The flat white—the most commonly known Australian coffee drink—has been trendy for a few years now. But many Americans don't fully understand exactly what a flat white is, and how it's different from a latte or a cappuccino. In Australia, however, that difference couldn't be more obvious. After all, Australians take their coffee drinks very seriously. “Coffee is something that everyone likes,” says Australian Henry Roberts, of New York City’s Two Hands Cafe. “It’s a ritual, it’s a legal drug," he jokes. But he adds, "No one’s going to get over coffee. It’s always going to be there, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy it to its fullest capacity.” And at Two Hands, Roberts and his business partner Giles Russell take that commitment to making good coffee seriously.
The duo have been at the forefront of bringing Australian coffee culture to the United States, in part because the expats missed that café culture from their home. And ordering coffee like an Australian is very different than ordering a grande latte at Starbucks. “When we were growing up in Australia, it just kind of became the normal thing. Everyone knew exactly what kind of coffee they wanted, where they went and got their coffee, how they enjoyed it, with whom they enjoyed it, and appreciated the difference between a good coffee and a bad coffee,” explains Roberts.
Even the language of Australian coffee culture is different. There are short blacks, long blacks, flat whites, and cappuccinos—and just as this high-quality style of coffee is making its way stateside, the lingo is, too. So we decided to go to Two Hands and walked through all of the different drinks with Roberts as our guide.
If you want to learn how to order coffee like an Australian, look no further than this guide. Finally, you'll be able to tell the different between a flat white and a cappuccino. All you'll be missing is a nice beach and a surfboard.
A Quick Disclaimer
All of these coffee drinks are simply variations on two basic ingredients: milk and espresso. That simplicity why it's important to make sure these core components are as high quality as possible—but that also means the taste might be slightly different if you go to a different café. At Two Hands, for instance, they use Nicaraguan beans from Cafe Integral, and every drink is made with a double shot of espresso unless otherwise noted. This might not be the case at your local cafe, which means the ratios might be slightly different.
Roberts and his team are also regularly trying out different types of milk to find the best fit. Currently, their milk is from Five Acre Farms, a company that sources dairy from farmers in the New York City region. It should be noted, though, that Two Hands doesn't do skim milk; all these drinks are made with whole milk, because that's what gives the best foam. So if you order any of these drinks with skim milk or even non-dairy milk, chances are good you will have a slightly different texture than what's described.
A short black is a shot of espresso, which also means that it’s hard to hide any errors. That’s why Roberts calls it the “real tester” of a coffee shop, to really understand the taste of their coffee. "If someone orders an espresso, I really like to do a flush of the machine,” says Roberts, so you’re not accidentally getting used grounds in the shot. “It’s nice to get that one just right.”
If a short black is just a shot of espresso, it makes sense that a long black would be an Americano. At Two Hands, the shot is pulled first, then four ounces of hot water are added on top. It's important to make sure the cup is warm, as well; the easiest way for a barista to ensure that is by keeping the mugs on top of the machine.
The flat white is perhaps the quintessential Australian coffee drink, but it’s also the most misunderstood by Americans. At Two Hands, there’s only one size for the flat white, and it’s made with a shot of espresso and four ounces of steamed milk. "The flat white’s got more of a thin, microfoam, if you want to use that terminology,” Roberts says, which means that the taste is more milk than espresso. When done right, the microfoam should be even and smooth, “so the whole consistency is this creaminess in your mouth,” says Roberts. If you ordered a “large flat white,” you’re basically ordering a latte—since the amount of espresso would stay the same.
A cappuccino, much like a flat white, is a shot of espresso with four ounces of milk. But the two drinks aren't the same. “The cappuccino has a thicker foam,” explains Roberts, so in general, a cappuccino is going to have a stronger coffee taste than a flat white. What practically means a cappuccino from a flat white in Australian coffeeshops is cocoa powder. “We do a sprinkle of chocolate across the espresso before pouring the milk,” says Roberts, then the foam on top is finished with more cocoa powder. If you like your cappuccino with more foam than milk, and want to really taste the espresso, ask for a dry cappuccino.
If you really want to taste the espresso, with as little milk as possible, go for the piccolo. Also known as a cortado, this drink is two ounces of espresso topped with two ounces of steamed milk, with minimal foam.
The mocha is probably best described as a coffee drink for folks who don't actually want to drink coffee. At Two Hands, the so-called chocolate syrup is actually made by whisking together chocolate powder with a little bit of hot water. The barista then pulls a single shot of espresso, and whisks that in with the syrup. Next is steamed milk, with microfoam to get that nice latte art going, and the whole thing is finished with a generous sprinkle of chocolate powder.