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Not too milky, not too frothy
February 27, 2010 6:48 AM   Subscribe

If you're in London these days and are serious about your coffee, then you'll know what a Flat White is. It is part of the emerging coffee scene in London, host of 2010's World Barista Championship and home of last year's winner - Gwilym Davies. Here's a guide and map from London's TimeOut to the city's best coffee shops, many of them staffed by antipodean baristas.

Predictably, Starbucks in the UK wants a piece of the action.
posted by vacapinta (123 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's too strong, it's too hot, it's too cold, it's too foamy, it's too milky.

Everyone behind the counter knows it's just more whining.
posted by bam at 7:08 AM on February 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, to be clear, I'm complaining about the starbucks thing. Go London!
posted by bam at 7:09 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I walk past three (or four, depending on the route I take) branches of Starbucks when I fancy a coffee from Davies' cart on Whitecross Street.
posted by tapeguy at 7:11 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]



Someday, I'd like to open a coffee shop where customers who need more than thirty seconds to describe their coffee order are yanked forcefully from the building by a cartoonish, disembodied shepherd's crook that appears from off camera.

Failing that, a trapdoor or a huge boxing glove on a long articulated arm would do fine.
posted by mhoye at 7:14 AM on February 27, 2010 [23 favorites]


Walking past three or four Starbucks in an Australian city would be difficult (I think only Melbourne and Sydney have more than four).
posted by GeckoDundee at 7:19 AM on February 27, 2010


Er, it's a latte isn't it?

Also, TBH, I welcomed the arrival of Starbucks in london, where it proceeded to decimate the local Starbucks knock offs that had flowered briefly for a few years before, as it was better than them.
posted by Artw at 7:20 AM on February 27, 2010


I don't drink coffee, so maybe someone can explain this to me.
How is (according to the Telegraph article) Starbucks UK looking to this drink to address people's complaints that their other drinks are "too milky" when (according to the Wikipedia article) it contains 80% milk?
posted by demiurge at 7:27 AM on February 27, 2010


So a flat white is a latte in a different cup?
posted by octothorpe at 7:28 AM on February 27, 2010


We all know what Starbucks UK business plan is. All these press releases are just gloss:

Starbucks provides the cleanest, most accessible public restrooms in urban Britain. People visit to relieve themselves and then buy a coffee out of guilt. It seems to be working for them.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:37 AM on February 27, 2010 [16 favorites]


A short double latte with wholemilk.
posted by Artw at 7:38 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Er, it's a latte isn't it?

It's latter than you think.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:38 AM on February 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


My local barista says the flat white is not just a smaller latte. She makes it with a double ristretto rather than the usual espresso shot. Also, less foam hence "flat".
posted by lucia__is__dada at 7:39 AM on February 27, 2010


Todd! Are you not aware that I get farty and bloated with a foamy latte?
posted by gman at 7:46 AM on February 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ooooh, I would drink that. Guess it's time to finally accept one of those invitations to teach over there.

(Yes, I would base business decisions on coffee).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:48 AM on February 27, 2010


Time Out seems to have omitted the original and best coffee shop in London...the inimitable...the mighty Bar Italia.

Also, milky coffees are for girls. Exhibit A = the heart shape in a "Flat White".
posted by Ugandan Discussions at 7:50 AM on February 27, 2010


Exhibit B = bitter-girl.com's comment.
posted by Ugandan Discussions at 7:50 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was in London last week, and every cafe seemed to offer this (including Flat White in Soho). It occupies a space somewhere between a latte and an au lait.
posted by zippy at 7:54 AM on February 27, 2010


Someday, I'd like to open a coffee shop where customers who need more than thirty seconds to describe their coffee order are yanked forcefully from the building by a cartoonish, disembodied shepherd's crook that appears from off camera.

In the end, isn't simpler to just punch 'em in the dick?
posted by moss at 7:59 AM on February 27, 2010


Depends, moss, are they a girl?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:05 AM on February 27, 2010


If you're in London these days and are serious about your coffee, then you'll know what a Flat White is.

I'm pretty sure those who are "serious about their coffee" don't put milk in it. That's kind of like being serious about scotch, and knowing what a "Scotch and Coke" is.
posted by explosion at 8:09 AM on February 27, 2010 [18 favorites]


> Depends, moss, are they a girl?

Per the authority on the subject, that's not relevant to the task.
posted by ardgedee at 8:14 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Flat white sounds lovely. I like espresso drinks with a little milk, and lattes have too much milk unless I request sufficient extra shots to put me into cardiac arrest later.

When the cafe is one of the few that can deliver a proper shot that doesn't induce heartburn, I'll drink it straight, but those are rare hereabouts.
posted by ardgedee at 8:14 AM on February 27, 2010


Real coffee fans just keep a wad of coarsely ground beans in their cheek all day, like chewing tobacco.
posted by brain_drain at 8:17 AM on February 27, 2010 [28 favorites]


I'm pretty sure those who are "serious about their coffee" don't put milk in it. That's kind of like being serious about scotch, and knowing what a "Scotch and Coke" is.

I'm pretty sure serious coffee drinkers are more diverse than you think. Even serious bourbon drinkers enjoy a Manhattan. Serious gin drinkers enjoy a martini.
posted by vacapinta at 8:20 AM on February 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm a "serious" coffee drinking guy, and after 6 months in China, my love for a perfect cappuccino was rekindled.

However, a top flight Kenyan roasted to perfection and brewed with clarity in mind is still as good as it gets for me.
posted by flippant at 8:26 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK, wait, that NY Times article says that the Australians imported flat whites to London?

