The history of the flat white, cappuccino, & latte
Even though the makeup of these three drinks is the same, each beverage comes from somewhere different and has its own unique history.
The cappuccino can actually be traced back to the 19th century coffeehouses of Vienna, where it was named the “kapuziner”. Brewed coffee would be mixed with milk until its color reached a shade of brown similar to the robes of the Capuchin monks – supposedly an indication of “strength”.
However, it wasn’t until the early 1900s, when espresso machines started to become more popular, that the name “cappuccino” was coined. Since then, the drink has become a coffee shop staple with its thick layer of milk microfoam.
The latte also traces its origins back to Europe – specifically to late 19th century Italy. The caffè latte was prepared in areas where American tourists often visited, as they were generally unaccustomed to the intense taste of espresso. Steamed milk was added to create a smoother, more palatable beverage.
Unlike the cappuccino and the latte, the flat white doesn’t originate from Europe – instead, it comes from Oceania. However, to this day, there is a fierce debate between Australian and New Zealand cafés over which country first created the drink.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, many Australian consumers ordered espresso-based drinks which were referred to as “white coffees”, served “flat”. This was used to refer to a long black (espresso poured over a small volume of hot water) with added milk.
In 1985, Sydney café owner Alan Preston claimed he served the first “official” version of the drink after a customer mistakenly ordered a “flat white”.
Its true origin, however, remains contentious. Coffee professionals from New Zealand instead claim the drink can be traced back to Wellington.
In the city, coffee consumers would supposedly request “flat milk” for their cappuccinos, as opposed to the large domes of foam that were common in cafés during the 1980s and 1990s.