The Flat White

Nothing too fancy, thanks. Mate.

Nothing too fancy, thanks, mate.

Most countries in the world like coffee.  But only New Zealand actually wants to marry it.

Formerly a nation of PG Tips and Nescafe drinkers, around the late 1980s to early 90s, Kiwis embraced coffee hard.  The real-coffee revolution started with young, urbane women and gentlemen considered ‘light of foot‘, but it wasn’t until the invention of the Flat White – half way between a Cafe Latte and a Cappuccino, only minus the effete European name (a coffee, in other words, that no-nonsense Kiwi men could at last order in public without fear of sounding ‘like a bloody shirt-lifter’) - that our national obsession really took off.

There is some debate over the origin of the first Flat White. Auckland cafe DKD’s claims to have first coined the name to the now famous ‘not too frothy, not too milky‘ blend. Others point to it’s origins in Australia, but since they can claim better beaches, warmer weather, Crowded House, and billions of dollars worth of f**king minerals, is it really fair to let them have this as well?

New Zealand is now so immersed in the culture of the Flat White, that;

  • It is one of the few countries in the world who imports their beans raw and roasts them locally. Connoisseurs claim that the lifespan of the freshly roasted bean is less than 10 days before losing flavour. Whether this is true, or simply bullshit sprayed with fancy cologne, it is enough worry $20 a bag for beans out of obsessive, caffeine withdrawn customers.
  • Kiwi blokes, from all walks of life, are now as likely, if not more likely, to catch up over an organic panini and fair trade Flat White, than five pints of DB and a pack of Winfield down the local, without even the faintest whiff of the ‘love that dare not speak it’s name‘.
  • After nearly ten years of complaining about not being able to get a decent coffee in London, expat New Zealanders can now enjoy a flat white at one of the rising number of Kiwi owned cafes taking over the capital. This recent addition to the London lifestyle, when combined with the Kiwi tendency to share a flat with 10 other New Zealanders, socialise with the same networks of people as back home, and work in industries populated by other Kiwis, finally removes any need for New Zealanders to actually interact with the locals.
  • NZ is the only country in the world where middle aged suburban couples buy $4,000 espresso machines to make burned frappuccinos with a gnome’s hat of badly frothed milk. Conforming to the pioneering, ‘do it yourself’ Kiwi stereotype, they are therefore unlikely to ask anyone for advice on how to actually operate it.
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  32. yey!

    i had a very tasty coffee at the “Flet Whyte” cafe in London last year!

  33. Juan

    I don’t think it really matters who invented it, or whether or not it is like another country’s version of a coffee either.

    If an Australian in Australia was first, then so be it, it is still a nice coffee and for the record, there are some great Australian baristas in London who make fantastic flat whites/stumpies (which seems to be a smaller flat white).

    So far as it being like a latte with varying quantityof stretched milk. Sure, I could ask the barista to do that, but why wouldn’t I just say “make me a flat white” if they know what it means. So on that basis I don’t accept that we should acknowledge Italian lead on the matter. Unless there is a specific Italian term of art that refers to a popular kind of latte with exactly the level of “stretched milk” that a flat white would have.

  34. marco

    its so funny how something that has existed forever in Italy, namely espresso mixed with stretched milk, has been given a different name for marketing purposes so that it can be called an ‘invention’…? Come on! It’s simply (an italian, not american) caffe latte and you simply ask the barista to use more or less milk depending on how strong or milky you want it. Brothers and sisters, you cant reinvent the wheel. But if you so wish you can give the wheel a different name, say hula hula for example, and claim it’s your invention. Respect for all you coffe lovers out there though, keep it up!!
    Ciao

    • Danny

      I always thought coffee was an Arabic beverage long before it reached Italy.
      A bit like pasta being originally noodles from China. Change it a bit and call it your own … national pride!

  35. karim

    please tell whats the cost and breakup of(milk/sugar/coffebeans)in grams or ml of coffee to make 50 cups of flat white.thus i can know my cost of sales

  36. David

    So yes NZers like their coffee – but in my experience they’re not as homophobic as this article. Get over yourself

  37. Michael

    “Most countries in the world like coffee. But only New Zealand actually wants to marry it” …. I think there are many other countries who could take that title over NZ really, including Australia – espresso coffee was becoming popular long before the 80′s in Australia thanks largely to the massive Italian and Greek population that NZ doesn’t have. I also know the flat white to be a Melbourne invention? I find it funny when NZ tries to claim a unique food/culture identity by half the time riding on the back of what Australia pioneers, invents and produces!