Are we going to have to have another pavlova/Split Enz/Phar Lap argument here? Well, are we?

(For the record, Flat White, the London coffee shop, was started by Kiwis from Wellington, which is (or should be) known as the most serious coffee town on this planet). (And indeed if you read the Wiki article, it gives proper credit to Wellington....)
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:26 AM on February 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


Flat white was pretty much the closest thing to regular coffee available in Australia in 2003, or so it seemed to me as a tourist.

Next up: mcdonalds starts putting beets on burgers. The Antipodean invasion has begun!
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:30 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Time Out seems to have omitted the original and best coffee shop in London...the inimitable...the mighty Bar Italia.

They charge £2.50 for a shot of espresso. One can only assume they are serving liquid gold rather than coffee these days?
posted by vacapinta at 8:30 AM on February 27, 2010


How is (according to the Telegraph article) Starbucks UK looking to this drink to address people's complaints that their other drinks are "too milky" when (according to the Wikipedia article) it contains 80% milk?

A normal 12oz latte is generally 1 fl oz of espresso with steamed milk to near the top of the cup and foam the rest of the way. I've never had a 'Flat White' before, but I've pulled ristretto shots and topped with full-fat (whole) milk. That's what these drinks are, right?

Now, they sound like pretty similar drinks no? and, in general concept, they are. Small amount of strong coffee topped with milk, right? But there are a few key differences. First, a ristretto shot differs from regular espresso in that it uses less water and/or is 'pulled' in a shorter amount of time. The less-water shots generally use a finer grind than espresso, so less water can pass between the particles in the same amount of time it takes to pull an espresso shot. The shorter pull ristrettos use the same grind as espresso but cuts short the amount of time water has to pass through the grounds. Generally the effect is the same: less water means a higher coffee oils to water ratio in your shot. And the result of that is a richer, rounder flavor in the shot. It's "stronger" (though not necessarily in terms of caffeine content). And there's two to a latte's single espresso.

Then there's the milk. Less of it volume-wise, first of all, but not much less. Percent or skim milk has less fat and less flavor. Dousing a (comparatively) weak shot of espresso with bland fattyless milk gives you a latte. But infusing a strong, caramel-y ristretto shot with delicious full-fat milk can bring out more of the coffee flavor.

But you know, for many, many people it's just bitter coffee with hot milk any way you pour it. These tiny differences only matter to the coffee types—people analogous to wine types or cigar types.

In other news, I looked at that Barista World Championship Silliness and saw a bunch of martini glasses with styrofoam sticking out of them. Is that what Baristas compete for these days? I'd be more interested if it were less about the floofyness of the drink and more about serving excellent coffee beverages at extremely high speed while finding out how Bob or Sue's week has been going, keeping the brewed coffee fresh, the bake case full, and the floors/bathrooms clean. That I can do. Styrofoam sludge martinis? Not so much.
posted by carsonb at 8:33 AM on February 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


I like how the flat earth wiki page is super defensive against those who ask "isn't this just a latte?"

First, the coffee used in a Cafe con Leche is by default a Spanish Roast, whereas the typical roast in New Zealand is more akin to the much lighter Northern Italian Roast. This changes the whole dynamic of the drink.

NO , it's a totally different drink
posted by Think_Long at 8:35 AM on February 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'd be curious to know whether the Flat White originated in New Zealand or Australia. Wikipedia refuses to take sides. It is a delicious coffee/milk drink, much more so than a latte for me. Less milk, but not all foamy like a cappucino. It's my second favourite coffee drink after a French café crème.
posted by Nelson at 8:39 AM on February 27, 2010


I want a flat white now (albeit not from Starbucks). If milk in my coffee makes me a dilettante, so be it.
posted by blucevalo at 8:53 AM on February 27, 2010


Costa is also offering flat whites - they are utterly horrible. Thankfully I pass a Scared Cafe (another antipodean coffee shop) on my way to work each morning
posted by X-00 at 8:56 AM on February 27, 2010


These sound richer in texture. Unfortunately, mine would have to have a lot of sugar to make up for the double shot. I'll stick to my Starbucks Caramel Macchiatos when that rare time occurs when I actually want coffee.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:01 AM on February 27, 2010


Here in Mexico, I have spent a year trying to get a flat white the way I like it. This is how I drank coffee in India, and in Australia, but in Mexico the proportions are all a bit off. A lechero has too much milk, a cortado has too little milk. A capuccino just will not serve. Especially when there's such good coffee to be had. So I hit upon a plan to secretly train this barista at a cafe in the city centre. I would go there at the exact same time as always, sit the same booth, give the same instructions: how to make a flat white. My broken spanish and my insistence on this form of coffee soon got me recognized, I was a regular customer, and one day the breakthrough. The waiter brought me the coffee I wanted without any prompting. I thought I coud relax, and circumstances did not allow me to return tot he cafe for a while. The next time I went, tragedy, they'd changed the entire workstaff.

Now I just ask for an espresso and milk on the side and make my own.
posted by dhruva at 9:05 AM on February 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's okay, Infinite Jest -- I'm sure that the flat white will be counted up there with the tomato shaped ketchup bottle as one of NZ's contributions to civilization.
posted by jb at 9:20 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is this something I would have to put milk in my coffee to understand?
posted by chavenet at 9:20 AM on February 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


That's exactly how I make/serve coffee with milk at home. A ristretto double shot, pulled into an Illy Cappucino-sized cup and topped with Microfoam (but not froth). I never knew it was called a flat white.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:38 AM on February 27, 2010


Costa isn't dead yet? Pity.
posted by Artw at 9:39 AM on February 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, I won't be happy until coffeeshops everywhere start offering London Fogs. Wake me up when they start serving those, instead of coming up with more shot of coffee/steamed milk variants...
posted by ubersturm at 9:40 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Living in Wellington NZ, I can confirm we take coffee very seriously. Starbucks has it's place though, as a way to meet tourists and other visitors.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 9:46 AM on February 27, 2010


Just drink a proper Earl Grey tea, you pervert.
posted by Artw at 9:49 AM on February 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


OK, wait, that NY Times article says that the Australians imported flat whites to London?

