Small flat white for a coffee snob

Coffee? Yes please. I’ll have a small double shot flat white.

That small size is really important. Please don’t order me a large flat white. I’m here for the coffee, not the milk.

When it comes to coffee I’m a bit of a snob. Some people are able to cheerfully smash their way through any old cup of dirt. I wish I could be that indiscriminating. I’m the guy who still avoids the cafe that served me a bad coffee several years ago.

I have a stovetop espresso at home and I have a plunger on my desk at work. I make a pretty decent plunger coffee. The secret is not to make it too watery, not if you want to preserve the flavour.

It’s all about flavour. If you ever see a report that ranks cafes by what they charge for a large double shot flat white you should run away as though someone just offered to warm your cappuccino in the microwave.

Newspapers seem to go through a regular cycle of running unscientific coffee surveys. There must be a more meaningful way to explore the price of coffee. In the meantime I suggest that it is neither fair nor reliable to compare cafes by the cost per ml of their largest serving. All you are comparing there is milk.

Most cafes serve flat whites in cups that hover around the 180ml mark. Some go smaller, a few go larger. Takeaway cups are usually around 200ml. That is the very limit of how much extra milk I want messing with my two shots of coffee.

Now let’s compare those sizes with the large flat white. A large takeaway cup starts at around 320ml. All of that extra space is nothing but milk.

Loading up your coffee with more milk might make the drink last longer but it dilutes the flavour. Everyone values that flavour differently. I prefer my coffee to taste like coffee.

I haven’t quite managed to scale the hipster heights of the short black. I love the notion of the short black, that little cup of dark magic adorned with incantations of golden crema. It feels like the sort of coffee I should be writing poetry with.

But I prefer a bit of milk. Not too much, hence the small double flat white is my favourite. The smaller the better, in fact, with the same two shots of espresso.

Compared to that, the large flat white is little more than a hot milkshake. If a milky drink is what you are after, that’s okay. I won’t judge you. We all have different tastes. You can even put sugar in your coffee if that’s the way you like to spoil it.

Just don’t be using volume as a blunt measuring tool with which to cast your judgement. That would be like assessing wine according to the size of the glass with no consideration at all for the actual wine.

The large double shot flat white should only be used to assess value for money if you are at one of those all-you-can-eat buffets where the food looks amazing but tastes like corn flour.

Coffee is an expensive indulgence, to be sure. Today my regular habit costs me $4. Some cafes are pushing the price of a small flat white up towards the $5 mark. That is definitely a deterrent, but on the other hand if the coffee is amazing it becomes a worthwhile treat.

I am happy to pay for the expertise of the barista who knows how to get my coffee just right. Good cafes know that if they get the coffee right, customers will forgive many other sins. Woe betide the café that gets it wrong. The price for a good coffee might be high, but the price for a bad coffee is even higher.

First published in Bay of Plenty Times 26 June 2015. Reproduced with permission.