But who invented the flat white?
February 21, 2018 11:41 PM   Subscribe

"Five years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find flat whites and avocado toast in New York—a mention of either of those things would probably get you laughed out of your local greasy spoon. But today, you can hardly walk five blocks in Manhattan without bumping into a different “Aussie café,” a new genre of coffee shop that emphasizes carefully crafted espresso beverages (such as the flat white), charming service (“G’day, mate!”), and a menu of fresh and light fare (said avocado toast). The sheer number of them indicates that, at the very least, Aussie cafés have been not just a gustatory success but also a commercial one: Two Hands, Toby’s Estate, Citizens of Chelsea, Banter, Ruby’s, Brunswick, Sweatshop . . . the list goes on. They’re popping up not only in New York, but all up and down the Eastern Seaboard, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland." - How Australian Coffee Took Over—And Why New Zealand Coffee Could Be Next posted by supercrayon (151 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not sure why people feel the need to take gratuitous swipes at Starbucks. Nobody hearing it thinks "oh this person is criticizing Starbucks, so he must have exceptionally refined taste."

Off to read the articles now. I've learned, and forgotten, what a flat white is many times, maybe this time it will stick....
posted by Umami Dearest at 12:03 AM on February 22, 2018 [15 favorites]


As an Australian, I know what good coffee is, and I have an expectation that I can walk into any moderately well-decorated cafe, order a coffee and get something drinkable.

When I travel, I have to remember that expectation leads to disappointment.

What I have discovered is that if I use Google Maps to find clusters of vegetarian, vegan, or organic restaurants and cafes, that area will usually have decent coffee.
posted by krisjohn at 12:36 AM on February 22, 2018 [10 favorites]


I think the coffee shop down the street from my place serves lattes in glasses and Anzac cookies. Maybe I should see if they make flat whites.
posted by Pseudology at 1:09 AM on February 22, 2018


I'm not sure why people feel the need to take gratuitous swipes at Starbucks. Nobody hearing it thinks "oh this person is criticizing Starbucks, so he must have exceptionally refined taste."

Confession: I do this.

It's not to look clever, it's because Starbucks coffee is the worst and there's really no excuse for it. I live in the UK where Starbucks isn't actually the dominant coffee chain (that would probably be Costa, although I wouldn't be surprised if Pret had stolen that crown in recent years). In London the Australian coffee revolution is well underway, meaning that you have been able to get seriously great coffee here for quite a few years. But for some reason the chains haven't upped their game, and are still selling the mediocre stuff that they always have. It's frustrating to see people going into the big chains to get their daily bog-standard coffee when they could be enjoying something much better for the same price. I just want to share the joy of great coffee with as many people as possible, and that means Starbucks has to die. Sorry, but there it is.
posted by jonnyploy at 1:46 AM on February 22, 2018 [13 favorites]


I was in New York a few months ago and automatically asked for a flat white in a Very Trendy coffee place in Brooklyn (Blue Bottle). She nodded that they had it, said something disconcerting like "same as a cappuccino," and then served me a (very nice) cappuccino. There was no flat white on the menu. Any place that looks like this in Europe (Airspacey) has been offering flat whites for about four years now. It's almost nice to see that in a very homogenised international coffee culture not everything is exactly the same.

Whoa, just found a very relevant explanation while searching for their name:
Blue Bottle Coffee director of training Michael Phillips, who was the 2010 World Barista Champion, says that when a customer asks a Blue Bottle barista for a flat white (and it's only Aussies and Kiwis who ask for them, he says), the protocol is to not make a fuss, but to serve a modern American cappuccino, which he says it "incredibly similar" to the flat whites you'll get in, say, New Zealand.

"We'll simply say, 'Absolutely!' but we'll make them a drink that's pretty much our cappuccino," he says. "And if they get the drink and say, 'No, no, no, that's not a flat white,' we'll work with them on it. But in general, they get it and say, 'This is the best flat white I've had in the States.'"
Well it was discernibly a cappuccino, but I don't think anyone who likes flat whites would object to a nice "modern cappuccino" while on a different continent.

Many, many of the good coffee places you encounter in continental Europe are run by Australians. So many. Sometimes, like in Madrid, it's just a relief to get a decent coffee. Sometimes, like in Lisbon, it feels very strange to go into a place where the menu is in English, the clientele are all wealthy internationals, and the prices are three times what you'd pay in another Portuguese coffee shop.
posted by distorte at 2:06 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


So it's to a latte (cappucino?) what Chewy Chips Ahoy are to Original Chips Ahoy.

I have almost no coffee preference, I am not filthy for the bean. Starbucks has been fine whenever I've found myself with a gift card, but I get the animosity.
posted by rhizome at 2:07 AM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


"We'll simply say, 'Absolutely!' but we'll make them a drink that's pretty much our cappuccino,"

Gosh, hard to say what's more annoying: Ordering shit that's not on the menu, or serving people something they didn't order.

Maybe they cancel each other out?
posted by smoke at 2:28 AM on February 22, 2018 [16 favorites]


I think at a coffee place a lot of people would ask for their usual without looking at the menu. I mean, that's what I did. And would have been perfectly happy if the response had been: "We don't do that". And was also perfectly happy with my cappuccino.
posted by distorte at 2:34 AM on February 22, 2018 [8 favorites]


As a Melbourne expat who moved to London over a decade ago, I saw the process happen (to a limited extent) in (the gentrified-but-not-too-ossified parts of the southeast of the) UK. Some eight years ago, you'd see cafés with signs advertising that their barista is Australian-trained, though these have gone away now that the talent has been transferred. Within a walk of my flat (located where Highbury abuts against Stoke Newington), there are two places that do decent flat whites and avocado toast, and one which for some inexplicable reason botched its avo toast by adding pickled vegetables.

Elsewhere in Europe is a little behind (presumably London benefited from having been the other end of the Kangaroo Route, and having gotten one or two skilled baristas with each consignment of vodka-guzzling bogans sent over to fill the Walkabouts). In Berlin (which is along quite well, and has a number of decent cafés and roasteries, like Five Elephant and The Barn), you are more likely to run into baristas with Melbourne accents, flown in from Brunswick in the past six months. (When Brexit happens, this will presumably be cut down to those with Irish/Greek/other continental ancestry.) Sweden, meanwhile, is still filter-coffee country; they have a handful of decent cafés/roasteries (Drop Coffee in Stockholm, Da Matteo in Gothenburg), and they'll make you a flat white, but one gets the feeling that it's a second-generation copy of what's happening elsewhere. Though in Sweden, coffee (or the fika tradition) seems to be more about the pastries. The last time I was in Iceland, most places didn't know what a flat white was (Reykjavík Roasters being the notable exception).
posted by acb at 2:35 AM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Oh sorry distorte I wasn't meaning to attack you there! Weird for them to liken it to a cappuccino, though. Surely the doppelganger is a latte?
posted by smoke at 2:41 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


FFS people. Avocado toast = toast with avocado on it. A flat white is a less foamy latte, hence the word "flat". This is not rocket science. Making fun of Starbucks is not particularly clever, but the stuff they sell isn't particularly coffee so it all evens out.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:45 AM on February 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


Starbucks closed most of their outlets in Australia some years ago. It seems that passing trade from homesick American businesspeople and such wasn't enough.
posted by acb at 2:58 AM on February 22, 2018


In Australia Gloria Jean's has 450 stores and Coffee Club has 350. Aren't they pretty much worse than Starbucks?

Hudon's? Michel's Patisserie?

Allegedly Starbucks has also been trying to expand the number of stores they have.

Article about it all.
posted by sien at 3:10 AM on February 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


What are your feelings on the cortado? My local (U.S.) cafe suggested these a few years back, and I really like them.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:18 AM on February 22, 2018


Weird for them to liken it to a cappuccino, though. Surely the doppelganger is a latte?

Some of that argument is happening in the links up above, but for some reason the flat whites I get here in Dublin are more like a small cappuccino than a latte. They are less... straight milky than a latte.

Searching around, this infographic seems to explain it as I find it. Flat white containing a lot of (very fine) foam, latte containing a lot of liquid milk.
posted by distorte at 3:19 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Fyi I like Starbucks fine, just disappointed to find their flat whites not particularly good as I’ve been gushing to people back home about how lovely flat whites taste. Just an off the cuff remark I wish I’d left off as I’m not super interested in a Starbucks yay or nay conversation. I’ll stop thread sitting now.
posted by supercrayon at 3:19 AM on February 22, 2018


I'll tell you a secret, though: flat whites are vile.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:21 AM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


Toby ‘s at least is your classic pe/vc rollout story. Not sure what bluestones deal is but it’s one of the better options that thinks it can make midtown Manhattan rents work.

