Starbucks debuts Down Under-inspired drink

Ben Popken

The latest drink to hit Starbucks menus is the "flat white." What is it? Why does Hugh Jackman love it?

Starbucks says its flat white is steamed whole milk poured over two shots of concentrated espresso and topped with "microfoam."

Starbuck's new Flat White coffee.
Source: Starbucks

As the baristas free-pour the microfoam with the espresso, they mingle to create a beverage with an even, rich and creamy mouthfeel and notable coffee flavors. A "crema" of caramelized coffee then rises to the top of the foam and the baristas top it off with a latte art dot.

The foam is smaller than in a cappuccino and is layered inside instead of sitting in a thick head on top of the coffee.

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Another difference between it and a cappuccino is that a Starbucks "tall" flat white has two shots of espresso as opposed to just one. It also costs 70 cents more and has 80 more calories.

Those are prices consumers are willing to pay for a little more kick and the cool factor of sipping a brew that's favored by hipper coffee aficionados.

"People want a greater buzz," said coffee expert Kevin Sinnot. "They want to wake up."

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You can also think of it in contrast to a latte. Australian actor and now coffee-shop owner Jackman told Grubstreet "it's like a latte with a little less milk and more espresso."

It makes sense that Jackman would be into flat whites. The beverage is said to have originated in Australia or New Zealand in the 70's and 80's. The coffee is a big hit there and in the U.K.

Specialty coffee shops in the U.S. have been making them for a few years but Starbucks is the first big retailer to get in on the action.

"Here's the great thing for Starbucks: they already have all the gear," said Sinnot. That's important for a chain Sinnot calls the "McDonald's" of the coffee industry.

The potential gains look good enough that Starbucks is putting a big bet on the flat white. It's no "Eggnog Latte," or other seasonal offering. The coffee chain says it's adding the drink to its year-round core menu starting January 6th.