New Zealand may be a tiny country at the very bottom of the world, but it has many claims to punching above its weight. Everyone’s heard of the national rugby team, the All Blacks, as well as Team New Zealand’s success at the America’s Cup and Peter Jackson’s hit movie series The Lord of the Rings. But for day-to-day global impact, there’s an unsung aspect of NZ culture that arguably tops the lot: coffee.
That’s right, New Zealand’s passion for coffee is such that its signature espresso drink, the “flat white,” now appears on thousands of Starbucks menus and in funky coffee houses across the globe. Australians, as they do with almost anything good that comes out of Aotearoa, have tried to claim the flat white as their own. But if you want a true flat white, you’ll have to order it in a real Kiwi cafe, in downtown Auckland or suburban Wellington or maybe in the shadow of the Southern Alps or overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
So, what is a flat white? It’s approximately one third coffee, two thirds silky steamed milk, topped by just a little foam. Less milky than a latte, less foamy than a cappuccino, once you try one, you’ll wonder why it took so long for someone to come up with this formulation.
If milk is not your thing, try ordering the flat white’s dairy-free cousin, the ‘long black’, which is espresso served over hot water (not to be confused with an Americano which is hot water served over espresso - don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it). Kiwis call a regular shot of espresso a “short black.”
Espresso-based coffees are the norm in New Zealand. You’ll be hard-pressed (thankfully) to find an American-style filter coffee stewing for hours on a hotplate. But lately, many cafes have been exploring different techniques of extraction, so you’ll be able to find cold-brewed coffees, Aeropressed coffees, and slow-drip coffees brewed in a Chemex, a giant flask with a wooden collar.
Oh, and if you have the kids with you, they can participate in Kiwi coffee culture, too - order them a “fluffy” and they’ll be delighted to get their own mug full of frothy milk topped with a sprinkle of chocolate and maybe a marshmallow!
So, next time you see a “flat white” on the menu, consider that it might be time to get the real flat white experience, sipping it in the cosy confines of a New Zealand cafe, anticipating the next leg of your active adventure of a lifetime.