The Flat White Invades America

Author: Rob   Date Posted:26 May 2015 

Australians have been enjoying flat white coffees for so long, we assume everyone in the world will know what we mean when we order "a flat white, mate."

 Until recently, if you tried that in the United States, all you’d get in return was a look of confusion.

That's set to change, though. Coffee giant Starbucks now offers flat whites to their American customers. According to Eater, Starbucks is offering them as an alternative to their menu of sweet coffee treats like their frappucinos and caramel macchiatos in hopes of getting more coffee credibility.

The Starbucks version of a flat white is two shots of espresso topped with milk frothed to a "micro foam." No, it's not exactly the same as a flat white, but is a lot closer to the Aussie classic than most Starbucks offerings.

The Starbucks flat white has been available in the UK since 2010. They introduced it in America in January 2015. The challenge was to teach American consumers the meaning of the term, "flat white." Generally, Americans ask for "cream" if they want coffee with milk or the old American standby -- half and half (half milk, half cream). According to, there's been a lot of discussion about what exactly this "micro foam" is. Reuters executive Jason Fox explained it to Bon Appetit this way: “It’s like a cappuccino, except that instead of a top layer of flavourless, airy, milky foam, it’s a velvety, dense foam that is mixed evenly through the drink.”

Fox got hooked on flat whites while in Australia in 2013 when a friend ordered one. “When I first got back to New York after that initial trip and asked for a flat white, baristas looked at me like I was speaking a different language,” he told Bon Appetit. “But a year later, it seems every coffee place now has its own take on a flat white.”

Starbucks didn't fare very well in Australia. After 14 years, they sold their remaining 24 shops to the Withers Group after closing 61 shops in 2008. Their failure in Australia was put down to opening too many outlets and trying to get Australians to accept their American-style weak, syrupy concoctions. Perhaps if they had served a proper flat white and good strong cappuccinos, they may have fared better.

At any rate, if you happen to be visiting the United States in the future, you will be able to confidently order a flat white. You may or may not get what you ask for, though. It will depend on how the term is interpreted in the coffee shop you happen to be in. If you're in a Starbucks, you'll get the "micro foam" version. Another cafe may give you black coffee with plain milk. It will be a dice roll, but at least you won't be embarrassed by a blank stare when you say, "I'd like a flat white, please."

In fact, asking for a flat white is kind of a status symbol in the United States. Upmarket publications like New York and Vogue have been praising the flat white and they are available in the trendiest coffee spots in metropolitan areas. It's just a matter of time before the flat white invasion converts the entire nation. 

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