14 dollar avo toast baby
posted by JPD at 3:35 AM on February 22, 2018


Flat whites were invented to use up the leftover milk after you foamed a jug and made two lattes with it. That's really all there is to them.
posted by um at 4:13 AM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


I mean you go to a cafe to go to a cafe. You sit down, you enjoy the ambience, someone brings you breakfast that you didn't feel like making yourself. It's not rocket science.

In Australia Gloria Jean's has 450 stores and Coffee Club has 350. Aren't they pretty much worse than Starbucks?

That's part of the Starbucks Pullout that tends not to be observed because it's not as fun: Gloria Jean's is an established competitor that learned a lot of lessons from Starbucks. Starbucks weren't just competing against local coffee stores, they were also competing against local competitors who had sewn up the "chain store okay coffee, frappes and cakes" market and 10 years of American media making jokes at Starbucks' expense without having any positive experiences to go along with it.
posted by Merus at 4:15 AM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


I still don't understand why you'd ruin a perfectly good cup of coffee by putting milk in it.
posted by octothorpe at 4:16 AM on February 22, 2018 [17 favorites]


To my taste, Starbucks' coffee tastes burnt. In addition, they have put many local coffee houses out of business. One last swipe: Try going into Starbucks and ordering a coffee. You have to know the lingo.
posted by DJZouke at 4:40 AM on February 22, 2018


I still don't understand why you'd ruin a perfectly good cup of coffee by putting milk in it.

In some parts of the rest of the world, it can be remarkably difficult to get a “cup of coffee” since those places only serve espresso-based drinks. Trust me, a flat white beats the pants off an Americano.
posted by hwyengr at 4:41 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


If you're using "microfoam" to differentiate coffee drinks you've ascended to a plane of existence I will never experience.
posted by tommasz at 4:42 AM on February 22, 2018 [18 favorites]


hwyengr: "In some parts of the rest of the world, it can be remarkably difficult to get a “cup of coffee” since those places only serve espresso-based drinks. Trust me, a flat white beats the pants off an Americano."

I order Americanos fairly often or just double espressos if I'm in a hurry.
posted by octothorpe at 4:48 AM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


I've been living in various European places the last two years and Jesus is Starbucks awful. However it's the only place that serves actual filter drip coffee rather than an Americano, which is why I think Americans like it. My mom was happy to "finally have some real coffee" when she went to a Starbucks any time she's visited me.

Of course adding enough sugar and milk to anything makes it taste better.
posted by sio42 at 5:13 AM on February 22, 2018


Trust me, a flat white beats the pants off an Americano

Oh no, as a black coffee drinker an americano or just a long espresso is very much my jam.
posted by rodlymight at 5:13 AM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


I still don't understand why you'd ruin a perfectly good cup of coffee by putting milk in it.

There's a lot that can go wrong with an espresso shot, particularly if the barista is inexperienced or the cafe owner is cheaping out on the beans. Milk covers up a lot of sins, and can turn a pretty wretched shot into something enjoyable.
posted by um at 5:21 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


I started working at a place where my coworkers go to Starbucks all the time. I love my coworkers (which, lord knows, is not guaranteed in any job) so I too go to Starbucks, a place I'd never been because I am an awful frosty snob.

1. I order a large unsweetened coffee and I get a large unsweetened coffee; I started this because I didn't know all the Starbucks-isms and kept it up because no one cares.

2. The coffee is deeply indifferent.

3. My co-workers go because it's cheap and they have reward cards, and going for a twenty minute walk to get coffee breaks up the day.

I mean, it's not so bad, but lord knows it's not good.

Honestly, I'd not drink it left to my own devices, but I think people underrate the sort of social-habit dimension of Starbucks and the social barriers to other places. I go because I like going with my co-workers. There's a student cafe that I like better, but it's more expensive so going there every day would exclude a couple of people, and it's also a bit snobby.

The thing is, Starbucks is social but predictable, and the interactions are predictable. I moved to the city because I love the city, and I"m pretty used to the whole "going into a place that seems snobby or intimidating, whether or not I think people like me are welcome" trip, but not everyone is, and not everyone who is used to it enjoys it. I can think of a couple of small cafes with good coffee that are friendly and welcoming, but a lot of them aren't, at least not to regulars.

(I am a regular at another spot now! It's so exciting!)

I love avocado toast.
posted by Frowner at 5:21 AM on February 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


It's not to look clever, it's because Starbucks coffee is the worst and there's really no excuse for it.

Also, the reason Starbucks became ubiquitous in the early 2000s is because they employed strong-arm tactics to force out all the independent mom & pop coffee shops that you used to see everywhere in the mid-'90s. It's a dull corporate monoculture that used predatory tactics to reach their lofty perch, and we shouldn't have accepted it then and we still don't have to accept it now.

(Fortunately, we have a great little independent coffee shop across the street from my office. They do great business, even with a Starbucks practically next door to them.)
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:32 AM on February 22, 2018


I was (unconsciously) hoping this fad would fade before I even knew it existed, thanks fer nunt'n supercrayon.
posted by sammyo at 5:34 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Does this mean there are now places in NY where I can order a long black instead of having to sound like I want a really nitpicky americano?

There are exactly two in DC, and neither is convenient for me.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:36 AM on February 22, 2018


The best part of all the Malaysians going to and fro Anzac is having Aussie coffee well before Europe or US, but honestly I only want my coffee black so either japanese brewed coffee or pourover or a long black. I got in such a habit of asking Americano whenever I'm outside the country I remember feeling surprised to find long black in London.

In any case if I'm going to add milk I'll just go full thirdworlder and add condensed or evaporated milk.
posted by cendawanita at 5:51 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's not to look clever, it's because Starbucks coffee is the worst and there's really no excuse for it.

There are lots of places with worse coffee than Starbucks - I live in Canada where the uber-chain Tim Hortons produces the most god-awful, undrinkable pap. As much of a sin as it is to say, Starbucks coffee is better than nearly every single mom and pop diner made with an old Bunn machine sitting in glass carafes on warmers. Heck, now places are serving watered-down Keurig-style pod coffee served "fresh" because that's becoming the flavour people expect.

In most small airports, I hope to god there is a Starbucks to save me from the other options available. On the road, at a pit stop I'm almost always happy to see a Starbucks coffee option because at least then you know there's a drinkable cup on hand. We moved into the nearly-burbs last year, and the only coffee within walking distance that is not a Tim Hortons or a cafe that serves undrinkable, burnt dark roast is a Starbucks.

There are many, many cups of coffee that are better than Starbucks in the core of nearly every city in the world, however once you stray just a little bit from the core your odds of randomly picking a place and them serving a good cup of coffee diminish greatly. That is the situation where having Starbucks saves you from the other unspeakable horrors lurking in a Dixie coffee cup.
posted by notorious medium at 5:59 AM on February 22, 2018 [25 favorites]


You know what else? Starbucks is fine. It's good, strong drip coffee, available hot and black just about everywhere on Earth, at an eminently reasonable price. (I note that I made virtually word-for-word the same argument in a 2004 blogpost. My word but I've been jousting against hipster Starbucks-hate a long time.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:01 AM on February 22, 2018 [9 favorites]


My wife developed a taste for flat whites during our trip to Australia in 2010, and fortunately for her we’ve got a Kiwi coffee joint around the corner from where we live.

Seconding notorious medium; those of you unfamiliar with whatever it is Tim Horton’s calls coffee would be begging for Starbucks after a cup of that stuff. My two cents on Starbucks is that it’s often fine, but the quality varies surprisingly widely for such a huge chain.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:04 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


In any case if I'm going to add milk I'll just go full thirdworlder and add condensed or evaporated milk.

Once, in South America, I made the mistake of saying "both, please" to the "milk or sugar?" question. Sugar plus sweetened condensed milk gives you something with almost the texture of a milkshake, but sweeter.

Personally I like Starbucks' flat whites, but I'm not an aficionado nor have I been to Australia to compare. I've had mixed results with flat whites at fancy cafes, sometimes they are really good, and sometimes it is like they didn't pick the right kind of coffee or something, giving it an odd taste.

The thing is, Starbucks is social but predictable, and the interactions are predictable.

