The flat white -- that espresso-and-milk drink that is as ubiquitous to Antipodean culture as meat pies and Lamingtons -- is having something of a moment in Los Angeles. You can, with increasing frequency, find it on the menu boards at specialty coffee shops around the city, from Coffee + Food and other cafes that take their inspiration from Australian and Kiwi coffee culture, to those that don’t necessarily, such as Woodcat Coffee Bar in Echo Park.
The flat white was invented in the 1980s in either Australia or New Zealand -- an issue destined to never be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. Broadly speaking, it’s made with a single or double shot of espresso and some amount of milk.
How much milk, exactly, varies widely: In L.A., you’ll find some flat whites in six-ounce cups; others are eight, and still others are 10. Whatever its size, it usually will be smaller than the coffee shop’s latte, often (but not always) about the size of its cappuccino.
Other than the general ratio of coffee to milk, the flat white’s most distinguishing attribute is its minimal amount of foam, thus putting the "flat" in flat white.
Because of its size and how the milk is steamed to a smooth, velvety texture, the drink is sometimes described as a small latte; you’ll also hear it compared to the minimally foamy cappuccinos standard nowadays at many of this city’s specialty coffee shops.
Indeed, you could argue that some of those cappuccinos are essentially flat whites, but, lest you get mired in this semantic debate, it’s perhaps most helpful to be reminded that, as Woodcat co-owner Saadat Awan said, “At the end of the day, it’s just coffee.”
Just very good coffee, actually. At Woodcat, which Awan owns with his wife, Janine, flat whites and cappuccinos are the same size (around six ounces), and Awan is careful to avoid the gray area where the two drinks can overlap: Relative to its cappuccino, the shop’s flat whites have distinctly less foam, thus preserving the general spirit of each drink and how they can differ in texture. The beans are from San Francisco’s Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters.
At Coffee + Food, which is owned by Cyndi Finkle and partner R.P. Sekon, the flat whites are similarly unambiguous. Coffee + Food barista Alexa Bartol said steaming the milk for a flat white is a delicate balancing act, because once you've introduced too much air into the milk, "you can't recover it. You can turn it into a cappuccino, but it won't be a flat white."
The cafe’s flat whites have a double shot of espresso, and Bartol pulls the shot a bit longer than she does for the other espresso drinks, so the coffee will be especially pronounced against the milk. As with the cafe’s other coffee drinks, the flat whites are made using a house blend of beans similar to what you'd find in Australia.
Coffee + Food counts New Zealand native Russell Crowe among its happy tweeting customers, which is probably as good a blessing as you can get when it comes to these sort of things.
Over in Venice, you'll find Vittoria Coffee and flat whites at the coffee bar inside Australian motorcycle and surf shop Deus ex Machina. Cappuccinos aren’t on the menu, though barista Tim Riley says they'll certainly make one if you ask. It'll be served in a ceramic cup and will be the same size as the bar’s flat white (around six ounces). But, of course, a smidge foamier.
Other spots in town, Antipodean and otherwise, where you can find solid flat whites: Two Guns Espresso in Manhattan Beach, where eight-ounce flat whites and other coffee drinks are made using beans from Seattle’s Caffe Vita; Document Coffee Bar in Koreatown, which gets its coffee from a variety of roasters, including Supersonic Coffee Co.; and the cozy, compact outpost that is Coffee Coffee in West Hollywood, whose beans of choice are from Sightglass Coffee.
Where to get your flat white fix:
Woodcat Coffee, 1532 W. Sunset Blvd, Echo Park, (213) 537-0147, woodcatcoffee.com
Coffee + Food, 5630 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 962 3390, coffeeplusfood.wordpress.com
Deus ex Machina, 1001 Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 953-4932, deuscustoms.com
Two Guns Espresso, 350 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach, (310) 318-2537, twogunsespresso.com
Document Coffee Bar, 3850 Wilshire Blvd. #107, Koreatown, documentcoffeebar.com
Coffee Coffee, 1040 N. Fairfax Ave., West Hollywood, (323) 952-6590, coffeecoffeela.com