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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

11 thoughts on “Starbucks Flat White”

  1. The Speakeasy in London was the best place I found to get a flat white in the city. But, the best flat white I’ve ever had is at a coffee shop in Sheffield called Tamper. The guy who owns it is a Kiwi so he has high standards on his flat whites. Definitely recommend it if you’re ever out that way.

  2. I haven’t really tried drinking flat white coffee as I am a big fan of Cappuccino. But since this is somewhere near the taste of Cappuccino and Latte as described, I might just give this a try. After what I read on this post, I should give myself the chance to taste flat white, then I should see if I’ll be having a new regular. Flat white is actually enticing and I sort of starting to crave for it even if I haven’t drank a single cup. Something’s left to my imagination. Thanks for this post.

  3. I’m a big fan of Starbucks latte’s and this doesn’t sound too different. Perhaops more of a stronger coffee hit and less milky. I will be sure to order this next time at starbucks and see if it checks out to the Flat Whites that often appear on the menu’s in Cafe shops all around Australia (when I visit). Thanks for sharing

  4. I’m a barista at Starbucks who loves traditional coffee beverages so when we added the flat white, I was ecstatic. Weeks before Starbucks introduced the flat white, a message was given to us from Howard Schultz. In it, he shared with us how he feels that the espresso beverages and coffee beans are the roots of Starbucks and that he plans to bring these beverages back into focus in the future. The flat white was the beginning and I can’t wait to see what’s next. Great Article!!

  5. Glad it’s been added to the menu. Most places I go in UK don’t really understand what I mean when I ask for ‘flat white’.

    I often opt for a cappuccino to be on the safe side

  6. I’m going to stop ordering flat whites because I can’t get them consistently enough these days – there are a couple of staff in one cafe that can do them well but generally it’s a gamble

    1. Couldn’t agree more especially as a barista , I see so many who don’t take the care when steaming the milk and over or underrate leaving you with quite the opposite of a silky rich espresso drink that wasn’t once a skilled baristas drink alone. However don’t stop trusting the drink itself as it’s so worthwhile when executed well .

  7. I LOVE the flat whites!! 🙂 If you are a fan, then if I may make a suggestion, order a vanilla flat white. It’s just as it sounds, a flat white with just a squirt of the vanilla syrup!! DELISH!! 🙂

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