Highly implausible.

Someone had to do it
posted by electroboy at 9:57 AM on February 27, 2010


I second the recommendation of Flat White, Soho.
posted by honest knave at 10:09 AM on February 27, 2010


In order to actually add to the thread discussion, I should note:

Trends don't hit my current city of Cambridge (UK) too quickly, but somehow this year we have been hit by a wave of: Town is still quite expensive to live in, so I can only assume that shopowners expect these to be big hits with the tourists.
posted by honest knave at 10:15 AM on February 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, Seattle's down to just one coffee cart while the center of coffee culture has moved 180 miles south to Portland.

I remember 12 years ago getting a latte in London. It was miserable. Even from the worst coffee cart in Seattle I've never had anything close to that terrible, very watery, too hot, and strangely flavorless given it was made with burned Starbucks-style roast. I hope it's better than that now.
posted by dw at 10:18 AM on February 27, 2010


Real coffee fans just keep a wad of coarsely ground beans in their cheek all day, like chewing tobacco.

You think he's joking. He's not.

The only reason I ever put a spoon in my coffee is to make sure it's strong enough to etch the spoon or thick enough to make the spoon stand up by itself.
posted by loquacious at 10:30 AM on February 27, 2010


(Yes, I would base business decisions on coffee).

Move to Wellington.
posted by rodgerd at 10:43 AM on February 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


It does seem like a slightly modifed latte. Is the creative spark in the coffee industry really so short of new ideas to spark customer interest?
posted by Hicksu at 10:46 AM on February 27, 2010


Real coffee fans just keep a wad of coarsely ground beans in their cheek all day, like chewing tobacco.

brain_drain, hilarious . . . I will be stealing this later. Thanks.
posted by theredpen at 10:50 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I want a full bodied black...is that wrong?
posted by Not Supplied at 10:59 AM on February 27, 2010


I'd be curious to know whether the Flat White originated in New Zealand or Australia.

Both? One version of the history of where the flat white came from.
posted by meech at 11:08 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am constantly amazed at the variations around coffee. More specifically making it impossible to make the shit more drinkable given the options. A flat white? You have got to be fucking kidding me. Alas, it's true, but it drives me insane.

In my house, coffee is never ending question time pitting preparer against guests. There's the italian espresso pot, then the espresso machine, afterwards for a different vibe have the good old fashioned coffee pot and for more intimate situations have a french press.

Oh, accessories. One grinder for espresso another for coffee and yet another that kind of mixes between the two depending on the setting for a perfect cup of whatever.

Thankfully I have woken up and smelled the coffee. I buy quality source product, i.e. beans, and drink the shit black, the way nature intended it to be consumed.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 11:33 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee...

Flat white - as mentioned, ristretto shot, but the key thing is that when pouring the milk, the mass of it is held back by the spoon, so you get the thicker, less airy milk. This really changes the texture of the drink (makes it prettier too - fewer big ugly quick-drying bubbles). It's quite distinct to a latte, which just makes me feel all logey.

It's been ages since I did my little bit of barista training, but I'm going to refresh myself if I leave Wellington sometime this year (as currently planned). I want to be able to be an annoying reach-over-the-counter-here's-how-you-do-it guy when I hit Canada or what have you.

I usually drink long blacks - espresso shot with a small amount of extra water, for those not in the know - but sometimes I'm feeling more breakfasty and I want some milk too. So, flat white.

Now I'm thinking we need a Wellington Mefite cafe crawl.

Coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee...
posted by Dandeson Coates, Sec'y at 11:57 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cafe Grumpy serves a Flat White. I've heard the staff of the Chelsea location make in-jokes about it. They also claim that is has an Australian origin.
posted by defenestration at 12:02 PM on February 27, 2010


The coffee drink, not the beans.
posted by defenestration at 12:02 PM on February 27, 2010


Didn't a British guy win in 2007 in Tokyo as well? I helped a friend of mine train to represent Canada and I seem to remember him telling me later that he lost to a Brit.
posted by mannequito at 12:06 PM on February 27, 2010


Scotch and Coke

What a waste of a perfectly good Coke.
posted by zippy at 12:19 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a latte for the terminally touchy or culturally disenfranchised.

I have no opinion where coffee is concerned, of course, but I think I know where I stand when it comes to Antipodeans arriving in Europe and attempting to civilize the place.
posted by tigrefacile at 12:31 PM on February 27, 2010


the way nature intended it to be consumed

That's right, the way nature roasted and ground the beans shows the one true way...

Oh, right.
posted by rodgerd at 12:40 PM on February 27, 2010


tigrefacile, I hope that's not the sound of the country that gave us Simon Cowell, the News of the World, and the Chelsea smile trying to snick its nose in the air.
posted by rodgerd at 12:46 PM on February 27, 2010


I have no opinion where coffee is concerned, of course, but I think I know where I stand when it comes to Antipodeans arriving in Europe and attempting to civilize the place.

Almost six hours before the first dig at Antipodeans from a Londoner - I was beginning to think you were all out.

We had a hundred and fifty years of mash and peas thanks to you lot before the Mediterraneans turned up. Take your medicine.
posted by rory at 12:52 PM on February 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


FORMER COLONY/COLONISER FIIIIIIGHT!

