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How Did the #1 Coffee Drink the Flat White Get Its Name?

Today we take on a question as deep and meaningful as "Is there a God?" and "What is the origin of the universe?" Yes, where did the famous "flat white" coffee get its name?

The answer to this riddle starts in Modoor, I mean, New Zealand. Or was it Australia? It was definitely one or the other. Let's just say it starts in the Antipodes, aka Australia and New Zealand, where a good old-fashioned cup of coffee with milk is referred to as "white coffee", and a cup of coffee without milk in it is referred to as "black coffee". So in New Zealand, if you are visiting some friends at home and they offer you coffee and ask how you take it, and you like it with milk, then you simply reply "White, thanks". So that's the first step in unravelling this mystery: in the lands where the flat white comes from a cup of coffee with milk in it is called "white coffee".

For many decades, Aussies and Kiwis were quite happy with their white and black instant coffee, and then along came a wave of post-World War II immigration from Europe, much of it from Italy, Greece, and the Netherlands. Like many new immigrants struggling to get on their feet in a new land, they opened restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops offering goodies from their homelands. The Dutch introduced New Zealand to drip-filtered and percolated coffee, for the first time challenging the dominance of instant coffee. Coffee snobbery went from whether you were a Gregg's or Nescafe instant coffee drinker to whether you preferred filtered coffee to percolated coffee.

Sometime around the late '80s or early '90s owner-operated "cafes" exploded across the antipodean landscape. In New Zealand, the traditional Italian cappuccino prevailed, and with a Dutch twist was always topped off according to taste with either a sprinkle of chocolate powder or cinnamon, and accompanied on the side by a chocolate covered pink marshmallow fish! The summit of coffee sophistication had arrived!

Well this cappuccino thing piled high with foam wasn't to every bloke's liking, possibly seen as too "girly" for a ruby player, so some smart entrepreneurial person came up with the idea of a cappuccino with a haircut, a flat-topped cappuccino if you like. Since coffee with milk was traditionally known as "white coffee", and this new concoction had the milk foam flattened out, that clever person put their new invention on their menu as a "Flat White". And so the "flat white" was born.

So there you have it; mystery solved. Or is it? Who was that clever person who came up with this idea and name that would one day set the world of coffee snobbery afire?  Well, just like the great "Who invented the Pavlova" war that consumed Australia and New Zealand for decades, no doubt this one will too.  Whoever it was, I'm sure they must be kicking themselves not to have thought to trademark their invention.




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