This is key, I think. I walk past a Starbucks frequently. It is where all of the local cops go together on their breaks, always has groups of students studying together, and so on. The staff are super friendly, service is quick, and they don't get fussy when people make complicated or quirky orders. The fancier cafe a bit further away has better coffee, but it's not as welcoming in a lot of ways, and it isn't any cheaper, either.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:05 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Screw avocado toast -- I just want to know why I can't get eggs on toasted sourdough in the US the way I could in Sydney, every damn morning. With mah delicious flat white.
posted by gsh at 6:06 AM on February 22, 2018


The Australian Gloria Jean's is also connected with the popular right-wing megachurch Hillsong.
posted by acb at 6:08 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


When I first met my wife in real life it was in Melbourne during Worldcon 68. She said she wanted a coffee, I was feeling peckish so I suggested we find a donut shop. She wanted to find a cafe because she wanted real coffee not drip coffee. I told her that the donut store will have real coffee. She was absolutely floored when we got to the donut shop and there was a shiny espresso machine sitting on the far counter.

Yes, Australia loves its coffee.
posted by Talez at 6:09 AM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


When I first met my wife in real life it was in Melbourne during Worldcon 68

DAMN SON YOU OLD!
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:13 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


(I say that as an also-Old, though somewhat less so. Respect.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:13 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Apparently the Australian fondness for espresso coffee predates post-WW2 Italian mass migration; I read once that someone was manufacturing Gaggia espresso machines in Australia under licence in the 1930s.
posted by acb at 6:18 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


DAMN SON YOU OLD!

Come on, mate. Worldcon 68 was literally THIS DECADE.
posted by Talez at 6:25 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Before Starbucks arrived in Chicago in the early '90s, the upscale coffee chain was Gloria Jean's. They were in every upscale mall. It looks like they still have a few in the suburbs according to Google.
posted by lagomorphius at 6:31 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


In Perth we had our own home grown chain, Dôme which IMHO is superior to Starbucks in almost every way. They have actual food with actual kitchens not just reheated croissants like Starbucks and they're usually much larger in purpose built buildings in good locations. The one near my house back in Perth is a two story affair but from the upper balcony you can see all the way clear to the ocean with a panoramic view. The one at Hillary's opens out onto the Marina. Mullaloo opens onto the beach park with ocean views. It's just a terrific place to get brunch wherever you go.
posted by Talez at 6:43 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


good coffee drinks are good, and I enjoyed going to a cafe run by Australian expats when I was near one, but I still prefer American drip coffee, which, as Umberto Eco said, "is delicious, fragrant, goes down like pure spring water, and afterwards causes severe palpitations, because one cup contains more caffeine than four espressos".
posted by vogon_poet at 6:51 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


I was traveling with a coffee snob friend recently, and he explained to me his method of finding good coffee in a new city: you pick the cafe whose name DOESN'T reference coffee in any way. So avoid The Beanery, Mud Hut, and Jittery Joes, stick to places like Little Skips, The Foundry, and Octane.
posted by backlikeclap at 7:10 AM on February 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


Also, honestly, Starbucks provides coffee for people who don't really care that much about coffee. It would be a better world if the "you don't care about coffee, here have a cheap mug" places were independent (and paid a living wage) but there's no particular reason that everyone has to care about coffee. Someone who was fussy about literally every thing that there is to fuss about would be unbearable - "I deserve the best of everything, from bread to coffee to shoes to chocolate-with-terroir to locally sourced sandwich ingredients to small electronics, and I'm going to make snobby remarks everywhere I go". You'd murder that person. People who are snobby about one or two things are fine, but if everyone was a coffee snob there would be no cure but a murder spree.
posted by Frowner at 7:16 AM on February 22, 2018 [10 favorites]


Come on, mate. Worldcon 68 was literally THIS DECADE.

The difference between Worldcon 68 and Worldcon '68?
posted by Four Ds at 7:17 AM on February 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


I was recently in New Zealand for several days and made the mistake of trying to get a regular drip coffee. They gave me an Americano, which seems to be an espresso with water poured in. Disgusting. I did have some nice cappuccinos, though. In short, I’m getting to old for fancy coffee culture.
posted by wintermind at 7:18 AM on February 22, 2018


but I still prefer American drip coffee, which, as Umberto Eco said, "is delicious, fragrant, goes down like pure spring water, and afterwards causes severe palpitations, because one cup contains more caffeine than four espressos".

Eventually the normcore fad will hit coffee and someone will open a normcore coffee chain. It'll be named something like the Des Moines Coffee Co., will eschew industrial pipe/reclaimed wood/bare brick chic for beige carpet and ceiling tiles, and will serve drip coffee straight out of 1976, all cheap, high-caffeine robusta that has been stewing on a hot plate for six hours.
posted by acb at 7:19 AM on February 22, 2018 [31 favorites]


Starbucks is fine. It's good, strong drip coffee, available hot and black

Maybe my Danish norms are different, but the complaint I've always had about starbucks is that they effectively sell two things: hot water, and hot milk. Their drip brew is anything but strong.
posted by Dysk at 7:28 AM on February 22, 2018


Starbucks...for people who don't really care that much about coffee.

Not so! I use a Chemex at home, hand-grind carefully stored beans every morning, weigh my dose, take the temperature of my water, time my brew, etc. I care intensely! And I actually, actively, affirmatively like Starbucks coffee – though, truth be told, really their French or Italian Roasts moreso than the Pike Place blend which is just about the only drip they ever serve in most locations anymore.

I will never understand the instinct that leads otherwise tolerant and open-minded people to deny this possibility. I fully acknowledge that people love lattes: even though I find that love inexplicable, it’s clearly a thing that exists. Why is it so hard to believe that Starbucks might have its (non-provincial, widely-traveled, wide-eating, more or less worldly) partisans?

And yes, I thought Worldcon 68 happened in 1968.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:30 AM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


There are lots of places with worse coffee than Starbucks

This has been my experience. Mostly pleasant and inoffensive describes every Starbucks I've ever visited. If neither the coffee or the ambience is as satisfying as what I get at my favorite coffee shops, it's better than fast food/convenience store coffee and usually more reliably drinkable than mom-and-poperies. That is one of the keys to their success. My brother and I drove across the country some years ago and his reluctance to indulge my hunt for cool locals in every town had me grasping at any Starbucks I saw.

Eventually the normcore fad will hit coffee and someone will open a normcore coffee chain.

Not long ago I was going through a box of '50's and '60s cookbooks—the kind with recipes out of The Gallery of Regrettable Foods—and I suddenly wished I had the money to start a hipster restaurant specializing in starches, jellos, and pressed meats.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:32 AM on February 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


Eventually the normcore fad will hit coffee and someone will open a normcore coffee chain.

Well they have renamed drip coffee "pour-over" coffee so that they can charge $4 for a cup.
posted by octothorpe at 7:34 AM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Had my first ever flat white in Bristol, UK, some years ago now, courtesy of what was then a little open air street stall set up by extractcoffee.co.uk At the time one of the owners was a young NZ dude who encouraged me to try it after I was asking for a shorter cappucino and for an age there it was the Best Thing. He was a pretty magical barista, out there in fingerless gloves and all. They were successful and the barista changed and it was still good, but not just quite the perfection it was. Their coffee is wonderful though. I'm not sure they even have a street outlet anymore, tbh. So for me, I'm won over to the NZ side of the origins story.
posted by aesop at 7:36 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Pour-over coffee is to filter coffee what £13 burgers made of artisanally-butchered rare-breed meat, aged exotic cheese and heirloom vegetables are to the original 20th-century American diner burger.
posted by acb at 7:49 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


The third wave hit Mexico hard. Just in the small area where I like to ride my bike there are 5 places that source and roast their own beans.

Absolute coffee nerds. I've spent hours talking about everything from how coffee plants react chemically to different pests, affecting the chemistry of the beans, to how to control total dissolved solids in the finished cup to balance mouthfeel with bitterness.

And avocado toast is not worth talking about. During avocado season almost every place has a few bowls of different avocados, from big homogeneous store bought to ones from the trees in the neighborhood. I get a half avocado for free included with my toast.

Some of this was started by a bunch of migrants coming back home to Mexico after years of training. We have someone who won a barista cup in London, a guy that spent years travelling in Australia and New Zealand working as a barista, someone else who worked at some of the roasteries in San Francisco.

Mix that with old school Mexican coffee culture (I can drive half an hour to the mountains and buy coffee that was processed on the farmer's patio and roasted over a wood fire, talk about local artisanal, for half the price of Starbucks beans), and I am in coffee paradise.

