The Café au Lait
In this article, we’ll walk you through a timeless classic in the coffee world, café au lait. Transport yourself to a Parisian cafe without ever leaving the house.
If you have access to an espresso machine, you have no excuse for treating coffee as a mere pick-me-up and not the beautiful, versatile drink that it is. One of the most popular ways to use your espresso maker is to create a simple flat white.
While it may have been relatively unknown until coffee’s second wave, the flat white is a truly delicious drink that demands any coffee drinker’s attention. The effort required to make any espresso-based drink may put some off the idea. But if you’ve already decided on one of the thousands of machines out there, you’re clearly serious about your coffee!
Plus, the effort required to make the flat white is more than worth it when you taste the smooth-as-velvet coffee that you’ve just created. But before we talk about how you can make one of these delicious drinks for yourself, it’s worth asking what a flat white is, and learning a bit more about its history.
You might see a flat white labelled as a strong latte but with less milk. While this does cover the essence of what a flat white is, it doesn’t do the drink the justice it truly deserves. It’s not a case of just preparing your latte with a stronger dose and adding less milk. First, let’s discuss the somewhat misty history of the flat white.
The drink has its origins in Australia or New Zealand, depending on who you ask. Some people in Australia claim the flat white was first created in the 1980s in Sydney. Others say it came from Melbourne, and a decade earlier.
But those from New Zealand will tell you that it all started in Wellington in the 1980s instead. But regardless of where the drink came from, the style and form of the drink is clearly defined.
To make a flat white you need three elements: espresso, steamed milk and microfoam. We’ll talk more about microfoam in a moment, but it’s essentially a very smooth, silky milk with lots of microscopic bubbles, hence the name “microfoam.”
The key thing to note with a flat white is the size. You’ll find conflicting information about this, with coffee chains like Starbucks offering 12oz flat whites. However, most people will tell you that a flat white coffee should be no more than 6oz, with the ideal size being between 5-6oz.
This makes the flat white considerably smaller than some lattes and cappuccinos, but it’s also stronger. The flat white is usually made with two shots of espresso, versus the one that is often found in lattes and cappuccinos.
The flat white is now one of the most popular espresso-based drinks in coffee shops across the world. But how do you make a flat white at home?
If you want to keep things as traditional as possible, make that cup ceramic! You might also want to grab yourself a timer if you’re really trying to nail every phase of the process. If you have full control over your espresso brew time, you can get very consistent results every time you brew. Having a grinder will also be key if you want to grind your own beans to keep things as fresh and flavorful as possible.
But any espresso machine that makes real espresso will do the trick. Many people will compromise with something like a moka pot to make the coffee part of the flat white. While moka pots are capable of making strong coffees, they are most definitely not espressos.
While Good Fika is all about inclusion and bringing coffee deeper into the hearts of the many, we want to make sure we’re doing things right. If you don’t have access to an espresso machine you unfortunately won’t be able to make a real flat white. Plus, you’ll need a steam wand for the milk, which is usually attached to an espresso machine.
Other extras you may want to keep handy include a thermometer for the milk if you really want to get things nailed down. If you’re not using one, just know that when you’re steaming your milk, you should stop before the jug gets too hot to hold. Milk sits in a good place in terms of flavor if it’s under 150oF, so going for around 145o here is best.
As always, the coffee you choose to use here is down to personal preference. The beauty of a flat white is the relationship between the richness of the double shot and the silky texture of the milk. With great coffee you can make a great flat white, but a lot of the joy of the drink relies on how well you form that microfoam.
These tiny bubbles are what give the milk its velvet texture. Unlike some other espresso-based drinks, we don’t want to dilute the coffee too much with extra foam in a flat white. Not only does this dilute the strong flavor profile, but it’s also just not how the flat white is made! Too much milk leads to a latte, which is delicious of course, but not what we’re shooting for here.
This is why the coffee-chain-style flat whites are often not strictly flat whites at all. With a double shot of espresso (i.e., 2oz of coffee) we only want around 3-4oz of milk at most. Do you think the 10oz flat white offered at your local coffee shop keeps this 1:2 coffee to milk ratio? No way! That espresso will be heavily diluted.
As we’ve reiterated several times, the magic of a flat white is in the strong coffee flavor that’s complemented by the milk. The milk should never be the centerpiece of a flat white. That’s what sets this amazing drink apart from the rest! So, let’s find out how you can make a flat white at home.
The first step to creating a beautiful flat white coffee is to prepare your espresso. Don’t start brewing just yet but get everything ready to begin. This means grinding your beans, weighing your dosage to suit your liking (remember it’s a double shot, or doppio) and tamping it down.
Before you start brewing your espresso, you want to foam your milk. This, as we’ve made clear, is arguably the most important part of the process, so take care here. You want to first purge your steam wand, and you’ll purge it again afterwards to keep things clean.
Place the steam wand into the milk, open the valve and then lift the nozzle to the surface of the milk. We want to control how much air we get into the milk, so only keep the nozzle here for a few seconds. Submerge the wand back into the milk and keep it at the side of the jug, swirling the milk until you reach around 140-145oF.
As you’re approaching the right temperature, start brewing your double shot of espresso. This is where you can use your own personal preference with regard to the brew time.
When you’re ready, you can remove your steam wand and give it a wipe with a damp cloth. Tap your jug of milk against the counter in order to remove any large air bubbles that might have formed. You should then have a smooth, textured microfoam.
Then, slowly pour this beautiful foam into the center of your espresso. The ingredients should combine to make a rich, smooth drink with plenty of texture and flavor.
You have successfully made a flat white! Make sure to record everything you do in the Good Fika app, as this makes it super easy to get consistent results every time you brew.