About 3 years ago I was in Melbourne at a conference. I met a longstanding friend of mine, Paul, for coffee at one of the many unassuming cafes near our hotel. He suavely asked for a flat white. I was rather puzzled having not heard of one before. So instead of asking for my usual cappuccino, I nodded and said meekly “the same”.
The coffee arrived at our table in lovely china cups (the staff bring it over to you instead of you standing awkwardly waiting until you hear your name barked). I took a sip and had a Proustian moment – transported momentarily back to living in France when I was first introduced to a certain Parisian café to discover the joy and sheer delight of a creamy smooth strong French coffee.
A year ago, the flat white arrived in the chain cafes in the UK. I ordered one in my local Costa and was pleasantly surprised at the care the barista went to in making a flower design on the top by deftly moving the metal jug, containing the perfect temperature, frothed milk, from left to right and up and down over the cup.
It reminded me of the playful shamrock bartenders sometimes add to the top of a pint of Guinness – if they like the look of you.
At my designated café on Tottenham Court Road they go one better. Each day they create a different pattern – sometimes lots of little flowers, other times swirls. You can see the intense concentration in their eyes as they finish with a final flourish. It is a magical moment.