If you are in CDMX or GDL, the two cities I know first hand, try to find these new places, and order a flat white, they'll know what you want. Or just ask what is good today. Last time I asked I got a very interesting semiwashed and very fermented bean in a long espresso. It had the best acidity and fruitiness, which tasted great with the touch of foamed evaporated milk they added. It was like apple pie.
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 7:54 AM on February 22, 2018 [9 favorites]


Pour-over coffee is to filter coffee what £13 burgers...

correct, i just want my original japanese pourover coffee done with decent beans, cheap 100 yen daiso strainer thing with no-brand paper filters but i can only get it once i'm out of the coverage for cheap 100yen stores at ridiculously twee cafes
posted by cendawanita at 7:57 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Well they have renamed drip coffee "pour-over" coffee so that they can charge $4 for a cup.

Absolutely not the same thing. I'm the very first person to call out vacant commercial puffery, but once you've seen how labor-intensive a decent pour-over is, the retail price makes a whole lot more sense.

Try the Chemex poured at the Reserve counter at the Starbucks right above Gangnam Station: it's as exquisite as any cup I've ever drunk, in as carefully-crafted an environment, and worth every penny. Hell, the chamfering on the counter edge alone filled me with a glee that lasted all day.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:57 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


that is still the best prep for single origin i do agree. but i'm just biased against espressos. i just want proper brewed coffee.
posted by cendawanita at 8:00 AM on February 22, 2018


When I've been abroad, one thing I've noticed is that they don't really have iced coffee. I mean, if you say, "Could I get coffee with ice in it?" they'll gladly oblige (that's not really iced coffee, of course, but anyway). But if you ask for an "iced coffee" they'll look at you strangely and offer coffee ice cream or something like that.
posted by holborne at 8:25 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Like a few other people have remarked, for me Starbucks represents somewhere that I can get a coffee that's unremarkable but predictable. I've had coffees in out-of-the-way places that were... imaginative, shall we say, but Starbucks can often save the day. Even somewhere out in the wilds of Shanghai there was a Starbucks serving a familiar brew.

But you can keep your flat whites... for me it's Vietnamese cà phê with a shot of condensed milk, hot in winter, iced in summer...
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 8:25 AM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Here 600 ml of V60 pour over goes for $1.50 USD with most single origins, up to $2 for the fancy beans. Chemex and Aeropress start at $2. And this is at a hip place, my neighborhood coffeeshop does V60 cheaper.

I told you it is coffee paradise.

Pour over vs drip: I've tried all kinds of methods at home. I always come back to pour over. Drip is perfectly fine, but there is little one can control.

I get about 12 cups from a half pound bag of beans. The first 2 or 3 cups are to dial in the variables. After that, with the same beans, I can make the coffee stronger or weaker, sweeter, more or less acidic or bitter. Just by playing with grind and timing.

I am not a supertaster or anything. I just know that sometimes I crave a strong butter cup, sometimes I want a more fruity coffee, sometimes I want to gulp it down, some times I will be busy and it will go cold before I finish it and I want something that will still taste good cold. It takes 5 minutes to brew like this, hand grinding included, and it is time well spent imo.
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 8:27 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Try going into Starbucks and ordering a coffee. You have to know the lingo.
I have always refused to play along. You have three sizes? Give me a medium. "Grande?" No, medium. It's a fucking medium, and I'm not playing your silly game.

The Starbucks explosion happened ahead of local coffee in urban Houston, but the local shops eventually showed up and basically own the market near as I can tell. They generally all have customers in them, but the inner-loop Starbucks are less busy.
Starbucks coffee is better than nearly every single mom and pop diner made with an old Bunn machine sitting in glass carafes on warmers.
Very true. Starbucks HAS made it easier to get something that more closely resembles coffee when you're on the road and don't know where the real coffee is. Or, sadly, when you're in the suburbs anywhere.
Well they have renamed drip coffee "pour-over" coffee so that they can charge $4 for a cup.
Renamed, but also made it labor-intensive. I came to Chemex years ago because I like really really good drip coffee, but no drip machine makes good coffee for very long because of the impossible-to-clean water path. Chemex is the answer. It's also better, because it leads to finer control, and you vary the water path which prevents overextraction in the middle, but all that's secondary.

The issue is that making coffee with a Chemex requires the attention of a human for several minutes, and so a coffee-shop pourover is $4 or $6 or whatever. Which is kinda silly, because usually those joints have really good commercial grade drip machines that CAN be properly cleaned and DO produce reliably good cups over time, so ...
posted by uberchet at 8:38 AM on February 22, 2018


The best thing about Australian coffee culture is the Australians. All over the world. I kept going to Australian-run coffee places in Berlin simply to have a brief interaction in English with some friendly Aussies.

I just prefer American drip coffee to espresso drinks. Flat whites are great but all that milk makes it like a dessert for me. Sometimes I just want a black coffee. But a long one, that I can sip, not an espresso shot. I keep hoping the hipster pour-over coffee takes off globally. It's kind of overdone, waiting 20 minutes at Blue Bottle for a cup of fucking coffee is the worst. But it's nice drip coffee.
posted by Nelson at 8:46 AM on February 22, 2018


In Toronto some of the fancy shops refer to drip coffee as “batch” coffee, probably to emphasize its non-artisanal nature as you are sneeringly told that they don’t serve it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:46 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Re: normcore coffee

Folgers introduces 1850 brand coffee
posted by blob at 8:48 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


"It was inevitable: Folgers — the best part of waking up in, like, 1984 ..."
Au contraire, the best part of waking up, in, like, 1984, was being a COFFEE ACHIEVER!
posted by octobersurprise at 9:06 AM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Like a few other people have remarked, for me Starbucks represents somewhere that I can get a coffee that's unremarkable but predictable.

Starbucks also sells tea and consistently puts milk (and not just cream) out for the tea. Not the best tea in the world, but there's something to be said for knowing you can get a cup of tea and put milk in it without having to interrupt someone to ask for milk while they look at you like you have three heads.

(McDonald's serves this purpose as well, except that I did encounter a McDonald's in Texas that didn't sell tea. I don't know if that was a regional thing or if they've all stopped. Well that and you have to order the milk separately.)
posted by hoyland at 9:12 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Au contraire, the best part of waking up, in, like, 1984, was being a COFFEE ACHIEVER!

And sitting around the house and watching Leave It To Beaver?
posted by Talez at 9:19 AM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


I have always refused to play along. You have three sizes? Give me a medium. "Grande?" No, medium. It's a fucking medium, and I'm not playing your silly game.

this is very punk rock
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:23 AM on February 22, 2018 [9 favorites]


I just know that sometimes I crave a strong butter cup

I once saw a place that served a "flat brown", which is a flat white combined with chocolate ganache. So, I'm pretty sure it's inevitable that we're going to see a "flat yellow", which would be a flat white combined with butter.
posted by FJT at 9:24 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


And sitting around the house and watching Leave It To Beaver?

That was pretty rad, too.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:34 AM on February 22, 2018


"I have always refused to play along. You have three sizes? Give me a medium. "Grande?" No, medium. It's a fucking medium, and I'm not playing your silly game.

this is very punk rock"

Any joke that my cranky aunt-in-law makes is NOT punk rock.

Seriously, the whining about tall/grande/venti has been happening for at least fifteen years, if not more. It's not funny anymore (if it ever was), it's boring. Just stop. Find newer more original humor.

Starbucks baristas are actually going to just roll eyes at you and build you a grande even if you say medium. If they ask you to confirm it is because worse customers than you exist. Also please stop abusing the baristas, they don't get paid enough to put up with your tired ass jokes about a naming convention they did not come up with.
posted by FritoKAL at 9:35 AM on February 22, 2018 [11 favorites]


Searching around, this infographic seems to explain it as I find it. Flat white containing a lot of (very fine) foam, latte containing a lot of liquid milk.
posted by distorte at 3:19 AM on February 22 [+] [!]


If you are getting big bubble foam when you steam milk, you are doing it wrong.

Full disclosure - I worked at Starbucks for 13 years. I don't agree with a lot of their policies, and especially in the 6 years since I've left I've found the quality of their products and service to have gone tremendously downhill. However, when I was a barista I was an espresso machine god and had regulars who would only order particular drinks if I was making them.
posted by twilightlost at 9:35 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I have always refused to play along. You have three sizes? Give me a medium. "Grande?" No, medium. It's a fucking medium, and I'm not playing your silly game

Yes, because making some random person that has no say in what the company they work for names their products have a slightly worse day is totally the way to stick it to the man.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:38 AM on February 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


I have always refused to play along.

