What is a Flat White at Starbucks?

flat white at Starbucks

It is well known that Starbucks started offering espresso drinks in the 1980s. But why did the coffee chain wait until the winter of 2015 to start offering flat white?

This article gives you the background story of flat white coffee and how it became a Starbucks staple.

What is a Flat White at Starbucks?

Starbucks flat white is a smooth espresso drink that is made with ristretto shots, steamed whole milk, and a thin layer of microfoam.

The difference between Starbucks’ flat white and regular flat white is that Starbucks uses ristretto shots which are sweeter whereas flat white coffee from other coffee shops uses classic espresso.

Ristretto espresso is sweeter than classic espresso as a ristretto uses less water and is restrained to the early stages of the extraction process.

What is the Origin of Flat White?

Most coffee experts believe that flat white originated in Australia and New Zealand in the 1980s. The two countries don’t seem to agree on who made it first.

New Zealand’s claim stems from the story of a barista who was having a bad day at work. The barista mistakenly made a cappuccino with reduced-fat milk. The milk did not froth, so he named the drink flat white.

In the 1990s and early 200s, many coffee shops in Australia and New Zealand added flat white to their menus, and soon after the drink found its way across the UK and later in North America.

How Flat White Became a Starbucks Staple

Starbucks has a way of sniffing a budding drink which is part of the reason that it continues to increase its market share and revenue.

The coffee giant introduced flat white in its stores in Australia in 2009, and in 2010 in Britain. In typical Starbucks style, the company elevated the drink by using ristretto rather than shots of espresso.

With the success of the flat white in Starbucks Australia and Starbucks UK, it was time to introduce the drink in 2015 in North America which is Starbucks’ biggest market.

Flat white went straight to the core menu of coffee beverages and has become a favorite drink for coffee drinkers who prefer espresso drinks without sugary add-ons. The ristretto shots have no bitterness. They give the drink a smooth mouthfeel such that the drink needs no sweetening.

When Starbucks introduced flat white in North America, most stores removed cappuccino from the menu that is usually displayed in the stores and replaced it with flat white.

Learn more about the Starbucks cappuccino.

Starbucks Flat White vs Latte

There are five main differences between Starbucks flat white and latte.

  • type of espresso. A latte uses espresso whereas Starbucks flat white gets ristretto espresso
  • extra shots. For the same cup size, Starbucks flat white gets more shots of ristretto than a latte. For example, a grande flat white gets three ristretto shots whereas a grande latte gets a double shot of espresso.
  • type of milk. A latte gets 2% milk whereas flat white gets whole milk.
  • taste. Starbucks flat white has a smoother, creamier taste than a latte due to the combination of whole milk and ristretto coffee.
  • milk steaming and pouring. The milk for Starbucks flat white is aerated less than the milk for a latte. For a flat white, steamed milk is poured in a way that draws the coffee to the top of the cup to create the brownish color at the top of a flat white.

Is Starbucks Flat White Stronger than Latte?

Yes, Starbucks flat white is stronger and more caffeinated than a latte as it has more coffee and less foam than a latte. For example, a grande flat white has 195 mg of caffeine whereas a grande latte has 150 mg.

However, for the short and venti sizes, flat white and latte have similar amounts of caffeine because they get the same number of shots of coffee. A venti flat white has 195 mg of caffeine which is equal to the caffeine in a venti latte.

Read about the delicious lattes that you can get at Starbucks.

Flat White Drinks at Starbucks

Other than the classic flat white, Starbucks also offers a honey almond milk flat white which combines ristretto espresso, honey blend, and steamed almond milk. The honey almond milk flat white is vegan.

Starbucks also allows you to build your own flat white by choosing the type of milk, flavors, and toppings

Starbucks Flat White Nutrition

The table below shows the caffeine, calories, and sugar content in different cup sizes of flat white coffee from Starbucks.

Flat White Cup SizeCaffeine (mg)CaloriesSugar (g)
Starbucks flat white nutrition

Starbucks uses the same number of ristretto shots for a short and tall cup and for a grande and venti hence the same caffeine content.

Final Thoughts

Although most espresso drinks have an Italian connection, flat white coffee has its origins in New Zealand and Australia.

Starbucks flat white uses ristrettos shots instead of espresso which makes their flat white naturally sweeter than a regular flat white.

Starbucks also offers a vegan flat white with almond milk and honey blend.


Patrick is first a coffee lover and then a trained barista. His bucket list includes sky diving and sipping on Java in the Himalayas.

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