Starbucks Flat White

The flat white is a medium sized coffee with milk. Starbucks in the USA recently added the Flat White to their permanent menu. The Starbucks version is based on their normal cappuccino and latte with a few modifications.

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Espresso shots

The Starbucks Flat White uses ristretto espresso shots. A ristretto is an espresso shot with less water used, or the same amount of water in a smaller amount of time. Ristretto shots aren’t really necessary for a drink to be considered a Flat White, but the best baristas usually do pull a shorter ristretto shot when making small milk drinks like a Machiatto, Cortardo and Flat White. So it’s a nice touch by Starbucks.

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Velvet textured milk

The texture of the milk is a large part of what makes a Flat White different to a cappuccino and a latte. In some high-end cafes all the milk-based drinks are steamed the same. But in most middle of the road cafes and in Starbucks, the Cappuccino has more froth whereas the Latte has less froth (and more liquid milk). The Flat White is halfway in between.

The smooth texture of well steamed milk is one of the hallmarks of a good Flat White. This velvet texture seems to be the intention of the Starbucks barista training but honestly, the variabilty in milk between stores (and baristas) is what makes the Starbucks Flat White so hit and miss.

White dot

The Starbucks flat white has a white dot poured in the latte art. This is a nice touch and a good way to visually see whether the milk has been properly textured. If all you see is a mushy orange mess, then you can already tell that the milk has been poorly made without even tasting the drink.

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Ordering off the secret menu

The only size the Flat White is listed on the menu in is “Tall” which is the Starbucks equivalent of a “small” (although at 12 oz, it would be considered a large anywhere else). The baristas are perfectly happy to make a Flat White in the secret “off-menu” “Short” size which is the Starbucks equivalent of an “extra small” (and at 8 oz would be considered a “medium” size anywhere else).

Before the introduction of the Flat White, the off-menu Short Cappuccino was my go-to order at Starbucks. In theory the Short Flat White should be the ultimate Starbucks drink for modern coffee connoisseurs. But the recipe seems to be dialled-in for the Tall size and the Short tastes bitter, dark and burnt. Personally, I now stick to the recommended Tall size.

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Coffee credibility

To me, a large part of the motivation for adding the Flat White to the menu is to help Starbucks recapture the positioning of a coffee-focused cafe. The “third place” positioning has taken the company too far down the road of a confusing menu, free-wifi and public-toilets. Starbucks was starting to feel like a tired habit and a co-working space without a monetization strategy. The Flat White is part of a larger global push to focus back on coffee.

Whatever you think of the drink itself, it’s great to see the largest coffee chain in the world putting some serious effort into actually making coffee.

Interview with the CEO of Pact coffee

Pact Coffee is a speciality coffee delivery startup. They recently raised a round of venture capital so during my last week in London before moving to New York I went to meet with the team and hear about their vision to bring good coffee to the masses. I visited Pact on a crisp sunny autumn afternoon. Their offices and packing operation are tucked away in a light industrial complex in Bermondsey just south of the Thames River.

Pact Coffee Startup TeamThe industrial complex that Pact is based in is owned by Club Workspace and is actually a loose affiliation of startups that have physical product businesses (instead of the tech-only startups that I’m used to in my day-job). Pact has deliberately located there, partially out of necessity, because they’re packing coffee (soon to be roasting as well), and also out of preference because they enjoy being surrounded by other entrepreneurial businesses who are also trading in physical products.

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Origins of the flat white

The origins of the flat white are hotly contested. Both Australia and New Zealand claim to have coined the term. And while I’ve previously written a summary of the various definitions of the flat white, to really understand the origins of the term, we need to go back in time to the 1980s.

Flat White Definition

My theory is that the origin of the flat white is the humble coffee mug.

I think the flat white was an attempt to get cafes to make the sort of coffee that New Zealanders were used to making at home. To understand why this is, we need to go back to how coffee was made in the home in New Zealand before cafes became a popular place to hang out.

Black and white coffee at home

The basic convention for describing coffee prepared at home in New Zealand is to refer to coffee without milk as black and coffee with milk as white. So a common question you would ask a guest is “Would you like your coffee black or white?” Continue reading

Buy shares in the London Coffee App

When I first arrived in London I tried using FourSquare and TripAdvisor to find good cafes. But it was too confusing because every search for “coffee” returned so many hits that I couldn’t get a sense for the best places to go.

