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January 08, 2015

Where to get a flat white in Philly (that's not Starbucks)

Starbucks goes Third Wave.

As of Tuesday, Starbucks is upping the ante by selling flat whites -- likely, for the segment of customers who tend to turn their nose and run toward the nearest La Colombe at the sight of something like an Eggnog Frappuccino.  

... But what is a flat white?

Bon Appetit summed them up best in this reported piece last month; but, to save you the read, they're basically a wetter cappuccino with the milk more evenly distributed. Of note, it's a circa-1980 Australian invention --where exactly it was born in the country is a contentious topic, apparently -- and signifier of good taste. Flat whites are to Australians what lattes are to Americans -- in popularity, at least. They're not pumping pumpkin and caramel into their coffee to the same sugar-high-inducing degree we tend to, of course. (Probably why so many Starbucks stores ended up shuttered in Australia last year, actually.)

Curious, I called around to see if flat whites are the phenomenon in Philly that they're being made out to be elsewhere. Results were mixed -- I got about as many "Flat ... what?" responses as I did overzealous, exclamation-point responses from coffee-obsessed baristas. (God love 'em.)

The pseudo-scientific results are below. Note that these responses were largely from the baristas you'd actually be approaching at the counter.

"Yes, we serve flat whites":

One Shot Coffee: The barista cutely referred to it as a "baby latte," the gist being that they're prepared with less foam and served a little hotter, but in a cappuccino-comparable cup. 

ReAnimator Coffee: Behold, one of the more interesting cases: ReAnimator serves flat whites, but what they're serving as a cappuccino is a flat white. "What we serve isn't a traditional, foamy cappuccino. It's more of a micro-foam layer with a silky texture," Matt Scadaline, a barista and manager for ReAnimator, told PhillyVoice. "Most of the newer third wave shops are making cappuccinos in a similar way, so I think if you showed that to someone from Australia, they'd think it was a flat white."

La Colombe: Because the shop attracts people from all around the world (a lot of globe-trotting tourists, probably), their flat whites tend to be served differently based on requests. But it's served in an eight-ounce cup with the consistency of a latte and is, therefore, a lot more "wet."  The main similarity to a cappuccino, I was told, is its volume.

Plenty: Again, the whole "wet cappuccino" thing. (Though they sounded less particular about it.)

Chestnut Hill Coffee: They'll make your flat white to taste, but the average eight-ounce cup will have about five ounces of a milk and half and half combination, with a sizable pour of espresso. 

"No, but ..."

Bodhi Coffee: No flat whites, specifically, but they do serve cortados, which the barista on the phone likened to a flat white.



Black and Brew


Green Line Cafe

Chapter house Cafe & Gallery

Ultimo Coffee (not on the menu, though if you requested one, they might make it)

*Note: Elixr Coffee, The Last Drop, Anthony's Coffeehouse, The Bean Cafe and Old City Coffee did not respond to attempted calls.