Honestly, if I'm in a Starbucks and I ask for a "large" whatever—I've almost never been corrected. I don't think the baristas are all that invested in quibbling over the lingo.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:45 AM on February 22, 2018 [12 favorites]


Honestly, if I'm in a Starbucks and I ask for a "large" whatever—I've almost never been corrected. I don't think the baristas are all that invested in quibbling over the lingo.
Exactly. When I say "I refuse to play along," I mean I order a small, medium, or large. Only the most ridiculous, twee, born-again Starbucksian pushes back -- and they do so knowing exactly what I've asked for.
Also please stop abusing the baristas, they don't get paid enough to put up with your tired ass jokes about a naming convention they did not come up with.
It's not abusing the barista to refuse to use cutesy bullshit names. It's abusing the customer to insist on codewords when you already know what they want.
posted by uberchet at 9:53 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I worked at a Starbucks 13 years ago, and I swear I corrected people on the blue here 10 years ago.

They're not correcting you. If you order a "medium coffee," they'll just give it to you. The only time they'll "correct you" is if you order a "medium latte," and if the cashier is calling drinks orders over to the barista, they'll say "grande" because that's how they call the drink.

It's no different than if you say the modifiers in the "wrong order." They're not correcting *you*, they're just ordering the modifiers so that the barista can mark them down the cup without error.

Just chill. They're not judging you. They're not correcting you or trying to convert you. They're just going about their job using the lingo that their workplace uses.
posted by explosion at 10:08 AM on February 22, 2018 [11 favorites]


Seriously. Did you -seriously- just imply that a min-wage making barista is abusing you because their manager is asking them to push back a little on the Starbucks branded size names?

If there -are- twee born-again Starbuckians, there are damn sure not enough of them to justify your over-compensating contrarian pushback on a naming convention that the baristas did not come up with. LET IT GO, pal.

Or just stop going to Starbucks.
posted by FritoKAL at 10:09 AM on February 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


Honestly, if I'm in a Starbucks and I ask for a "large" whatever—I've almost never been corrected. I don't think the baristas are all that invested in quibbling over the lingo.

For real. I've never used any fancy names at any Starbucks I've ever been to and I've never once encountered any problems with the staff. All this naming controversy is #fakenews.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 10:16 AM on February 22, 2018


It is impressive how consistently The Starbucks Ritual is adhered to in coffee threads here, now spanning decades.

* It is the worst, there is none worse.
* So burnt, amirite?
* I don't even like coffee!
* Coffee with adulterants is abomination.
* Coffee without adulterants is abomination.
* Actually, there are many worse options.
* I chafe under the yoke of their silly terminology.
* Actually, you will not be corrected if you say "medium", &c.

I'm starting to wonder if it's performance art.

/me wanders off to check the in-joke wiki
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:19 AM on February 22, 2018 [20 favorites]


Oh, right, forgot!

* pornographically loving description of how coffee is liturgized in the light vessel automatic household *
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:23 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Dangit guys, I think flat whites seem kind of pointless (so it's like mostly latte and just the tip of a cappuccino? shrug).But now I -really- want one and am gonna hit up the Starbucks that's actually pretty inconvenient to get to and get a stupid flat white before heading back to work from lunch. I'm probably sure it's even going to make me a few min late to a WebEx. Dannnngit Metafilter! Aarrgh.
posted by Fig at 10:37 AM on February 22, 2018


Since everybody's already dumping on Starbucks, allow me to dump on Caribou.

Here's how to lose one customer: I went into a Caribou in Atlanta and discovered they didn't have any half-and-half out. Bored cashier: "Oh, Caribou no longer serves half-and-half. It's unhealthy. Our customers don't want half-and-half so we've removed it." Oh, ok. Didn't set foot in a Caribou for maybe ten years. Then stopped at one on the way to somewhere with friends in Wisconsin. "Ok - I'll get coffee, but remember, they don't have half-and-half." "Huh? What?" Yeah - sure, they had half-and-half. They always did.
posted by lagomorphius at 10:45 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


It's abusing the customer to insist on codewords when you already know what they want.

This sort of viewpoint is why customer facing jobs are toxic and often become sort of a petty display of dominance over someone else.

And honestly, If it really was that big of a deal, maybe you should just get out your stationary and write a letter to Starbucks. It would probably have a bigger impact than just going to Starbucks and behaving that way.
posted by FJT at 10:45 AM on February 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


Honestly, if I'm in a Starbucks and I ask for a "large" whatever—I've almost never been corrected. I don't think the baristas are all that invested in quibbling over the lingo.

But about 1 time in 20, when I ask for a large, they give me a grande.
posted by cardboard at 10:50 AM on February 22, 2018


Since everybody's already dumping on Starbucks, allow me to dump on Caribou.

Huh, I thought that Caribou went out of business but I guess that was only around here.
posted by octothorpe at 10:58 AM on February 22, 2018


Huh, I thought that Caribou went out of business but I guess that was only around here.

They still exist, but nowhere I frequent. It looks like they closed many of their stores, and turned many others into Peet's outlets.
posted by lagomorphius at 11:25 AM on February 22, 2018


They're not correcting you
I don't know what else to call it if they ask me if I mean grande when I ask for a medium drip.

It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.
Seriously. Did you -seriously- just imply that a min-wage making barista is abusing you because their manager is asking them to push back a little on the Starbucks branded size names?
I wasn't the person who brought in the word "abuse," which is self-evidently out of place here. Someone else said it was "abuse" to push back if corrected. It isn't, but if it is, it's certainly also abuse to refuse to acknowledge an order that doesn't comply with some muzzy-headed marketer's branding fantasies.
It's abusing the customer to insist on codewords when you already know what they want.


This sort of viewpoint is why customer facing jobs are toxic
Nah.
posted by uberchet at 11:34 AM on February 22, 2018


OK, I'm a kiwi, I lived in Berkeley for 20 years, before I left NZ there was probably one cafe in town ... we didn't do coffee .... returning home ~14 years ago I found coffee everywhere ... but couldn't order, sure all those words all sound the same, but they mean different things, frankly it was a bit like visiting starbucks. My "double non-fat latte" from Roma on College is impossible to find here (still tastes the same, I've gone back and checked), I always end up in some weird argument about what 'double' means (it means 'more coffee', twice as much) and always end up with something anemic and half the size I want.

I understand that coffee dialects are just like other dialects, no one is "correct", just correct relative to the culture you're in - in NZ a flat white and a latte mostly seem to actually be the exact same thing, but are sold as if they are not - but if your language doesn't have a name for an object then that object effectively doesn't exist, and I am sad, on a daily basis
posted by mbo at 11:52 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


So ... more about coffee language .... walk into a Starbucks .... ask the counter staff "A Vente? that's Italian for 20 right?" they'll probably agree ... then ask "20 what?" chances are in the US they'll say "fluid ounces" ... here's where it gets fun (because they probably think this is an authentic Italian name) .... "can't be fluid ounces, they use metric in Italy, it must be litres or millilitres - which one is it?"

Mostly they guess "litres" .... as a side note it's illegal to trademark a name, Starbuck's trademark of "Venti" is probably illegal
posted by mbo at 11:59 AM on February 22, 2018


Venti vanilla cream cold brew half sweetened with cinnamon syrup.

Or as we call it at my local Starbucks, a large horchata cold brew.

Not so hard to memorize for people who routinely quote movies and books here on the blue.
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 12:27 PM on February 22, 2018


Next time try ordering it as a "Mexicold."
posted by rhizome at 12:30 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I live in a town that is between a major metro area and rural farmland. The barista at the local Starbucks once told me that she occasionally gets complaints that her cappuccino doesn't taste like the stuff at the Speedway gas station. When they first opened up some 20 years ago, I tried to explain a flat white, but I was having trouble getting it across, so I just ordered a triple espresso and poured some half and half into it. I don't know what to call it, but that's what I've been drinking ever since.
posted by ambulocetus at 12:36 PM on February 22, 2018


Since everybody's already dumping on Starbucks, allow me to dump on Caribou.

There was one on Franklin Street, in Chapel Hill, that I liked a lot, tho that's been twenty years ago. TBH, I remember little about their coffee, but it was built in an old Pure Oil station and there was a sort of sunken floor in one of the rooms.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:38 PM on February 22, 2018


I have a shameful confession: when visiting a particular set of US relatives I stop at Starbucks, because it is the only dang coffee shop around, and order one of their iced coffees with chocolate syrup. It's not at all like actual coffee, but the one time I ordered coffee there it was thin and burned and awful, so I get this caffeinated drink that wakes me up and is kinda fun, what the crunchy bits of ice and the long bendy straw and the variation in concentration of syrup and coffee and water at different depths of the cup. Also, I look at the range of weird flavours and wonder what a peppermint-buttercotch mix would be like, that sort of thing.