Blue Crow Media

The London’s Best Coffee App is made by Blue Crow Media.

Luckily I found a couple of iPhone applications that transformed my experience of exploring London to find new cafes. The London Coffee Map and London’s Best Coffee are the two apps I use the most to find new cafes. So you can imagine my excitement when I joined the equity crowdfunding platform Seedrs in January and discovered that the makers of London’s Best Coffee were raising investment for their business through Seedrs. Continue reading

Coffee Orienteering

The reason that I love reviewing cafes isn’t as much the coffee as it is the excuse to explore new parts of London and to go on an adventure. You could pick almost any type of destination and make it into an urban orienteering adventure.

Coffee Walks

Visiting small cafes is a great way of seeing a new city.

Small independent cafes are usually hidden away in interesting neighbourhoods so hunting for good coffee is a good way of hunting for the cultural heart of a city. When I travel I always go searching for a flat white. – Even if I fail, the effort leads me down interesting alleyways in new neighbourhoods.

Last weekend I ran to Sacred Cafe in Caledonia Rd (only an hour from Clerkenwell) but a fun way of breaking up a long run. It got me thinking about cafes as “destinations” for exploring. So I did a little research and thought back on my early days in London when we franticly ran around the city trying to visit as many places as possible.

Tim Chester from NME did a multi-day pilgrimage across London in the Great Flat White Hunt. He had some comments, quite rightly, about Taylor Street Baristas and Dose not being places to linger. But when you are coffee orienteering then it doesn’t matter. Tim also made a Google Map of the cafes he visited.

There are several good routes to take around London. For example, Nick Wade’s Disloyalty Card is a great excuse to explore.

Taylor Street Baristas and Mr Porter

Taylor Street Baristas are one of the sharpest commercial operators in the London coffee scene. Everything from their property investment relationships to the partnership with Tescos speaks to a team that wants to build a serious business. They have also managed to remain serious about their coffee. The Taylor St Baristas pop-up in Shoreditch was my local when I worked for a web design agency back when I first arrived in London.

Mr Porter Taylor St Baristas

Mr Porter have offered to shout people a coffee at Taylor St Baristas

This week Taylor Street Baristas have partnered with online fashion retailer Mr Porter to offer free coffee between 8am and 10am at a few of their locations between 23 September and 27 September. The last one is at Taylor Street Baristas Liverpool Street on 27 September. It’s a fun little marketing stunt that I hope continues on as a long term relationship between the two brands.

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Coffee in the North: Guest review of Baltzersens

I went flat white hunting in Yorkshire in 2012 so I was excited to receive a guest review of Baltzersens in Harrogate from local Northerner Paul Holland: 

When I heard Lord Howell’s pronouncement that there were “large, uninhabited and desolate areas” in the North East of England I dared to hope that the House of Lords had finally begun to address the issue that it’s pretty grim up north for coffee drinkers.

Baltzersens Coffee

Baltzersens cafe in the North of England (Photo from www.baltzersens.co.uk)

Hurrah I thought, no more sour under-extracted shots, no more no-look tamping while they watch a customer eating a bap, yes I said bap, no more spotty teenagers leaving the milk jug under the wand, only to wander off to talk about some celebrity with their workmates. I thought the time for well-crafted coffee had arrived and the honourable Lords were going to bloody well do something about it.

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Best places for coffee in Farringdon

For the last couple of months I’ve been working from the Innovation Warehouse in Farringdon. The Innovation Warehouse provides free filter coffee, 50 pence espresso pods and hot water for members to use in their Aeropress and plungers. Each member has their own coffee routine. One of the startups has a tradition of grinding fresh Monmouth coffee if they have a particularly big day coming up. But sometimes there is no substitute for a flat white or a real espresso.

Dose Cafe in Clerkenwell

Dose Espresso is the perfect place for a meeting in Farringdon/Clerkenwell/Barbican.

I asked some of the other members where they go for coffee in Farringdon and compiled their suggestions into a list based on the things that entrepreneurs most need in a cafe. Continue reading