Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Now Serving Flat White

After – what? – a thirty year wait, the major coffee chains in the UK are now serving flat white coffee. Originating from New Zealand and Australia in the 1980s, I've been met with blank looks when asking for one in many a UK coffee shop over the years (though several independent coffee shops have been serving it for some time here; most obviously Flat White in London).

I've never had a decent coffee in a chain coffee shop but thought I'd give the Costa flat white a try. Apparently 'Coffee lovers prefer Costa'; they've even based a whole advertising campaign on it which goes something like: 'In head-to-head tests, the majority of coffee lovers preferred our flat white to Starbucks' (this now-widespread competitive advertising I find so juvenile). In small black print (on a dark purple background) at the bottom of the ad are the statistics: out of a 157 sample size, 84 professed to be 'coffee lovers'; 62% of which preferred the Costa flat white, which gives us... 52 people. Wow, that's quite a survey. Mine, BTW, was average. And Costa isn't called Costa for nothing: it cost £2.49.

In my mind, a flat white is pretty similar to a café con leche or a café au lait – both simply meaning coffee with milk (I know there are probably many technical differences*) – amazingly, also pretty hard to get hold of in England. Cafe Rouge, for example, does not serve café au lait (!). It's true – they only have filter coffee, lattes and cappuccinos (none of which are French). And the few times I have been to a Costa or a Starbucks I haven't seen one on the menu. It's not difficult. Go to any cafe in France, Spain or Portugal, and a café au lait or café con leche is readily available (and not a bewildering list of stupid named milk-based substitutes à la mochafuckachino).

In the UK I usually end up opting for a latte, though it is like a coffee milkshake, especially when served in those ridiculous knickerbocker glory glasses (which I'm sure are only meant for women and children). A latte is too milky, a cappuccino too frothy, a filter coffee too... boring. All I've ever wanted is a decent flat white/café au lait/café con leche. It looks like I'll have to wait til I'm next in New Zealand/France/Spain to get one.

(*Costa's How to Make the Perfect Flat White: 1. Perfect the grind; 2. Extract every drop; 3. Treat the milk with respect; 4. Pour with care; 5. It's all about bollocks, I mean balance. Apparently.)


Chris Chapman said...

Guardian article on Auckland flat whites:

No one in London believes me that cafes in New Zealand are superior.

Pearce said...

Gah, what a terrible-sounding ad. Preferring Brand-X-Coffee to Starbucks is like preferring a cheese sandwich to a gunshot wound.

Barnaby said...

Chris: I believe you.

Pearce: Quite.

Kate said...

This debate is academic as any coffee connoisseur will tell you that the only coffee is a long or short black (perhap a ristretto or machiatto permitted). The new fad in Wellington, started by my colleagues I believe, is the advent of the 'schlong'. Yes you did read that correctly. The short long or Schlong saves those liek myself, having to mime the level to which water should be added. No sugar of course. Welcome day. Kate

Barnaby said...

Expect the 'schlong' to hit these shores in 15-20 years.

Unknown said...

Hope the flat white in Valentino's the other day was acceptable.


Barnaby said...

Yes, was a great flat white in Valentino's. Then again, it was a nice little independent coffee shop so I wouldn't expect anything less. Though please don't sign your comments mum, mum.