how to make a flat white at home?

My history with Flat White comes full circle this past weekend. My first taste of Flat White was back in 2010 with my sister Vivian when she was stationed in London.


Vivian’s back in London this summer. And now, our daughter Aimiya and our niece Akari are crashing at Vivian’s for a few days during their backpacking trip in Europe. Last night we had a Skype video call with the girls, and Akari said, “Flat White a latte in high street” – paraphrasing what she said, “a lot of Flat White is sold in the main street of London”. Hence the inspiration for us to talk about “Flat White” in our blog this week.

Interesting facts about Flat White:

  • Who invented Flat White? It’s been debated for years. We have team Australia, and team New Zealand. Apparently, it’s not conclusive. Let’s just agree that it’s invented on a beautiful land surrounded by the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
  • When did Starbucks introduce Flat White in the US? January 6th, 2015. Did you know – on that same day, NASA announced the astronomical discovery of three new planets that are capable of supporting life.
  • How many calories in Starbucks Flat White? Assuming your order is short (8 oz.), then
    • with whole milk = 110 calories
    • with 2% milk = 90 calories
    • with coconut milk = 60 calories
    • with almond milk = 50 calories

What is Flat White?

A generic definition of Flat White is espresso with steamed milk – proportion wise, it is typically two shots of espresso in an eight-ounce cup, with steamed (not frothed) milk. Of course, there are variations by different coffee houses, and depending on how faithful a pure Flat White you are, latte art or not. Here are some samples from some favorite cafes:

Source credit: Starbucks

Starbucks definition of their Flat White is “sweet ristretto espresso shots finished with steamed whole milk” (source credit: Starbucks). Ristretto is an Italian word that roughly translates to “reduced”. For those of us growing up in San Francisco, a ristretto is a common concentrated espresso drink served in North Beach long before Starbucks became a household name.

Source credit: Costa

Costa’s Flat White uses “Cortissimo” – a short espresso that is even a little shorter than ristretto and special heated milk. They finish the cup with latte art.

Source credit: McDonalds

McDonalds defines their Flat White as “Rich medium roast coffee with hot steamed milk” (source credit: McDonalds).

Flat White vs Latte vs Cappuccino

To make one 8 oz. cup Flat White Latte Cappuccino
Espresso 2 shots 1 shot 2 shots
Whole Milk (3.25% fat) 1 layer steamed microfoamed milk (1”) 1 layer steamed milk, 1 layer frothed milk foam (0.5 “) 1 layer steamed milk, 1 layer frothed milk foam (0.8 “)
Proportion 1/3 Espresso, 2/3 Steamed milk 1/6 Espresso, 2/3 Steamed milk, 1/6 milk foam 1/3 Espresso, 1/3 Steamed milk, 1/3 milk foam
Coffee strength High Medium Medium high
Milk texture More velvety than creamy Most creamy Less creamy
Calories 110 120 90
Coffee Art No (traditionally) Yes Yes

How to make a Flat White at home?

Tools you need

  • Espresso maker
  • Steamer wand
  • Thermometer
  • Milk pitcher
  • Tamper

Ingredients you need

  • Good water – if your water contains high calcium, use filtered or bottle water.
  • Good espresso beans – good quality and to your taste.
  • Good milk – go for whole milk or milk grade of your choice.

What size of cup to use

  • An 8 oz. or 6 oz. cup is suitable.
  • You want a cup that feels good in your hand.

How-to methods

  1. Warm up your cup
    • Dispense some hot water in your serving cup first, to keep it warm.
  2. Make your steamed milk
    • Measure 3 oz. of milk (equivalent to 3/8 cup or 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) for your six oz. Flat White.
    • Pour cold milk into a pitcher (usually metal) designed to use with the streamer wand on your espresso machine. Place the steam pipe into your pitcher and make your steam milk.
    • Your goal is to make steam milk with small bubbles. To make small bubbles, you want to dispense hot steam gradually into your milk, kind of aerating the milk. Keep a steady hand, minimize movement. Aim to finish at 150°F – 160°F. It varies by maker and surrounding ambient temperature, etc., so it is best to practice to find out how deep you want to submerge the wand and at what angle to get small bubbles. (Typically it’s right below the surface to get started, then deeper).
  3. Make your espresso
    • Your espresso taste is a prominent component of your flat white.
    • Clean equipment, good water, good quality espresso beans is 90% of the success formula.
    • Your goal is to make an espresso with good crema.
    • Use a tamper to pack your espresso fairly firm.
    • Make two espresso shots.
  4. Pour your espresso to your cup first, then the steam milk.
  5. Serve.
    • Place your cup on a saucer. Do not place your cup directly on a granite counter top or stainless steel surface – that will cool your cup down fast.

Examples of Flat White we made at home

Flat white with good microfoam
Flat white with less microfoam

Espresso machine to make Flat White at home

Best overall espresso machine for a serious barista at home: De’Longhi La Specialista Espresso Machine (view on Amazon)

Delonghi-La Specialista

From precision to speed, this De’Longhi La Specialista is our top-pick for the overall best fully-automatic coffee and espresso machine.

Yes, you can certainly make your flat white, in addition to you latte or cappuccino. And, it also has a separate hot water spout to brew an authentic Americano!

Some of the highlights of this La Specialista include:

  • A dual heating system – you have the best of both worlds – one for optimal coffee extraction, the other for steaming and frothing your milk.
  • An integrated smart tamping feature – you don’t even have to remove the portafilter to tamp the ground coffee.
  • Sensor Grinding technology – you get consistent grind and dose for your espresso every time.

Best entry-level single-serve espresso machine: Nespresso Essenza Espresso Machine Bundle with Aeroccino Milk Frother (view on Amazon)


This budget-friendly Nespresso Essenza is one of our best-value espresso machines and milk frother combo for last two years.

It is lightweight at 5.1 pounds. It has a sleek, and a compact design of 11 inches wide by 20.5 inches long and 32.5 inches tall. You can fit this unit on a limited-space countertop easily.

Some of the highlights of this Nespresso Essenza bundle include:

  • A 19 bar high-pressure pump – to get consistent flavors out of the ground coffee.
  • Single-serve using a capsule – fast and convenient.
  • 30 second preheating time – who doesn’t appreciate fast time under a minute in the morning?
  • Intuitive programmable buttons – espresso or lungo buy popping in a capsule, and at a press of a button.
  • Energy saving – it will automatically shut-off after an idle three minutes.
  • A pleasant surprise – it comes with a starter kit of 16 Nespresso Capsules.

This single-serve espresso machine is a most welcoming appliance in the morning for many households. It requires little effort and less than a minute to get you lungo. With the companion milk frother, you can make you lattes or flat white in a breeze.