If I'm in a place that looks like it can make decent coffee I get "a double espresso diluted with a little hot water please" because in Australia my local shops call that "a long strong black" and I'm not ready to deal with people's jokes, or people that think I'm making a joke. If there's an American code word that means the same thing it would probably be nice to know.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:49 PM on February 22, 2018


Just curious about consistency here. Do the people here who refuse to use Starbucks' names for sizes do the same thing at other places? Do you order a 'large Big Mac' at Mcdonalds instead of ordering a Grand Mac? Do you order a Panormous pizza from Pizza Hut as 'the larger rectangular one'?

Believe me, the baristas don't care what you call it. They care if you're an asshole. Don't be an asshole.
posted by twilightlost at 12:50 PM on February 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


Venti is literally Italian for 20, not "20 ounces" but TWENTY. Twenty of -anything-. 20 ounces, 20 beans, 20 plates. It's the word for the number, not the specific word for the cup size. Venti is also not a name, and it's perfectly find to trademark it.

Also for the love of god please stop harassing the Starbucks baristas over the naming of the drinks. Just stop. Stop justifying your harassment, stop harassing them, stop thinking you're cute or clever about this, stop giving them crap about the names, the poor barista is just trying to pay their rent and grocery bill.

Or just find your local coffee shop and order there and get over yourself.
posted by FritoKAL at 12:52 PM on February 22, 2018 [15 favorites]


I don't know what else to call it if they ask me if I mean grande when I ask for a medium drip.

"Correction" is a very black and white interpretation, implying that one side is wrong and the other side is right. As a customer service person myself, we would never be brash enough to correct a customer. Asking questions is not an attempt to correct a customer or "play games". For many reasons, most of which have to do with our own continued employment, that's the last thing we intend to do. Asking questions is meant to get clarification. In Starbucks' case, this is probably because they have four drink sizes for hot beverages: short, tall, grande, and venti. If a "medium" hot drink is ordered, then it can be either a tall or a grande. There's a bit more confusion when you consider cold drinks, because there's now a fifth drink size: trenta. So, if a "medium" cold drink is ordered, it would be a grande.

And I might add that asking questions is also fraught, because customers may see it less as being helpful and more as in we're not listening to them, or that the person serving them is lacking in intelligence, or even as some form of disrespectful pushback.
posted by FJT at 12:52 PM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


I don't know what these "medium" drinks are. When I want a coffee I ask for 473 mL.
posted by AndrewInDC at 12:55 PM on February 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


Do you order a 'large Big Mac' at Mcdonalds instead of ordering a Grand Mac?

I ask for a "Royale with cheese" instead of a Quarter Pounder. Because the metric system.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:58 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Did you ask them what the quarter was, and remind them that quarter comes from quartier, which is french so it can't be a quarter of a pound because they use metric in France?
posted by FritoKAL at 1:01 PM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


No, I asked if the cheese was vegan and the bun was gluten-free.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:02 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


My (Seattle public) library doesn't have The Flat White Economy, which I regret because it seems apropos. Anyone read it?

Guardian review from 2015, "Can Hipsters Save the World?" (book says: yes! Guardian only mildly dismissive); really thin slideshow; mildly substantive disagreement from GQ.
posted by clew at 1:52 PM on February 22, 2018


Just curious about consistency here. Do the people here who refuse to use Starbucks' names for sizes do the same thing at other places? Do you order a 'large Big Mac' at Mcdonalds instead of ordering a Grand Mac? Do you order a Panormous pizza from Pizza Hut as 'the larger rectangular one'?

I did avoid Jamba Juice despite liking one of their things because I could not bring myself to utter the horrible names they used and I felt that gesturing and going "the mango one" was itself kind of a stupid and pretentious thing to do - so yes, I am willing to forgo things I actually want when the names are stupid enough. I mean, it's literally physically difficult to get the words out, they're so stupid and phony and ugly. I don't know, this isn't even the very tiniest hill to die on, I don't think less of people ordering their ventis or indeed even notice, but I just get a physical revulsion to that kind of marketing language. There are commercial things where I totally buy in, so I recognize that I'm not even being consistent, but that stuff really bugs me.

I mean, I'm not making any moral claims about it, but I have a really strong distaste for the kind of marketing where they sort of engineer your buy-in by forcing you to speak nonsense words and/or stupid words. It feels really coercive because it seems like they're sort of puppeting your body, doing this very intimate thing with words.
posted by Frowner at 2:40 PM on February 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


Reading up on the difference between them I see that I've been enjoying flat whites at home and not lattes. Of course being the coffee pleb that I am, the flat whites are made with nescafe.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:42 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


today, you can hardly walk five blocks in Manhattan without bumping into a different “Aussie café,” a new genre of coffee shop

Am I the only NYer who read this and thought, "uh, yes you can" (even allowing for hyperbole)? And I'm talking south of 96th St.

Also, in the official arc of Mefi coffee discussions, is there a place for the person who grandly proclaims that she doesn't even drink the stuff?
posted by praemunire at 2:59 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Just curious about consistency here. Do the people here who refuse to use Starbucks' names for sizes do the same thing at other places? Do you order a 'large Big Mac' at Mcdonalds instead of ordering a Grand Mac? Do you order a Panormous pizza from Pizza Hut as 'the larger rectangular one'?
I know you think you're being clever here, but I suspect you also know these aren't analagous situations.
the baristas don't care what you call it
Except when they do, which is the only time it happens.

Fortunately, it almost never does anymore. I suspect even Starbucks realizes it was stupid.
Don't be an asshole.
Good thing I'm not!
Also for the love of god please stop harassing the Starbucks baristas
Nobody's harassing anybody. But you seem awful invested in everyone else playing the goofy made-up size name game at Starbucks, which seems weird.
physical revulsion to that kind of marketing language
Exactly.
posted by uberchet at 3:36 PM on February 22, 2018


but I have a really strong distaste for the kind of marketing where they sort of engineer your buy-in by forcing you to speak nonsense words and/or stupid words

Yet Starbucks size names are not complete nonsense. Three of them (grande, venti, trenta) are actual Italian words. There's always been a strain of American culture that mocks any kind of foreign language as gibberish and demands immigrants and newcomers to speak English. This xenophobia has always had a passive affect on how new food and drink is introduced, where similar to some early immigrants they've had to obscure their ethnic origins and come up with more America sounding names to sell here.

I'm not saying anyone in this topic is guilty of that, but I feel it's not a stretch to say that this might be a little bit of why the Starbucks sizing names are still contentious. Especially since Starbucks itself has had controversies where it has been seen as unpatriotic or unChristian.
posted by FJT at 4:24 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


so like how would you order a Junior Whopper at Burger King

would it be "reduced-size house specialty burger" ?

just wondering how assiduously one has to reject branded nomenclature in order to avoid getting Tricked By A Business
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:27 PM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Starbucks' cup names don't come from anywhere but their marketing department. The fact that the names are mostly Italian words counts against them in my book, because it's appropriative: it falsely implies an association with Italian coffee culture and is probably trademarked - could an actual Italian business sell a 20-ounce drink as a "venti"? I suspect not; there's probably a good commercial reason that boils down to "because Starbucks owns part of your language when used in this context".
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:39 PM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


A flat white is a less foamy latte, hence the word "flat". This is not rocket science.

So, kinda like coffee milk, but hot?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 4:48 PM on February 22, 2018


Yet Starbucks size names are not complete nonsense. Three of them (grande, venti, trenta) are actual Italian words.

Yes, but they're not accurate descriptions of what you get, Starbucks is not an Italian company and there's nothing uniquely Italian that the names would express anyway; there isn't even any real economy of language. When I eat a delicious, delicious tamale, by contrast, I'm eating something that did not originate in an English-speaking country, has a specific and unique meaning and would be cumbersome to rename with merely descriptive English anyway ("steamed masa dough dumpling with filling and wrapped in corn husks, please!"), plus one is often getting tamales from Mexican businesses in any case.