I've nothing else to say, except that it's summer here.
posted by Dandeson Coates, Sec'y at 1:00 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


We had great Flat Whites in New Zealand this past spring, definitely rivaling London. And I agree with the above posts - if it's made well, it's NOT a latte.
posted by garnetgirl at 1:04 PM on February 27, 2010


We all know what Starbucks UK business plan is. All these press releases are just gloss:

Starbucks provides the cleanest, most accessible public restrooms in urban Britain. People visit to relieve themselves and then buy a coffee out of guilt. It seems to be working for them.


Mayor Curley, it's true in the US too. I just did a long car trip with a friend and our four (between us) kids, and when one of the kids had a bathroom need, but we knew he was picky about using public bathrooms, we looked up Starbucks locations on her smartphone and went there. It was the only place we knew of where we could count on a clean enough bathroom that this particular 7yo would be able to do his business.
posted by not that girl at 1:05 PM on February 27, 2010


Every time I go home to New Zealand for vacation I drink two or three flat whites a day. The withdrawal when i get back to NYC is extreme (although there are a couple of places in the city that will make them... I'm just lazy)
posted by gaspode at 1:08 PM on February 27, 2010


I went to Flat White this summer, and found their namesake very similar to drinks sold as lattes served here in Canada at some select establishments.

My suspicion is that you need to know what you are doing in order to be able to prepare a flat white (good short shot, right kind of microfoam and pour), so I much prefer it to the Starbucks-style latte. It will be... interesting... to see if Starbucks baristas can produce anything close.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 1:13 PM on February 27, 2010


I hope that's not the sound of the country that gave us Simon Cowell, the News of the World, and the Chelsea smile trying to snick its nose in the air.

Snicking with tongue in cheek. Looking a little like Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:20 PM on February 27, 2010


Australians may very well be masters of the espresso drink, but I had a hard time getting a cup of coffee there. I was in Cairns and went into a coffee shop and ordered a "medium coffee". The barista smiled politely and paused. (I wondered if I said something wrong; earlier in the week I embarrassingly learned that "ketchup" is "tomato sauce" in Oz.)

So I say, "Just a medium drip coffee." More smile, silence, confusion. "Just regular coffee." She actually starts to consult her own menu as if she made a mistake. I check the menu and sure enough, no plain old coffee is listed. I ordered a mocha or something and we had a quick laugh. I later read that Aussie coffee shops don't serve drip coffee, but only espresso drinks. Aussies, can you confirm this?
posted by zardoz at 2:22 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I later read that Aussie coffee shops don't serve drip coffee, but only espresso drinks. Aussies, can you confirm this?

You might find it in a roadhouse, but certainly not in a coffee shop.
posted by pompomtom at 2:29 PM on February 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


zardoz: you could try asking for a filter coffee, maybe (I haven't heard the term 'drip coffee', but Wikipedia says they are synoyms). Failing that, an Americano (an espresso with extra water).

Incidentally, ketchup is slightly different from tomato sauce. You can buy both in NZ/Australia, though tomato sauce is more widespread. My Canadian/American friends claim that the flavours are totally different, and that they don't really like Kiwi tomato sauce, compared to North American-style ketchup.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:34 PM on February 27, 2010


So the flat white is local to Aus/NZ? Huh. I always thought it was an international drink.

Dandeson Coates, Sec'y: How do you do a Wellington cafe crawl without bouncing off the walls?
posted by Enki at 3:08 PM on February 27, 2010


Hmm, I wouldn't be too happy in AUS if I couldn't get a normal cup of coffee. I'm not really a big fan of espresso drinks except for the occasional americano, I just don't like milk all that much and really don't like it in coffee. Is everyone in the country lactose tolerant?
posted by octothorpe at 3:12 PM on February 27, 2010


There is a world of difference between "people really into coffee" and "people really into espresso."

Personally, I would rather have a gas station coffee, or better yet a tea, than an espresso, I just don't care for them; espresso drinks doubly so. But I am more than happy to order single origin coffees from around the world, and roast up a batch every week so I can throw some nice, fresh, just-ground city roast into my pre-heated french press and set the timer.
posted by paisley henosis at 3:43 PM on February 27, 2010


In other news, I looked at that Barista World Championship Silliness and saw a bunch of martini glasses with styrofoam sticking out of them. Is that what Baristas compete for these days?

Barista competition standard is 4 espressos, 4 lattes and 4 "signature drinks" (which can be anything with coffee in them), served within a strict time limit. If you want brewed coffee and a bake-case go to Starbucks.
posted by markr at 3:58 PM on February 27, 2010


Zardoz, I think what you were looking for would be most analogous to a Long Black.

It was a funny realisation for me, when I realised that Australians care and have a basic standard of coffee second pretty much only to Italians. We're usually a bit behind the rest of the world with stuff. That's why Starbucks never really took off here. Cafe culture, god bless you.

Also, Nthing that filter coffee is something you would only find here in offices, roadhouses, or dinner parties in the eighties.
posted by smoke at 4:02 PM on February 27, 2010


First, the coffee used in a Cafe con Leche is by default a Spanish Roast, whereas the typical roast in New Zealand is more akin to the much lighter Northern Italian Roast. This changes the whole dynamic of the drink.

