The Cult History Of Starbucks’ New Drink

Photo: Courtesy of Starbucks.
On Tuesday, Starbucks introduced the Flat White to its US menu, inciting a cacophony of both joy and outrage from supercool kids in the high-end-coffee community. The rest of the world simply asked what the hell it was, then ordered a Peppermint Mocha.
The Flat White is a not-quite-latte, and is traditionally made with a double shot of espresso and micro-foamed milk, free-poured into a heated 165ml tulip cup so as to create a rich, velvety drink. If all this production sounds a little ridiculous, that's because it totally is. But, as devotees will attest, the results are just that good. "Me likey. Yum," tweets one Flat White initiate. Of course, there are those who've been drinking Flat Whites before, like, anyone else, all rolling their eyes at the latecomers.
Like any cult item, the Flat White has a slightly mysterious origin (you've probably never heard of it). It's widely accepted to be an Australian invention from the 1980s. Australia has fostered one of the world's most advanced and devoted coffee cultures since the post-WWII era, when thousands of Italian immigrants moved to the country. Starbucks' press release backs up this legend, naming Aussies as the originators. But, New Zealanders have spoken out, claiming that this is just another case of Australia overshadowing its Antipodean neighbor. The Flat White is "the quintessential Kiwi coffee," according to The New Zealand Herald. "Don't believe Ozzie counter claims!" insists Vangelis Vitalis, New Zealand Ambassador to the UN & NATO.
Food historian Michael Symons says the story is more complicated than he-said-she-said. An Australian himself, Symons claims the style was first made in his home country, but "it was then perfected in New Zealand, more particularly, in Wellington." Furthermore, Symons says, "It's impossible to find a better morning coffee anywhere. I know, because I've tried."
This reporter can attest that the Starbucks version is pretty, pretty, pretty good. It's the perfect drink for those who find lattes a little too milky. Is it worth reviving a historic, international debate? Maybe not. But, if you're one of those people who like their coffee strong, smooth, and a little pretentious, then this is the cup for you.

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