What's objectionable about the Starbucks names isn't that they're Italian, it's that they're mere marketing - the same reason that "panormous" is an ugly neologism. I mean, no one complains about getting gyros or falafel at the corner store. (Although interestingly all the Spanish menu lists at the corner store by me list gyros as something that escapes me now but is very obviously "Middle Eastern tacos".
posted by Frowner at 5:05 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


That is, the Starbucks terms are not "nonsense" like just random syllables; they're nonsense because they don't really convey any meaning except "classy vaguely Italian thing".
posted by Frowner at 5:06 PM on February 22, 2018


I'll be glad to accept that Aussies make a superior espresso-based beverage, but the one time this American went to Australia, I had an experience that had me scratching my head, thinking that Australia doesn't have a coffee culture.

This was about ten years ago. I was in Perth on my honeymoon (lovely place, lovely people, another story, etc) and my wife and I went into a coffee shop.

I went to the counter and ordered a coffee. The young woman behind the counter paused, smiled, went blank. "Umm....?"

I repeated, "A medium coffee. Or..what sizes do you have?" And I looked on the menu and it was faux-Italian like Starbucks, so I said "Oh, a grande."

She was still confused. "Grande...what did you want?"

I said it again. "A coffee. Drip coffee."

That smile again. "Ummmm..." Now she's looking at the menu. Was this her first day or something? I try again. "Black coffee."

The confusion persists. So I use all the descriptors I can: "Plain, black, drip coffee. Grande."

Finally, either she explains or I surmise that they have only have espresso-based drinks. No coffee coffee. So the confusion was all mine all along. So I ordered a latte or whatever and problem solved. Maybe it was just that one shop with that one worker, but I think that actual plain Jane black coffee is not really a thing Down Under.
posted by zardoz at 5:08 PM on February 22, 2018


Finally, either she explains or I surmise that they have only have espresso-based drinks. No coffee coffee. So the confusion was all mine all along. So I ordered a latte or whatever and problem solved. Maybe it was just that one shop with that one worker, but I think that actual plain Jane black coffee is not really a thing Down Under.

Black coffee is actually pronounced "beer" so that's your problem.
posted by Talez at 5:10 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


in New Zealand for several days and made the mistake of trying to get a regular drip coffee

I think that actual plain Jane black coffee is not really a thing Down Under

True dat. Finding rocking horse manure will be easier than finding drip coffee in Oz/NZ.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 5:14 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


We have three sizes of coffee: "Size A," "Size 1," and "Regular," which would you like?
posted by rhizome at 5:17 PM on February 22, 2018


When Starbucks arrived on the scene I suspected it was trying to create a sub-culture with a secret language and arcane rites in order to sell coffee to smug people. Nothing I have ever seen has proved that wrong. However, living out in the sticks as I do, I guess if I want to try this flat white beverage, that's where I'll have to go.
posted by acrasis at 5:48 PM on February 22, 2018


To Mt. Pilot!
posted by rhizome at 5:52 PM on February 22, 2018


so like how would you order a Junior Whopper at Burger King

My aunts used to go into Burger King and ask for "Whoopers".
posted by lagomorphius at 5:58 PM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


If you think Starbucks is bad then don't go to Dutch Bros on the west coast of the US. I swear some their coffee drinks must have hundreds grams of sugar in them.

But if you live in Portland go to Sterling in NW, they have wonderful coffee.
posted by gucci mane at 7:06 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


And you may catch me there, but you won't know what I look like so you'll never know it's me.
posted by gucci mane at 7:06 PM on February 22, 2018


I like Starbucks, but mostly for dark roast drip coffee, of which I have a 16 oz or two every day. If Starbucks roast is burnt, I like it that way. I've had better brewed coffee, and I've had much, much worse. Starbucks is reliable and ubiquitous, and I really, really like the people who work at the shop I go to every workday.

I really liked the Starbucks flat white when they first came out. For whatever reason, they don't seem as good as they did a couple of years ago, so I rarely spend the money on them. I need to find a Aussie coffee shop in my area, or a New Zealand shop -- I like the idea of a espresso shot rather than a ristretto shot.

People all have their tastes, and that's fine, you don't have to like what I like. I do get tired of the endless Starbucks complaints, though. If you don't like them, don't buy their coffee. But I find the same complaint every time I dive into a coffee thread.

Also, I don't buy the story of Starbucks putting small shops out of business. I can name four or five small coffee shops within a couple of blocks of the three Starbucks in my area. Some of them are pure coffee shops, others sell waffles or other foods. Alternative coffee is alive and well.
posted by lhauser at 7:23 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I've apparently been making pour over coffee for decades with my Melitta drip cones. I put a little water in to saturate the beans, and then slowly introduce the rest of the water a bit later. If you want to argue about whether that's drip or pour over that's fine, and we can have a discussion. But drip doesn't have to mean some awful automatic machine that doesn't get the water hot enough or saturate the beans enough.
posted by mollweide at 7:31 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I mean, no one complains about getting gyros or falafel at the corner store.

I have no doubt there are some people who would complain and quite loudly about it. And don't you mean a Ben Franklin or crunch patties?
posted by FJT at 8:49 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also, I don't buy the story of Starbucks putting small shops out of business. I can name four or five small coffee shops within a couple of blocks of the three Starbucks in my area. Some of them are pure coffee shops, others sell waffles or other foods.

Back in the day when Starbucks were expanding thru the Bay Area they were buying the leases out from under competitors, or opening directly across the street rather than finding an empty spot a few blocks down - people knew what was going on, you would find empty Starbucks across the street from packed local cafes who's patrons were staring daggers at them across the street because they saw them as the corporate weasel threatening their favourite place
posted by mbo at 9:38 PM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


The (inevitable) Starbucks debate has diverted attention from the obvious error in TFA, which is the claim that you couldn’t find avo toast in NYC five years ago. Not sure what I (and the rest of the hordes) were ordering every weekend at Cafe Gitane back in 2005 then...and I feel like it may have been on a few menus in Williamsburg as well?
posted by scyllary at 9:57 PM on February 22, 2018


What's the big deal about spreading something on toast? I've paid more for garlic basil on toast. (I wonder if basil and avocado would taste good together?) The only thing new about Avocado Toast is people talking about it.

Here it is described in a newspaper in 1885.
posted by eye of newt at 10:40 PM on February 22, 2018


I think that actual plain Jane black coffee is not really a thing Down Under.

And I think you are correct. Every time I'm in Australia or New Zealand to give a talk I have to settle for Americanos, which I hate on GP as warmed-up dishwater unless the espresso-water ratio is exquisitely calibrated, and it leaves me with a massive case of the sads. It's probably why I've never done a talk I was fully happy with in either country, and it's definitely why I'm so resistant to the global rise and celebration of Antipodean coffee culture.

The weird thing is that I don't know why it should be a zero-sum thing, other than for reasons of space, overhead and operational efficiency in the very smallest shops. There's no reason why a place that's set up to make you your flat white can't also make me my cup of 10W30. But it doesn't seem to happen that way. Again: the sads.
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:48 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yet Starbucks size names are not complete nonsense. Three of them (grande, venti, trenta) are actual Italian words. There's always been a strain of American culture that mocks any kind of foreign language as gibberish and demands immigrants and newcomers to speak English. This xenophobia has always had a passive affect on how new food and drink is introduced, where similar to some early immigrants they've had to obscure their ethnic origins and come up with more America sounding names to sell here.

Nespresso beat that; they have a capsule variety named “Arpeggio”, presumably because it sounds appositely Italian, never mind the actual meaning.
posted by acb at 2:37 AM on February 23, 2018


There are lots of places with worse coffee than Starbucks - I live in Canada where the uber-chain Tim Hortons produces the most god-awful, undrinkable pap.

I'll bow to your knowledge of Canadian coffee as I've never been, but in the UK you have to go to McDonalds to get a worse coffee than Starbucks. All the other chains here (Costa, Pret, Eat, Caffe Nero) do boring, predictable coffee that is better than Starbucks.

You know what else? Starbucks is fine. It's good, strong drip coffee, available hot and black just about everywhere on Earth, at an eminently reasonable price. (I note that I made virtually word-for-word the same argument in a 2004 blogpost. My word but I've been jousting against hipster Starbucks-hate a long time.)

Is it cheaper in other countries than in the UK? Because here their coffee is the same price as everyone else's, but tastes worse. Maybe it tastes worse here too, who knows.

BTW, first (and probably last) time anyone has ever suggested I'm a hipster. I'll take it.
posted by jonnyploy at 5:12 AM on February 23, 2018


Tim Horton's is the very worst coffee I have ever had. I would rather drink cold 7/11 coffee. I'd rather have lukewarm brown water from a Flying J in the middle of Utah. I'd rather gargle and spit Denny's coffee.

