Our hipster coffee obsession perpetuates a common myth — “The Americano isn’t just espresso with water. It’s a brash shot of heady liquid adrenaline with notes of chocolate and tobacco tempered by a slosh of hot water” — but half the time that Americano you sip at Starbucks is average at best.
London is a hipster coffee lover’s paradise — a place where the plethora of terms used to describe various coffee concoctions opened my mind. There was a “black filter” or “white filter,” which denote whether or not coffee comes with milk, and half and half was a non-existent commodity. This, and the fact that oatmeal was called porridge, convinced me that London coffee shops were hipster-topias. But, in reality, this was all normal.
There was also a “flat white,” which I had always seen people order quite casually, their posh accents making the whole affair seem more meaningful than it actually was. So, one day in Caffè Nero, a European coffee chain, I ordered the flat white in my nasally American voice. I took my cup and sat near the window, thinking the concoction in my hands was simply coffee with milk and a fancy name meant to appeal to coffee aficionados.
As I took my first sip, I learned that I had, in fact, ordered a derivation of a latte. Except, this was creamier, less foamy, and the barista swirled the milk froth into the coffee. It wasn’t revelatory, but it certainly was a pleasant surprise.
After a few months of ordering flat whites in London and thinking nothing of it, my brother sent me an article last December which revealed that the U.S. — and, more specifically, Starbucks — would start importing the flat white method in early 2015, which is described as “taking the U.S. by storm.”
The echelons of self-proclaimed worldly foodies were “raving” about this new drink that has been commonplace in the U.K. and Australia for years. Essentially, they raved about a new derivation of a latte.
I laughed out loud.
Starbucks unveiled its “flat white” with shiny woven posters displaying carefully traced hand lettering, catching the eyes of self-proclaimed hipsters as they gawked from behind their tortoise-shell spectacles.
Back in the U.S., I decided to get over my ego and buy one to see if the overdone hype could live up to the simple nicety that is the flat white. I swiped $5.05 off my card and received my Starbucks cup with my name erroneously spelled ‘Grac’ (actually a pleasant surprise, since Starbucks’ baristas are usually keen on re-naming me “Chris”) and took a much-anticipated sip.
Foamed milk touched my lips. I swallowed. The next sip was more milk, frothier than before. And, as I tipped my cup higher, I eked out a small splash of burnt coffee. Starbucks’ heralded version of the flat white, the pinnacle of hipster egoism, was nothing more than an overpriced, over-foamy latte. Imported or not, I finished my latte, tossed the cup and continued on my way, wiser.