This post is completely off-topic. Please indulge me.
I recently spent three lovely weeks in Melbourne, Australia. I’m a big coffee fan, and Melbourne is one of the best cities for coffee in the world, so I spent a lot of time in cafes acquainting myself with the native coffee—specifically the flat white. Now that I’m back in Vancouver, I find myself craving flat whites nostalgically; sipping a flat white in a nice place reminds me of the wonderful time I spent there. (That nostalgia may have something to do with spending so many of those days out with a particular girl.) Finding a good flat white locally is hard though, and while there isn’t a really authentic one anywhere in the city there are a few good places I keep going back to.
There are three things that define a good flat white: milk volume, milk texture, and espresso. The right combination isn’t always easy to find on this side of the Pacific.
In my experience in Melbourne, most flat whites are served in roughly 190mL (6.5oz) cups; this is smaller than the average North American small latte (235mL, 8oz), and larger than the New Zealand flat white (160mL, 5.5oz). The relatively lower milk volume helps more of the espresso taste come through, which I find very nice.
Some Canadian coffeeshops I’ve been to will serve their flat whites in much smaller cups—smaller than both North American lattes and Australian flat whites, presumably intended to be closer to the size of a New Zealand flat white. Or perhaps they’ve simply heard that flat whites are served smaller and, having only too-small and too-large cups to choose from, they chose too-small.
Purely as a personal preference, I’ll take a bit too much milk over a bit too little, though 190mL as I had in Melbourne feels just right.
Flat whites are made using microfoam, a very fine, smoothly-textured, velvety foamed milk that gives the coffee the perfect texture. A good flat white also retains the crema from the espresso, merging the milk with the crema at the surface of the drink.
Given the lower milk volume, it’s important for the coffee to not be overpowering. An espresso that’s too earthy or too bitter can ruin the drink for me; I like the flavour to be strong but not overly sharp. According to Wikipedia the kiwi flat white is usually served using a ristretto shot, and I find that can help cut the bitterness of certain beans; however I don’t feel like it’s a requirement for a good one. That said, a few of the Vancouver shops I’ve been to served me overly earthy, bitter flat whites that didn’t work for me. I make my own flat whites at home using ristretto shots.
Old Crow (New Westminster)
Old Crow serves their flat white in an 8oz cup, though they’ll also do it in a 5oz glass on request. (I find it works better in the 8oz cup, personally.) They steam the milk very nicely, producing a good microfoam. Old Crow uses Bows X Arrows’s St. 66 beans, which is one of my favourite espresso roasts—pleasant, low bitterness, wonderful flavour with good acidity. At my request they started making flat whites using ristretto shots, which works beautifully with these beans. The result is a velvety, smooth coffee with a lovely natural sweetness. If they had 190mL cups to serve this in instead of 8oz, this could easily be mistaken for a Melbournian flat white.
Continental Coffee (Commercial Drive)
Continental also produces a very nice flat white. Served in an 8oz cup, it’s served with decently-foamed milk and an excellent ristretto shot. The foam on the milk as a bit thick compared to Old Crow and Prado, but it was delicious.
Prado (Commercial Drive)
Just down the street from Continental, Prado also produces a nice flat white. The milk is textured beautifully, a bit better than Continental’s, though I found the coffee a bit too sharp in comparison.
Milano made their flat white with an very earthy coffee, which overpowered everything else for me—even given the higher milk volume (8oz). This wasn’t a bad drink, but it wasn’t great. Next time I’d try ordering with a different espresso and see if that’s any better, or ask them to do a ristretto shot.
Nelson the Seagull (Gastown)
Nelson’s flat white suffers from basically the same problem as Milano’s, though it’s magnified by being served in a smaller cup. I also tried this a second time using their house almond milk; it has too much of a flavour of its own and ended up competing with the coffee.
Revolver serves their flat white in a small 5oz (150mL) glass, which from what I’ve read is presumably closer to the kiwi style. The milk is steamed well, and the espresso is excellent—not that I’d expect anything less from Revolver.
This doesn’t resemble anything I had in straya, but it is tasty. I’m only rating this low for failing to rekindle my nostalgia; it’s delicious taken on its own.
Delany’s (West End)
Delany’s smallest size is a 12oz (355mL)—nearly twice the size of an Australian flat white. The huge quantity of milk makes it hard to think of this as being a flat white at all.
Bump N Grind is one of my favourite shops so I had high hopes, but I was very disappointed in their flat white.
Like Revolver, their flat white runs noticeably smaller than an Australian flat white; Bump N Grind serves theirs in a cappucino cup. The coffee is nice, but the milk was steamed poorly and the foam at the surface was far too thick—not as thick as a cappucino, but this’d be on the thick side for a latte, much less a flat white. The result was okay, but I wouldn’t call it a flat white at all. It’s basically a cappucino with less foam.