Starbucks takes on the ‘flat white’

To the fascination of the entire British coffee trade, Starbucks has added the ‘flat white’ to its coffee menu – this is an espresso drink of Australian origin, and although it is by no means new to the British trade, it has gained prominence in recent months by becoming one of the ‘cool’ drinks to have in the trendier espresso bars. The drink has been put on sale in Soho, but will spread throughout the Starbucks chain early next year.

The ‘flat white’, or ‘flattie’, is a slightly stronger espresso-based drink, maybe of a 6oz or 8oz size, and with a minimum of two shots of espresso. The power of the espresso is dissipated by the creaminess of the steamed milk, and achieving the perfect balance between the two is regarded as a sign of a well-trained barista.

It is Starbucks’ announcement of the launch, in the company’s usual style of promoting itself as an industry-leading trend-setter, which has earned it a certain amount of quite good-natured ribbing from the rest of the coffee trade.

“At Starbucks, we noticed that some customers in the West End of London were asking for a new drink,” said a spokesman’s officially-worded announcement. “Our highly-trained baristas rose to the challenge and taught themselves how to make it so that they could offer these customers the coffee they wanted. This new Starbucks drink, the Flat White, is the first major addition to our UK and Ireland espresso-based drink and is a response to the growing sophistication of today’s coffee drinkers.”

“Starbucks Flat White is a small strong coffee made with two shots of Fairtrade-certified espresso in an 8 fl oz cup topped with creamy, steamed whole-milk. The milk is given a velvety texture by being ‘stretched and spun’, which allows the espresso shot to rise through the milk.” A very interesting part of the strategy is that Starbucks is putting two shots of espresso in an eight-ounce drink – this is essential for a flat white, whereas Starbucks has long been criticised for using too little espresso in its larger milky drinks.

A Starbucks Flat White will cost £2.25.

The leg-pulling reaction from the rest of the coffee trade has come from the knowledge that the flat white has been available for a long time, and farther afield than Soho. The Muffin Break chain, itself of Australian origin, has said that it has been serving the drink in Britain for eight years.

One commentator, the UK’s first world barista champion James Hoffmann, has pointed out that one drink does not make or change a business.

“The flat white is not a magic bullet,” he has said. “Lots of the best coffee shops in the UK offer a flat white, but they are not successful ‘because’ they serve flat whites. Independents know that it is a myriad of things that make them better than the chains – they should be relieved that the chains are likely to miss those key factors that give the independents an advantage!”

From elsewhere in the coffee trade, the teasing observation has been heard that: “Starbucks seems to have gone from a company which would listen to nobody, to a company which is now following everybody…”

There has been no response from Costa to confirm rumours that it will make the same addition to its menu.

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