Ten internet dollars says this is horseshit. Are beans roasted in Spain different from the beans roasted in Northern Italy? I'm sure there's plenty of people that could tell you way too much about coffee, and I might be one of them. So I want to point out that the ROAST has nothing to do with the REGION. It was just something people tacked on for the sake of naming it something. French Roast is not from France, it's just that the French apparently liked to roast their coffees until....You know, I just realized I don't even care.
posted by bam at 4:04 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have tried every type of coffee style and have come to the conclusion that the best beans, freshly ground, and sent through a high-end espresso machine with nothing added is the best. The milk and other additions just get in the way.

My favorite spot is Stump Town in Seattle or Portland.
posted by cell divide at 4:10 PM on February 27, 2010


Actually, the process of roasting coffee in Spain, Portugal or France tends to be different from the rest of Europe.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 4:34 PM on February 27, 2010


I don't drink coffee, but going to Starbucks in Paris was like seeking asylum. It was air conditioned and had normally configured bathrooms.
posted by mpbx at 4:38 PM on February 27, 2010


I could have sworn it was an Onion article, but I can't find it now.

"Starbucks to simply its menu. From now on, we will have two offerings - coffee, and coffee with milk."
posted by mrbill at 4:52 PM on February 27, 2010


Enki: That's the whole point, like throwing up after a pub crawl (note: I don't do pub crawls).

I've had three long blacks today and it's not even 2pm. Maybe I need a flat white to chill out with.

Damn English assignment due tomorrow.

Coffee coffee
posted by Dandeson Coates, Sec'y at 4:53 PM on February 27, 2010


Obligatory.
posted by Dandeson Coates, Sec'y at 4:59 PM on February 27, 2010


I was pleasantly surprised by my first Flat White (the other day at the excellent Coffee@33 in Brighton) - I'd expected to find it was basically a latte, but it was different - heavier, and more warming on a cold day.

It wasn't a habit-changing experience, though. My usual is still going to be a cafe allongé or failing that a black Americano.

On London's coffee culture, I'd always rather assumed we were behind the US in that (Starbucks opening here was a comparatively big deal). Perhaps I'm wrong. I'm sure it was just me as a tourist not knowing the right places to go, but I was let down by the coffee I had in New York City when I was there last year. With one exception, I didn't find anything up to the standard I would usually get in London.
posted by athenian at 5:01 PM on February 27, 2010


going to Starbucks in Paris was like seeking asylum.

Going to Starbucks in Paris is like being in Sweden and seeking asylum in the Iranian embassy.

And as a regular in Paris, I don't know what's so different about the bathrooms there - rural France twenty years ago was a different toilet experience, but surely Parisian toilets are just the same as everywhere else these days.
posted by athenian at 5:05 PM on February 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Going to Starbucks in East Berlin I could see the Brandenburg Gate.
posted by Artw at 5:32 PM on February 27, 2010



Nods in agreement with everyone and has another sip of Drambuie.
posted by notreally at 5:49 PM on February 27, 2010


I too am very cool because I do not drink Starbucks coffee. I walk right by the front door, "talk to the hand, Starbucks! Ha!" I also turn my nose up at Baja Fresh. Except on Tuesdays.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:48 PM on February 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are only two places in the world where coffee is consistently excellent (and yes I've been to Wellington). One is a country (Italy) and the other is Melbourne. Unsurprisingly Melbourne has a large Italian migrant population. I have a very hard time believing that Wellington was the place where the flat white originated.
posted by awfurby at 6:51 PM on February 27, 2010


Depends, moss, are they a girl?

What a coincidence! I just found out about the World Barista Championships today, via the last couple episodes of a TV series that also relates to the above quip in an amusing way. (It was a wonderfully cute little drama and I hope you click and enjoy its 17 episodes as much as djduckie and I did.)
posted by Xezlec at 7:20 PM on February 27, 2010


I moved to Melbourne, Australia a year and a half ago, and was absolutely gobsmacked to learn that "iced coffee" here means ice cream in your black coffee. Native Melburnians or Australians can correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the only place to get an iced latte or iced black coffee is Starbucks. Not that I'm complaining, I prefer my coffee hot anyway.

That said, I have not found the coffee "consistently excellent" here though the burgeoning gourmet coffee scene means that it's easy to get a good cup of coffee in the city. If you don't mind a little pretension, that is. I had a magnificent cup yesterday at a cafe set up like a laboratory, where the servers were clad in white lab coats. Mine was a bit put out when I asked for milk.
posted by peripathetic at 7:55 PM on February 27, 2010


Sigh ... good espresso. A very worthy fpp.

The 'flat white' sounds like the latte at Seattle's Vivace (off Broadway) ... not too hot, creamy thick and topped off with sweet design. Delicious! Most espresso places make the milk too hot - and the drink is bitter. Sloppy espresso drinks are worse than mcD coffee.

Better to just order a doppio and add cream.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:44 PM on February 27, 2010


A 90+ comment post on flat white? God help you, rest of the world.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:10 AM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you don't mind a little pretension, that is. I had a magnificent cup yesterday at a cafe set up like a laboratory, where the servers were clad in white lab coats. Mine was a bit put out when I asked for milk

peripathetic, I think you have to endure more than a little pretension at Sensory Lab. I'm not sure the coffee is worth it. If you haven't already, you should try Brother Baba Budan in Lt Bourke St - excellent and as a bonus, chairs suspended from the ceiling!
posted by dave99 at 12:57 AM on February 28, 2010


i just wanted to add this little personal "behind the coffee bar quicker picker upper" drink.
Needs 1 cup, some vanilla, heavy cream.

1. Grasp the cup.
2. Add any flavoring of your choice.
3. 1 to 2 ounces cold cream.
4. Pull 1-2 espresso shots straight into the cup using a spoon as to keep the coffee and cream separated.
5. Down the drink in one go.