  38. Jon

    Kiwis claiming flat whites now!! You guys are too funny. What a funny little country. But wherever it’s from, I was pleasantly surprised to find I could get a great cup of coffee in Christchurch… Oz and NZ are alone in the English-speaking world in that one regard. O yeah and we both think we invented everything (but ozzy did really).

  39. Blair

    I tried to explain the concept of a flat white to a girl in a cafe in Colorado and she just could not get to grips with the concept. I asked her to make me a cappuccino, but instead of froth, just put in more steamed milk. First she was confused, then annoyed, and finally I got a cup with one third espresso, one third steamed milk and one third air. After getting her to fill up the void, I still ended up with a cup some something nasty-tasting. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried at all, but I was just so sick of drinking crap.

    • Selwyn Nogood

      Trying to teach the school-leavers they put in charge of espresso machines overseas is painful. you’re better off just ordering beer.

    • John-Paul McCarthy

      Precisely the same situation occurred to us while in Vancouver several months back. Weak coffee. Watery, overheated milk. I can handle bad microfoam… but burnt is unacceptable.

      I’ve also come to the conclusion that North American coffee companies do not like to add Robusta beans to their blends. The marketing that Arabica is the only bean of quality is deeply entrenched into the minds of consumer’s. Another reason as to why the NA blends tend to be have less, punch and a poor crema.

  40. i love this! (: esp “Most countries in the world like coffee. But only New Zealand actually wants to marry it”

  41. I’m pleased to inform you that you can now buy a flat white from Alf’s in Dartmouth, Devon, UK.

    Not just a preserve of London…

    Great post… did you see the This New Zealand Life flat white cost of living index?

    • Selwyn Nogood

      I just read it. It’s an interesting measure of relative costs of living.

      Of course, it’s largely academic, because, as you point out, a flat white in the UK is generally regarded as a bowl of microwaved milk, in front of which some school-leaver waitress has waved a couple of coffee beans.

  42. Coolman

    I think Flat White is certainly from Australia. Because Aussies are more white. Oppss.. not really flat though.

  43. JimmyVinyl

    I remember ordering flat whites in Sydney in 1979 – 1980. At that time there were only one or two cafes in Auckland (that I knew of) where they had an espresso machine. One was Henry IV ustairs somewhere off Queen St (perhaps near Durham Lane) and the Ca D’Oro – late night hangout of drag queens and ne’er do wells. Their machine looked like the back end of a 1963 Cadillac and made more noise – but the coffee would have had a much more frothy name than ‘flat white’, I’m sure.

  44. TrueKIwiJoker

    Personally while I like the odd quality Coffee from time to time I still prefer tea….

  45. Jeremy

    Don’t be a fool Skippy, you didn’t invent flat whites or pavlova for that matter either. But you can keep Russell Crowe, being such an obnoxious booze cock Canberra would have mailed him a complimentary Australian passport whether he moved there or not.

  46. Skippy

    It alas was Australia, Melbourne if I recall correctly that spawned the flat white NOT DKD.

  47. Jaquie Brown

    This is funny, and true. Funny because it’s true.

    It’s one thing I’m happy NZ’ers are in love with. But it’s ruined me. I can’t go overseas now without getting misty eyed and clingy at the airport. licking the paper take away cup and inhaling it’s flat white fumes before I have to dump it in the bin to clear immigration. I love you coffee, you make me human. You make me nice to people, more energetic and you thin my bones. Thank you.

    • Selwyn Nogood

      Airport coffee. So tasty, and yet tinged with so much sadness.

      Good point thought. Why, exactly, don’t they let you take it out of the country? Worried about scalding the pilots in a terrorist attack, perhaps? Or simply losing the secret recipe to overseas competitors? It’s not like it’s an endangered species.

      I think I feel a topic brewing. Fanatical Customs & Excise

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