I drank the whole 20oz though, because that's what there was, where I was.

When I first visited Shanghai in 2004 there were very few places to get anything recognizable as a cup of coffee (this was no longer the case by 2010, and Beijing already had a bunch of hipstery cafes in 2004). In Shanghai, as apparently much of the rest of the world, it was the Aussies who seemed to be breaking into that market. One of the most satisfying coffees I've ever had was a flat white somewhere on Huai Hai Zhong Liu after days of making do with sweetened reconstituted bean water.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:34 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


The fancier cafe a bit further away has better coffee, but it's not as welcoming in a lot of ways, and it isn't any cheaper, either.

The fancy place down the block from me has great coffee (the espresso comes as a setup with an orange wedge and a glass of seltzer, and it's great coffee), but holy shit is everything slow. They are hyper-invested in making great drinks, which means one-at-a-time, and there are never more than two people behind the bar. Their pour-over is painstakingly poured from a gooseneck kettle with an electronic timer next to the cup. They do not fuck around.

But this means that if there's even one person ahead of you on line, you could be waiting 10 minutes for a cup of coffee. It's good coffee. But sometimes I don't want to wait that long.

I mostly drink black iced coffee, though, and although they have cold brew on tap (both still and nitro), I prefer Starbucks iced coffee; cold brew is fine, but it's always a bit flat and insipid to me. I make pour-over iced coffee at home, which I prefer, and Starbucks tastes more like that.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:02 AM on February 23, 2018


Let me handle this one, praemunire.

Is this something that I'd have to drink coffee to understand?
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 6:28 AM on February 23, 2018


I've apparently been making pour over coffee for decades with my Melitta drip cones.
Truth. I had been using a Chemex at home for years before I first heard the term "pour over." An old girlfriend's dad had one of the original models at their mountain cabin, and I fell in love with the simplicity of it like 25 years ago.
posted by uberchet at 6:48 AM on February 23, 2018


HiroProtagonist: Finding rocking horse manure will be easier than finding drip coffee in Oz/NZ.

WHOA. Now that is a nice turn of phrase!
posted by wenestvedt at 1:14 PM on February 23, 2018


I've apparently been making pour over coffee for decades with my Melitta drip cones.

Me too. I always thought that I was just making drip coffee but suddenly a few years ago, the exact same process became "pour-over".
posted by octothorpe at 3:23 PM on February 23, 2018


When we first moved to Australia, it took a few tries to get the hang of how coffee worked here. I asked for a coffee with cream, and after a puzzled look from the counter staff, what came out was double espresso with two lumps of butter-like cream floating on top. It turns out that half and half is not a thing in Australia, and cream is the heavy cream type, which quickly starts to solidify in its carton when it gets close to the sell-by date. We now laugh about my early "butter coffee" adventure. I tried a couple of times to get an American-style coffee at Starbucks, and while they could manage a drip coffee (this was in 2005, before 3rd wave arrived here), I could never get the cream thing happening.

Thing is, I appreciate coffee in all its many forms. The quality of espresso-based coffees here in Australia is outstanding, but I can still get into the pour over style I drank in college, and am happy to drink diner coffee when I visit the US or boiled coffee when camping. They all have their place. I do object to coffee snobbery from people who think their version is the only acceptable version.
posted by amusebuche at 10:11 PM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


Finally, either she explains or I surmise that they have only have espresso-based drinks. No coffee coffee.

So this Perth girl is going to have to ask: how is espresso not coffee? Like, it’s all I know, which is the point of your story, but if I’d heard you ask for black coffee I’d have expected you to be served a shot or asked if you wanted it long or short. Is that not what you meant? Apart from milk, sugar or other additives, what else is there apart from water pushed through beans?

Maybe we need a translator :D

I did like the simplicity of ordering in the hipster places of New Zealand: Black/white, short/long, unsweetened/sugar. Gimme a short white unsweetened and I’m all good.
posted by harriet vane at 7:54 AM on February 24, 2018


So this Perth girl is going to have to ask: how is espresso not coffee?

A coffee cup is the same size* as a tea cup. In USAia, "coffee" has traditionally meant brewed coffee either from a percolator or a drip machine (or in ye olden days, boiled in a metal cup), served theoretically in 6-oz increments (but usually more). Espresso is an innovative preparation of coffee that is definitely coffee, but is a smaller serving size than brewed coffee, so you add milk or water or whatever to fill up the coffee cup. So it's kind of its own thing.

Starbucks and most other coffee shops here will have the espresso machines and can make whatever espresso drink you want, but they will also have 2-3 drip coffee pots for brewed coffee.

The word "coffee" doesn't look that weird until you type it out 12 times in a Metafilter comment.

* Same order of magnitude. Many modern coffee cups approach half-liters. Definitely larger than a shot glass, though.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:01 AM on February 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh I see, thankyou. Does brewed coffee come with milk usually, or do you have to specifically ask for it? I’m trying to remember what I thought Dale Cooper was ordering in Twin Peaks, but I didn’t drink coffee when I watched it so I might not have thought about it much. I don’t suppose there’s a comparison somewhere of caffeine amounts in the different types? Half a litre sounds like a *lot* of black coffee to me (16 shots?), but if they’re made differently maybe it’s ok.

I dunno about calling espresso innovative - the espresso machine was invented in the 19th century! I think they were uncommon in Australia though until the post-WWII immigration boom from Europe, before then we were all about that British tea drinking.

I should have acknowledged though, that the place amusebuche went to sounds like it had the standard Perth customer service: blank and unhelpful. No idea why it’s so bad here but I notice the difference when I travel.
posted by harriet vane at 3:42 AM on February 25, 2018


Brewed coffee doesn't come with milk or sugar automatically, but they're served on the side so you can add as much as you want. In a restaurant, they'd just give you a little thing of milk; at a coffee shop, there will be a little station with some combination of skim milk, whole milk, half-and-half, and various sugar/artificial sweeteners. Dunkin' Donuts will make your coffee with cream and sugar in it, because they're in a hurry and so are you.

You use about the same amount of ground coffee per cup of drip coffee as you do for a shot of espresso, so concentration-wise, an americano and a cup of drip coffee are roughly equivalent. However, drip coffee extracts more caffeine, so there is more caffeine in a cup of coffee. A shot of espresso at Starbucks has 75 mg of coffee; an 8-ounce cup of Pike Place brewed coffee has 155 mg.

I think American coffee culture forked off from the rest of the world a little early. The myth is that Patriots all switched over from tea to coffee during the Revolution, and definitely it was a big deal during the Civil War in the 1860's; the Union soldiers got 36 pounds of whole-bean coffee per year, and the Confederates couldn't get any. It's only in the last 2-3 decades that espresso-type drinks have taken off here, but they really have.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:14 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Every time I'm in Australia or New Zealand to give a talk I have to settle for Americanos.

I have no idea what Americanos is, but anyway, it's not that hard. If the place does espresso, order a long back. Anywhere that doesn't do espresso can give you a plunger.

And a flat white is just what you have when you want white coffee without any fussy extras. Anyone that thinks it means cappuccino is talking out their arse.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:43 PM on February 26, 2018


americano is a reverse long black (water added to espresso, not before, named after american GIs in ww2 asking for something like brewed coffee). if you're making a horrified face, that's pretty much the reason why italian immigrants invented long blacks in place of brewed coffee.

i have managed to horrify very different parts of the anglophone if i don't get this right, somehow.
posted by cendawanita at 7:53 PM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Cendawanita, that makes a lot of sense and explains part of my trouble getting a long black in the USA. I actually thought they were just bad at making them; it didn't occur to me that they were deliberately doing it the other way around.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:10 PM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


imagine growing up in a thirdworld country with govt/commonwealth/whathaveyou scholarship kids coming back from whenever with their competing cultural references and attitude and i'm expected to keep up with every goddamned one every time i'm in a cafe. (is it one with avo smash? is it avo toast? will they have Opinions about Marmite? oh they do pourover? This one only has 'americano' and paninis on their menu? hold on how about some vietnamese coffee? isn't tht honestly like our local coffee? oh, that one is in the cafe five doors down?)
posted by cendawanita at 10:33 PM on February 26, 2018


Anywhere that doesn't do espresso can give you a plunger.

Which in the US is called a "French Press" for some reason, and asking for a plunger in a cafe may cause a bit of dismay here, because that's the thing you use to un-clog a toilet (lav, loo, what-have-you).

Separated by a common language, indeed.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:00 AM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


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