Nice hot coffee finished with a smooth creamy vanilla flavored heat reducing cherry on top.
posted by bam at 1:07 AM on February 28, 2010


"iced coffee" here means ice cream in your black coffee

No, it means coffee-flavoured milk (or, if you prefer, very cold, very very very milky coffee). If you ask for it in a cafe you may well get ice cream in it, though whipped cream on top and a sprinkling of cocoa is more likely. If it turned out to be black coffee with a scoop of ice cream in it something has gone very, very wrong.

Maybe it's my memory playing tricks on me, but:

In the Dreamtime, there was coffee. It was Nescafe Blend 43, and you had it black or with milk. Then came the wogs, and they bought the cuppachino (no, it's not spelled 'cappuccino', because it's just a cuppa, but the 'chino' lets you know it's from some wog country), and its more filling cousin, the muggachino. But some people though the froth was a bit...well, you know, like something pooftas drink, so they needed a way of saying they wanted it like the good old days - coffee, with milk in it, and no bloody poofta froth. I want it white, and I want it flat - a flat white, the opposite of a long black, which was a less poofy way of saying 'weak coffee'.

Somewhere along the line (maybe after Priscilla came out and it became fashionable to pretend you thought poofs were all right as long as they didn't try to touch your bum or anything) people felt comfortable with maybe a little bit of froth, but just a bit, and just on the top for looks. Maybe it also had something to do with all the places that used to sell Blend 43 only selling muggachinoes and people asking for one with only a little bit of froth. Anyway, at some point a bit of froth became acceptable, but not in one of those poofta glass cups, and no I don't want a bloody larr-tay, I want hot white coffee in a regular cup, please, with a bit of froth.

And so you had a flat white, the perfect accompaniment to a ham and salad sandwich with beetroot on it or scones with jam and cream. And bloody poofta Kiwis had fark all to do with any of it.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:26 AM on February 28, 2010 [17 favorites]


Icecream in your coffee? No, no sir, you are referring to an affogato. A $6 iced coffee at a cafe may come with an ice cream in it, but that's not real coffee in any meaningful sense. Obiwan has it, iced coffee here is a milk drink you buy in a carton.

the burgeoning gourmet coffee scene

Dude if you think the coffee scene in Melbourne is anything remotely like "burgeoning", truly, you are going to the wrong places. Melbourne has been the Australian capital of coffee for at least 25 years, and - gosh darn it - Melbourne makes a world class respectable cup of joe - and you don't need to go to a gimmicky lab bar to get it.
posted by smoke at 3:22 AM on February 28, 2010


I'm neither a sir nor a dude, and I'm pretty darn sure that the two places I went to where I asked for iced coffee, I got ice cream in black coffee. Did not ask for an affogato at any time. I've seen the iced coffee cartons in supermarkets though. But it looks like I should explore this further.

Yes, Melbourne is a great place for coffee overall, but I'm willing to bet that the places where you can choose to have your single estate or special house blend brewed in a Japanese syphon or Slayer espresso machine by intense metrosexuals deeply concerned about monsoons affecting crops in India are a pretty new development. Not sneering though, they deliver on their promises.
posted by peripathetic at 6:20 AM on February 28, 2010


The difference between coffee in London and coffee in Melbourne/Sydney is that you have to go out of your way to find drinkable espresso in London. Every place has its own espresso machine, but most places don't have anyone who knows how to operate it, and so you end up with half a pint of bitter, watery bilge with a bit of bubbly milk in the top*. Compared to that, the coffee you get in Starbucks or Costa is going to be mediocre but at least drinkable.

In Melbourne (or at least inner Melbourne, not the outer suburbs), anywhere you go is going to offer competently made coffee; there are, of course, differences in quality, but a cappucino or macchiato is going to be made to the specification and generally be between good and superb. No wonder that a few years ago, Starbucks shut down 2/3 of its Australian operations.

In the five or so years I've lived in London, I've seen some shocking abuses of coffee. Where I work, there is a Nespresso machine (that's one of those which makes coffee using the bones of dead African babies capsules of pre-ground beans from Nestlé). I've observed a number of people making their morning coffee by running half a pint of water through it, adding some milk and putting that in the microwave. One day, the cafés will catch onto this and call it the Angliano**.

* this is exactly what you get when you order a cappucino from the hipster at Bar Prague in Hoxton.
** Angliano is an Italian slang word meaning "crazy", or, more literally, "gone English".
posted by acb at 6:24 AM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


It was a funny realisation for me, when I realised that Australians care and have a basic standard of coffee second pretty much only to Italians. We're usually a bit behind the rest of the world with stuff. That's why Starbucks never really took off here. Cafe culture, god bless you.

Australian coffee culture goes back a long way; some would say to the 1850s, though Italian-style espresso took off in the 1950s. They were even making Gaggia espresso machines under licence in Australia in the 50s.
posted by acb at 6:28 AM on February 28, 2010


Yes, Melbourne is a great place for coffee overall, but I'm willing to bet that the places where you can choose to have your single estate or special house blend brewed in a Japanese syphon or Slayer espresso machine by intense metrosexuals deeply concerned about monsoons affecting crops in India are a pretty new development.

When I was in Melbourne in January, they were demonstrating the Japanese vacuum filter coffee-making technique in David Jones (an upmarket department store in the centre of the city); it seemed to be somewhat of an exotic novelty. I'm not aware of it being a fixture in any cafés there yet.
posted by acb at 6:36 AM on February 28, 2010


On London's coffee culture, I'd always rather assumed we were behind the US in that (Starbucks opening here was a comparatively big deal). Perhaps I'm wrong. I'm sure it was just me as a tourist not knowing the right places to go, but I was let down by the coffee I had in New York City when I was there last year. With one exception, I didn't find anything up to the standard I would usually get in London.


