Military

Who Created the Flat-White Coffee? A War Between New Zealand and Australia

August 16, 2019Syd Wachs
Adobe Stock Image.

Adobe Stock Image.

There may be a debate about where it started, but let’s address the first thing on your mind: What exactly is a flat white? In short, it’s the latte’s sibling.


While a latte consists of espresso, steamed milk, and a bit of foam on top, a flat white is espresso and milk carefully microfoamed to the texture of drinkable velvet. Depending where in the world you order one, it’s typically served in a smaller ceramic cup or glass than the usual latte and has a stronger coffee taste.


The flat white has caused a decades-long argument between New Zealand and Australia, both claiming to have originated the coffee beverage. As its popularity has spread around the world, the question still remains: who really created it?


I had never heard of a flat white until I visited New Zealand for the first time. I was living in a tent at a campground and was the resident barista. During training, my boss gave me strict instructions for each step of producing the perfect flat white. He stood back and watched as I made him one to test.


The velvety microfoam allows for “latte art” on the flat white as well. Adobe Stock Photo.

He took a sip, nodded in approval, and said, “Now, for a latte. You know, steam some milk and pour it over the shot.”


The change in attitude took me by surprise. “Making a flat white is serious business, huh?” I asked.


He nodded. “The flat white is New Zealand’s signature drink. It’s a global thing now. It was created here, you know. This — and all the hobbits running around, of course — is what makes us famous.”


Later, as I was sharing this newfound knowledge with an Australian friend, I got the other side: “No way — the flat white started in Australia. Your boss is nuts.”



How could a drink that’s so similar to the standard latte cause so much conflict?    


Both legends begin in the 1980s. The Australian origin story begins in Sydney in 1985 at the Moors Espresso Bar, opened by Alan Preston


According to Preston, cafes in his Aussie home state of Queensland commonly offered several versions of white coffee (which is simply black coffee with milk), one of which was called “flat.” When he opened Moors, he used the term “Flat White” on the menu, and it caught on. 


Preston is so adamant that the term began with him that he’s posted photos online of his cafe the year it opened with “Flat White” as a main item on the menu.


Kiwi Fraser McInnes, however, swears that he’s the original creator. In 1989, he was a barista at a cafe in Wellington, New Zealand. One customer ordered a cappuccino, but when he went to steam the milk, there wasn’t enough fat to make it rise properly. As a result, it was at a foam level somewhere between latte and cappuccino. He handed it to the customer anyway, apologizing for the “flat white.” 


The flat white falls somewhere between the latte and the cappuccino on the coffee drink spectrum. The steamed milk used in a flat white is microfoamed to a more velvety consistency, and the drink is served in a small cup, which allows more of the espresso flavor to come through. Photo courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company.

Over the course of the next few years, I investigated cafes across three continents, keeping my senses sharpened for the satisfying microfoam. The drink varied slightly at each location.


“What makes this special?” I would ask the baristas. Each cafe seemed to have a different theory on not only the flat white’s origins, but also how it’s made.


Mystified by its ever-changing identity, I performed an informal survey of international coffee drinkers. The results were largely inconclusive, only proving that many folks have strong opinions about the flat white’s mother country. The slight majority sided with Australia. Some daredevils even hold that it’s from both countries.


The Flat White War is likely to rage on indefinitely; neither country is budging in their confidence that they conceived of the frothy coffee concoction. As time wears on, perhaps we’ll find more clues, but until then, this coffee detective must declare the case unsolved.


Syd Wachs
Syd Wachs

Syd Wachs is a writer/former barista who’s been a semi-nomad since 2012. Living between New Zealand, Asia, and the U.S., Syd runs an online story-coaching and fiction ghostwriting business called Videmus. When not in the city, Syd can be found adventuring in forests and taking photos with their vintage M42 lenses.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

Ouija Board aircraft carrier
Low-Tech ‘Ouija Boards’ Have Helped Aircraft Carriers Operate for Decades

Since the 1920s, a low-tech tabletop replica of an aircraft carrier’s flight deck has been an essential tool in coordinating air operations.

Army vs. Navy mascot
The Navy Goat vs. the Army Mule: Mascot Origin Stories

For nearly as long as the Army-Navy football rivalry, the academies’ hoofed mascots have stared each other down from the sidelines. Here are their stories.

ukraine long-range weapon
Zelenskyy Says Ukraine Has Developed a Long-Range Weapon, a Day After Strike Deep Inside Russia

Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel the weapon was produced by Ukraine’s Ministry of Strategic Industries but gave no other details.

ambush
7 of the Best Movie Ambush Scenes of All Time

Ambushes make for great action scenes. Here are seven of the best to ever grace the big screen.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, with his daughter, center right, reportedly named Ju Ae, review the honor guard during their visit to the navy headquarter in North Korea
North Korea Launches Missile Toward Sea After US Flies Bomber During Drills

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the launch occurred Wednesday but gave no further details, such as how far the missile flew.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved