Before delving into London’s top picks for a tasty flat white it makes sense first to explain what a flat white is and, secondly, what constitutes a good one, and why it’s a big deal.
To our first port of call then…what is a flat white?
A flat white is an espresso shot served in a small cup with textured milk, which originated in New Zealand or Australia at some point in the 1980s. Coffee lovers from both nations seem vehemently claim this hit of caffeine heaven was developed on their isle’s first.
Honestly, I’m not 100% sure but, if I was a betting man I’d go with the Kiwis.
Anyway, it’s safe to say that it is an antipodean invention.
Some more details:
- It is an espresso based coffee
- Full fat milk is textured to create a velvety micro foam
- The milk is then poured over the coffee. The aim is to not have a separate layer between the coffee and milk. (This explains when pouring it almost looks like the barista is trying to fold the milk through the coffee.)
- The ratio of espresso to milk is important. You can make it with a single, double or even triple (if you are feeling frisky) shot of espresso as long as this ratio is maintained.
- The coffee is the star! The milk should simply play a supporting role in enhancing the taste. It should not be overpowering!
The flat white is bigger than a Macchiato but, smaller than a Latte. On the subject of Lattes some establishments simply serve their “Flat White” as a small Latte. This is wrong! A Flat White should have proportionately less coffee than a Latte.
So now we know what a Flat White is. Next step…what makes a good one?
A good Flat White is a big drink wrapped in small packaging. What I mean by this is that although it is served in a small cup it should be packed with flavor. High quality coffee is a must and the foam should be “micro-foam” (having tiny bubbles). This micro foam should result in a velvety texture.
To me the ideal Flat White has a velvety smooth mouth feel, is rich and full bodied in taste, with a hint of cocoa bitterness from the espresso and a creamy sweetness from the milk.
The Flat White has almost taken over the coffee shops of trendy Shoreditch and has spread all over the capital. You know it’s popular when chains like Greggs start advertising them.
Right, so we know what a Flat White is and how to spot a good one. Now on to the top picks in London. In no particular order…
- Flat White
23 Southampton Row, W1F 0PT
The name is a bit of a giveaway! This place had to make the list. They have been supplying the Capital with Flat Whites since 2005. Since then it has established itself as a London coffee institution. This place has a strong antipodean feel and many of the staff and, customers are Aussies and Kiwis.
Their Flat White is based on Drop Coffee Roasters (Stockholm) house espresso blend and made using the affectionately named “Great White” machine.
- Climpson & Sons
67 Broadway Market, E8 4PH
Established in 2002 Climpson & Sons is one of the pioneers of London’s ever expanding coffee scene. They roast their own espresso blends and a range of single estate beans (great for a filter coffee in the Chemex of V60 if you fancy your coffee black).
Last I checked their flat white was made using their Winter seasonal espresso from Rwanda. Given we are moving from Spring towards Summer that may well have changed. What probably hasn’t changed is the fact that they will serve you up a top-notch flat white.
27a Foley St, W1W 6DY
Roasting their own coffee and selling it out of a former public toilet…this place is a little different to your high street Costabucks!
After lying dormant for over 50 years the former Victorian toilet was given an overhaul. The name comes from the fact that it is the old Attendant’s office that has been restored to create a unique, cozy coffee shop.
They have been runners-up in the Best Coffee Shop in London 2013 & 2015. I can see why they have achieved such acclaim after sampling the flat white. It is velvety smooth! This is in large part due to the rich Jersey Cow milk they get from Ivy House Farm in Somerset.
23-25 Leather Lane, EC1N 7TE
The proud owners of the most expensive coffee I’ve ever bought (it was a filter not the Flat White by the way) this is a coffee shop for coffee geeks. They have a “brew bar” dedicated to hand-brewing and a collection of brewing paraphernalia which makes you wonder if you have stepped into a mad scientist’s laboratory.
Anyway, on to the Flat White…
A thin, smooth, silky milk head combined with a mildly bitter sweet espresso makes this almost the perfect Flat White. As a bit of chocoholic in denial I have to admit the hint of chocolate flavor really hit the spot for me too.
- Department of Coffee & Social Affairs
Leather Lane, EC1N 7SU
The name indicates they take themselves and their coffee seriously, perhaps a little too seriously if I’m honest. Nonetheless they do serve outstanding coffee.
The Flat White I had here was sweet, smooth, malty, quite silky and very strong. This combo added up to a really good drink.
So there you have it…my top 5 picks for Flat Whites in London. Do you agree or have you got a favourite I’ve missed? Let me know. I’m more than happy to keep on searching for great coffee!