Comparing the 'coffee culture' of London and the US, is a bit like comparing the standard of pizza making in Mongolia and Zimbabwe.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 5:48 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


HiroProtagonist: Comparing the 'coffee culture' of London and the US, is a bit like comparing the standard of pizza making in Mongolia and Zimbabwe.

I see what you are going for, but I bet a Mongolian Pizza would be awesome.
posted by paisley henosis at 6:16 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, I need to get into the city more often. All I know is that I was ecstatic the day the supermarkets started stocking Grinders coffee.
posted by Ritchie at 6:43 PM on February 28, 2010


On my last trip to Melbourne, I brought back about 2kg of coffee beans, half from Atomica and half from Jasper Coffee. IMHO, after extensive testing, I've come to the conclusion that Atomica > Jasper.
posted by acb at 12:08 PM on March 1, 2010


In Melbourne (or at least inner Melbourne, not the outer suburbs), anywhere you go is going to offer competently made coffee.... No wonder that a few years ago, Starbucks shut down 2/3 of its Australian operations.

Actually, that's not why Starbucks pared back in Australia, at least not according to Howard Schultz:
Australia is a market that has extremely high rents and very expensive labor rates... Some of the real estate that was chosen there in the early years perhaps was a little bit too aggressive.
Starbucks way overexpanded in the 4-5 years leading up to the mass store closures. Australia had thin margins, so it was an obvious target. And at the same time Starbucks was cutting stores in Australia they were also cutting them in the US as well, including in Seattle.

The funny thing about Starbucks is its appearance in a neighborhood actually helps the small, local shops. (I think this has been on the Blue before.) So one could argue Starbucks entering Melbourne might have actually boosted Melbourne's market by creating something that could be contrasted with Melbourne's coffee culture.

Right now what's coming out of Portland is so different and amazing that any self-proud Melbournian would mumble some apology after having a cuppa from Stumptown. But it took 20 years of Starbucks expansion to get the US ready for Stumptown. Truck stop and diner coffee may still be swill (especially if you have any after 10am), but almost all American coffee used to be like that before the rise of Starbucks.
posted by dw at 2:52 PM on March 1, 2010


I remember 12 years ago getting a latte in London. It was miserable. Even from the worst coffee cart in Seattle I've never had anything close to that terrible, very watery, too hot, and strangely flavorless given it was made with burned Starbucks-style roast. I hope it's better than that now.

Are you kidding, dw? The US is renowned for its watery coffee here in Europe. I guess you must've just had pretty bad luck with your choice of coffee house when you visited us in the UK. But then coffee has been popular in London in 1688.
posted by Lleyam at 3:04 PM on March 1, 2010


Are you kidding, dw?

No, but then I came to London from Seattle, so there's that.
posted by dw at 4:37 PM on March 1, 2010


All I know is that I was ecstatic the day the supermarkets started stocking Grinders coffee.
I'd guess that was shortly after they were bought by Coke.
posted by GeckoDundee at 7:01 PM on March 1, 2010


The funny thing about Starbucks is its appearance in a neighborhood actually helps the small, local shops.
Isn't it Starbucks' operating practice to saturate a neighbourhood with outlets, running them at a loss until independent competitors go out of business and then pruning them back? It certainly used to be, and has aroused many complaints.
posted by acb at 7:05 PM on March 1, 2010


The US is renowned for its watery coffee here in Europe.

Where in the US? I've had decent espresso in San Francisco and Seattle, but both are cosmopolitan areas, and probably not representative. I know that in Italy (and the UK), they make a watered-down espresso named the Americano, for those used to American-style urn coffee which is somewhat weaker than espresso.

One thing the US gets right is the idea of the café as a "third place" to hang out. In London, the cafés tend to be crowded or lacking in ambience, and (for the most part) don't encourage that sort of thing. (Probably because pubs fill that role in England. However, pubs being alcohol-centric and, in Anglo-Saxon culture, alcohol having disinhibiting properties, the mood and social rules are completely different; sitting with a laptop or a notebook in a pub seems antisocial in a way it does not in a café.)
posted by acb at 7:13 PM on March 1, 2010


Isn't it Starbucks' operating practice to saturate a neighbourhood with outlets, running them at a loss until independent competitors go out of business and then pruning them back?

No, their practice was to saturate a neighborhood, then open still more stores, throw a stand in the grocery store, and then open a place inside the new Barnes & Noble. It wasn't about destroying all other businesses, it was about creating "third places" all over the damn place.

There's a corner on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle where at one point there was Tully's, a West Coast coffee chain based here in Seattle and long the "alternative" to Starbucks; Peets, a branch of the venerable Berkeley coffee shop that started the "Second Wave" coffee movement; a Starbucks, which a fireplace and a "Third Place" look; and Cafe Ladro, a local little coffee house with a couple of branches but not a big player like Peets or Tully's or Starbucks. Four coffee houses on three corners.

Now, there are only two left -- Starbucks... and Ladro. Tully's couldn't compete with Starbucks nationally and pulled back, eventually getting swallowed up by Green Mountain Coffee. Peets never got the street traffic, mainly due to lacking the "third place" ambiance, and shuttered earlier this year. Ladro, though, is thriving, and in fact is up to 13 locations in the metro area.

What's working to their advantage? They're independent and they have free wi-fi. Ladro is Italian for thief, and the founder said his entire plan was to steal customers from Starbucks. Apparently, that plan is working quite well.
posted by dw at 8:50 PM on March 1, 2010


I guess you must've just had pretty bad luck with your choice of coffee house when you visited us in the UK.

