Brewing Guides

What’s the difference between flat white and latte coffee drinks?

Chances are that if you are a coffee lover you have heard the term latte before, but what about a flat white? Have you ever had or heard of one of those? What is the difference between a flat white and latte coffee drinks? The simple answer is that a flat white is a coffee drink that has a higher ratio of coffee to milk than a latte does and is also smaller than a latte.

Flat whites and lattes are both espresso and milk based coffee drinks but they differ in milk quantity and preparation. In a flat white, the espresso shot is topped with microfoam. A latte is usually served in a larger glass and the espresso shot is topped with steamed milk and then a thin layer of microfoam.  As a result, a latte does not taste as strong as a flat white as the espresso is more diluted.

There is a little more to it than that of course, so let’s take a deep dive into the differences between flat white and latte coffee drinks.

What is a Flat White? 

A flat white is a small espresso beverage containing two shots of espresso and only a small amount of milk foam on the top of it. Generally speaking, flat whites only have half as much milk as a latte would, allowing the rich flavour of the espresso to really shine through. A flat white does look similar to a latte which can be confusing to those who are new to the coffee lover’s world. 

The foam on top of the flat white and the more commonly known latte is different. The milk foam found on the top of the flat white is known as microfoam, and it looks glossy like wet paint and is flat, hence the name. Microfoam is steamed milk that is aerated just enough to form very densely packed tiny bubbles. The microfoam milk is then poured very slowly over the top of the espresso until it is about an inch from the top of the cup and then poured quickly to finish. The microfoam milk is velvety in texture which gives it a rich mouthfeel, and the smooth texture really comes through in the drink. 

A flat white coffee beverage is smaller than a latte, with a stronger coffee flavour than you might find with a latte because the latte has more milk mixed into the drink. 

Where did the Flat White Originate? 

The origin of the flat white is uncertain, with both Australians and New Zealanders claiming that the drink started with them. Australians say that the term flat white was coined when an Aussie was served a poorly frothed cappuccino by his local barista. Regardless of the original origin the flat white has been around and growing in popularity at local coffee shops since at least the 1980s

What is a latte? 

A latte is an espresso based coffee drink that is made with steamed milk. The steamed milk added to the espresso gives the drink a rich and creamy texture with a more subtle flavour of espresso. Lattes are very popular with new coffee drinkers who might find the taste of straight espresso to be too strong. Lattes can be served hot or over ice and if you have ever ordered one from your local barista you know that there are many flavour combinations to choose from like mocha, caramel, and vanilla. 

How is a Latte Different from a Flat White? 

A latte is different from a flat white because of the amount of steamed milk that is used to make it. A latte is made with one or two shots of espresso that is then combined with steamed milk and then topped with a layer of milk foam. The foam on top of a latte is not flat, as it is with the flat white. 

Where did the Latte Come From? 

The word latte comes from the Italian word Caffe e latte which means coffee and milk. Coffee lovers have been enjoying the coffee and milk combination since the 1600s. Lattes did not really take off in popularity globally until the 1980s and ’90s. Caffee e lattes were typically consumed for breakfast in European households, probably because the espresso had enough caffeine to start the day and the milk sweetened the beverage and made it more enjoyable to drink. 

What should I order a flat white or a latte? 

Well, that depends on the type of coffee drink that you are looking for because flat whites and lattes are both amazing coffee beverages, but let’s see if we can’t help to make the decision easier for you. 

Do you like foam? 

If you are a fan of foam, and the creamy mouthfeel that it leaves you with then a latte is for you. 

If you don’t want a lot of foam, just a thin layer on the top, then the flat white might be the coffee beverage that you are looking for. 

Do you want a strong drink?

Are you looking for a strong drink to wake you up, or give you a boost to get through the rest of your day? If so, then you might want to stick with the flat white and its rich espresso flavour. 

If you are looking for something a bit more laid back, then try the latte that has more milk to tone down the espresso taste. 

How much drink do you want? 

The flat white is typically smaller than the latte coming in at around 6 ounces, while the latte is larger at 10 to 20 ounces which will give you something to sip on for longer. 

Can you make Lattes and Flat White Coffee Drinks at Home? 

Yes, you can make latte’s and flat white drinks at home if you have an espresso maker with a milk frother at home or a separate milk frother. You can find our review of some of the best home espresso machines here and our review of the best milk frothers in Australia here. If you are a fan of trying out a variety of coffee drinks then you should certainly consider investing in an espresso machine and or milk frother that you can use at home. This allows you to experiment with making the coffee drinks that you know you love as well as trying out new ones right from the comfort of your home. It’s a great way to impress your guests too! 

To make a latte at home you will need to do the following:

Brew two espresso shots and pour them in a latte mug. Take 7 to 9 ounces of milk and use your milk wand or frother to steam it until it reaches 65.5 C. Pour the steamed milk on top of your espresso and enjoy your latte. If you have a milk pitcher, you can practice making latte art on top of your drink if you would like. It takes practice to perfect but it looks very impressive. 

To make a flat white at home you will need to do the following: 

Brew one or two espresso shots (depending on how strong you want your flat white to be), and put them in a 6 ounce cup. Now use your steam wand to froth your milk, when bubbles begin to form use a spoon to fold the bubbles from the top onto the bottom of the pitcher. This will help to create that velvety, glossy foam that flat whites are famous for. Pour about ¼ inch of foam on top of your espresso. Find the best home coffee machine for you here!

The flat white and the latte are both delicious coffee drink choices, and your favourite may depend on the coffee beans used, or simply just the time of day. You may enjoy starting your morning by sipping on a delicious, creamy latte, and boosting your afternoon energy levels by indulging in a flat white. If you have the opportunity you should definitely give them both a chance. 

Have you ever tried a flat white coffee before? How about a latte? Do you prefer your lattes served steaming hot or poured over ice? Which would you recommend for someone who is just beginning their foray into the amazing world of all things coffee?

Read our “What is a piccolo coffee” article next for a great new drink idea! Or if you’re tired of hot coffees, why not try an iced latte instead. After, learn more about coffee words & jargon!

Sophie is a barista and coffee enthusiast who has owned and ran a coffee truck in her remote community since 2017. She wants to cut the jargon and make brewing coffee enjoyable for everyone.