup and start pouring faster.
- As you pour faster, gently wiggle the pitcher back and forth (left and right) to create a pattern in your cup.
- Once the cup is nearly full, tilt it back so the surface is flat, raise your pitcher up so it’s no longer touching the cup, and use the last of the milk to drizzle a straight line through from the bottom to the top of the cup (from closest to you to farthest away from you).
Don’t be frustrated if you don’t get it the first time, it takes practice, and watching a video is super helpful to help you visualize the movements.