Funny, I ended up drinking at Starbucks when I was working the the UK a decade ago because as mehdiocre as it is, it was light years ahead of the warmed arse-water being sold as coffee most places in the UK.

at least not according to Howard Schultz:

This is the same guy that came to New Zealand and claimed the reason Starbucks mostly failed here was because we don't "get" real coffee, which is Starbucks coffee?

when I realised that Australians care and have a basic standard of coffee second pretty much only to Italians.

Odd that I found Melbourne so disappointing on the coffee front last time I was there, then. Mind you, beer selections were pretty shit, as well. Have they discovered anything beyond variants on VB and Carlton in the last few years?
posted by rodgerd at 10:46 PM on March 1, 2010


I'd guess that was shortly after they were bought by Coke.

I didn't know that. If it saves me going to Lygon Street to buy coffee beans I'm all for the takeover.
posted by Ritchie at 10:54 PM on March 1, 2010


Mind you, beer selections were pretty shit, as well. Have they discovered anything beyond variants on VB and Carlton in the last few years?

Mountain Goat, Beez Neez, Pure Blonde... There seems to have been a microbrewery boom over the past decade or so, with the majors following suit and making similar-style beers.
posted by acb at 5:08 AM on March 2, 2010


The Brits might have been really into coffee c1688, but they dropped it in the intervening centuries. British coffee is going through a major revival thanks to Italian, Aus and NZ immigrants (and the Aus and NZ coffee culture is itself thanks to Italian immigration). I notice the difference in coffee culture -- of the major chains, only the North American one serves what might be thought of as traditional "Anglo" coffee -- the rest only have espresso and related drinks.

Also, it should be noted that while Aus and NZ will argue over who has the highest quality coffee among the Anglos, Canada has every one in the world whipped on quantity. Our coffee might taste like burnt water, but we consume the most coffee beans in the world per capita.
posted by jb at 5:51 AM on March 2, 2010


British coffee is going through a major revival thanks to Italian, Aus and NZ immigrants (and the Aus and NZ coffee culture is itself thanks to Italian immigration).

Britain had an Italian-led coffee renaissance in the 1950s (with cafes in Soho like Bar Italia), though it didn't stick. Perhaps there weren't enough Italian migrants to give the phenomenon a critical mass? These days, there are Italian-run greasy-spoon caffs which don't bother with Italian standards of coffee making because the public don't differentiate.

Also, it should be noted that while Aus and NZ will argue over who has the highest quality coffee among the Anglos, Canada has every one in the world whipped on quantity. Our coffee might taste like burnt water, but we consume the most coffee beans in the world per capita.

Followed closely by the Icelanders and Norwegians; the cold northern latitudes generally run on coffee.
posted by acb at 8:26 AM on March 2, 2010


The gross American coffee I mean is that brown-water drip coffee they have in all the diners. What's the point in it? Yuck.

And I'm still perplexed by how anyone could have visited London and had rubbo coffee in the last decade. I've been living here 13 years and all that time I've always been able to get decent double espresso and make my own at home.

Come round mine next time someone offers you arse water.
posted by Lleyam at 11:46 AM on March 2, 2010


hey, some of us LIKE that brown-water drip coffee! And the smell of stale tobacco is what's needed to make it perfect.

Seriously, there is a good tradition of well-made medium (or at least not espresso-dark) roast drip or press coffee -- I don't know where it originated, but it's what I think of as Anglo or North American style coffee (in that it's certainly not French or Italian -- where is it from?). I don't happen to like espresso or espresso-based drinks, so when I was in Britain I didn't go to Cafe Nero or any of the other chains -- I had to find a mom & pop or a Starbucks if I wanted a non-espresso coffee. (And no, an Americano does not count -- that's just watery espresso).
posted by jb at 1:55 PM on March 2, 2010


The gross American coffee I mean is that brown-water drip coffee they have in all the diners. What's the point in it? Yuck.

Because it's how coffee was made before the espresso machine became popular post-WWII -- with percolators. Espresso gained some popularity in the US in the 1950s with the Beatniks, but it really wasn't until the 1990s that it moved to the fore in the US.

America really didn't have many coffeehouses before the 1990s; the "third place" role in American society was taken up mainly by the diner, and the most convenient way to make coffee was by the pot, not by the shot.

Most Americans made coffee at home using percolators and later drip coffee makers like Mr. Coffee, so it wasn't like they were missing anything.
posted by dw at 2:21 PM on March 2, 2010


And anyway, a Mr Coffee costs $20; until recently a home espresso machine could be purchased for less than $100, and a good one was several times that. Mr Coffee is very fire-and-forget: Filter, coffee, water, flip the switch. An espresso machine requires practice to pull a decent shot. If it's 6am and you need your caffeine fix, would you rather throw some grounds into a filter or would you rather work steam-laden machinery?

All this changed the last 20 years, of course. Starbucks evangelized the latte, and the independents pushed forth the Third Wave. Mr Coffee sales have cratered. And even those who relied on drip makers changed their habits. My father in law in his last years started buying whole roast beans and ground them himself every morning because "it tasted better," but still put them in the Mr Coffee.
posted by dw at 2:30 PM on March 2, 2010


until recently a home espresso machine couldn't be purchased for less than $100

Sigh.
posted by dw at 2:31 PM on March 2, 2010


The Antipodean invasion is really taking off.

Just since this post, I've seen Taylor St. Baristas ( a bunch of Aussies) open more stores and a new very hyped Roastery run by Kiwis open up nearby.
posted by vacapinta at 9:35 AM on March 25, 2010


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