Friday, 26 October 2018

The Flat White Controversy

I think I am probably the last person on the planet to have found out that the flat white - 1/3 espresso with 2/3 milk - was a Kiwi invention from either Auckland in the mid-80s, by Derek Townsend and Darrell Ahlers of long-gone DKD Espresso (Martineau, 25 February 2013); or by Fraser McInnes at Cafe Bodega in Wellington. Fraser made a skim milk cappuccino which didn't froth in 1989 and called it a ‘flat white’ when delivering it to the customer (Alves, 31 August 2017;, 2018).

A good description of why this lovely cuppa is termed a flat white comes from Peter Thomson (2014):
In New Zealand we use the term “flat” to describe soft drink (or soda) that has lost its fizz and doesn’t have any bubbles. So “flat” seems like a natural term for Kiwis to use to describe a coffee with fewer bubbles than a cappuccino (which was the dominant espresso beverage in NZ in the 1980s).
However, the Kiwi ownership is contested. Australian Alan Preston claims he invented the flat white at Sydney's Moors Espresso Bar, in 1985. He said that he moved to Sydney from Queensland, where cafes in the 1960s and 1970s had frequently offered "White Coffee – flat", which he renamed "Flat White" in Moors (Robertson, 28 September 2015). It seems to me that the Aussies are more likely to have the right of it, as Alan has photographic evidence of having "flat white" on a menu board, supposedly dating from the mid-1980s (but there is no certainty of the actual date of the photo, or whether the coffee was a 1/3, 2/3 mix). Also, Aussies have tended to do a ristretto rather than an espresso (Thomson, 2014). 

Who knows the origins, really. Perhaps we should just go with the flat white being Antipodean: a Trans-Tasman creation which has now gone global.



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