Tom Caru shares his experience developing the perfect flat white at Starbucks (without them even knowing it). How was your morning coffee today?
This morning I sat down to what can accurately be described as “not your average flat white” – not your average flat white, because chances are you’re sitting somewhere in Australia as you read this, so your average flat white is probably pretty good and I hate you for it.
I hate you because this morning I didn’t sit down anywhere near Australia. I sat down at Starbucks, smack bang in the middle of Michigan. Starbucks added the flat white to their menu a few months ago – probably an attempt to cash in on the bearded fixie riding demographic (at least Starbucks doesn’t serve babycinos).
I thought that having a flat white on the menu would streamline my ordering process since I remembered it being rather time consuming, and the one time of the day when I really don’t want any kind of lengthy dialogue is before I’ve had my morning coffee.
When I finally sampled the Starbuck’s flat white I was surprised to discover that I actually invented it myself in March 2013.
Through extensive trial and error, and many tears of frustration, I had developed the following method to order the closest approximation of the Australian style coffee from Starbucks: “A short, whole milk, extra shot, kids’ temp, latte”.
Short: this is a description of size. Short is a size that is so small that America has forgotten it. They do not advertise its existence or include it on the menu. I only stumbled upon it by chance. After about a month of ordering my coffee “three quarters full”, one perceptive barista asked me if I wanted my latte in a short cup instead? My mind unravelled.
Whole milk: the milk varieties in the USA confuse me. I am not talking about a variation of the primary ingredient like soy, almond or rice. I am talking about traditional dairy milk. There is whole milk, two percent, one percent, fat free, half and half…I think whole milk is the closest equivalent to “normal” milk in Australia.
Extra shot: an additional shot of coffee is strictly necessary since you won’t really be able to taste the espresso component without it. In much the same way that you will encounter restaurants serving Thai or French “inspired cuisine”, I have come to realise that Starbucks is best approached with inspiration, not exact actualisation, in mind.
Kids’ temp: after burning my tongue numerous times I realised that while in Michigan I had to order my coffee at the temperature point usually reserved for babies and small children. I guess that when the norm requires heating a half litre of milk and then carrying it into a landscape that resembles an icy tundra, people want a beverage that is going to resist freezing as long as possible. In Michigan, winter is always coming.
The combination of these elements results in a smaller, stronger, steamed milk beverage that is almost exactly the same as the new Starbucks flat white (also prepared using whole milk and two shots of espresso).
For the better part of a year I ordered in this way, learning to almost enjoy the parody of the beverage I remembered. Then when warmer weather arrived I tried the drink that would change my life (at Starbucks) forever; the Iced Latte.
Even when winter rolled around again, I kept ordering my iced beverage. “Why Tom?” They would ask. “It is literally freezing outside”.
My reply was always the same, “Because it is impossible to burn milk that is designed to be served cold”.