Flat White & Salted Caramel Latte

Item No. 05 of my 2016 Cooking Challenge

After the success of learning how to use my espresso maker, I figured it was about due time to try a fancier espresso based drink. I already gave making a cappuccino a shot not long ago, so I figured, why not try and make my usual coffee shop orders for myself? In my case that happens to be a flat white most frequently. A flat white has a lot of taste and composition similarities to a latte with just a couple of distinctions that I’ll explain here in a minute. In some other instances, I’ll get a flavored latte… usually when the place doesn’t do flat whites, or when there’s a funky flavor that’s calling to my impulses at the moment. I decided to give them both a shot.

I first discovered the flat white when I was in South Africa the first time around, as it’s  a favorite drink in the country’s burgeoning coffee culture, especially around Cape Town. It seemed like one of the most frequently ordered beverages.

Thing I Learned #1– While I personally discovered the flat white years ago in South Africa, it’s origin is in Australia. Like most good things, it has an ambiguous beginning… it started appearing in espresso bars around the Sydney area in the eighties… particularly Moors Espresso Bar, that heavily promoted the beverage around Sydney’s Chinatown. There are some New Zealanders who beg to differ, saying that the flat white was actually the unintentional result of a messed up cappuccino.

As for flavored lattes, who isn’t familiar with them at this point? No I decided to stay away from pumpkin spice (though won’t Deanna be so happy if I learn how to perfect those by this October?) Instead, I decided to go with a classic salted caramel latte, making the syrup myself.

Flat White

Ingredients

1/2 steaming pitcher of milk
1 1/2 tbsp espresso ground
3 cups water

Tools

Delonghi EC155 Espresso Maker
Steaming Pitcher (Or a makeshift device)
Coffee bean grinder

This recipe actually comes out to be pretty simple. First of all, if you’ve ever seen those fun graphic design posters of coffee mug anatomy explaining the composition of all the different espresso based drinks out there, from americanos to cappuccinos to lattes, those are actually really sweet and pretty helpful if this is something you want to get into. Just make sure that the flat white is listed and you’ll see the difference between a flat white and something like a latte. The flat white is only a somewhat recent arrival to North America.

The essential difference between a flat white and a latte mostly comes down to the milk. The milk is only slightly frothed, to produce a thicker, fuller microfoam, which is steamed milk with a velvety consistency. The consistency of the milk is probably the most important component of the flat white, or so I gathered. It’s kind of the opposite of a dry cappuccino.

1) Take a white and flatten it… kidding.

Basically, get all the equipment mentioned in Item #2 of my challenge, making an espresso at home. You’ll use much of the same stuff, and the steps for pulling an espresso shot are exactly the same.

The difference here is that getting the milk properly steamed takes a little more attention to detail. I’d start by getting everything all set up, get the machine plugged in and warm, pour the necessary water, grind the espresso beans, and fill up a steaming pitcher half-way with milk. I should note that I don’t have a steaming pitcher and since I prefer to keep things low budget, I discovered that I could just as easily use the beaker from a single serving French Press we owned.

 2) Get it frothed but not frothy

Alright, now that the machine is warmed and everything is set up, it’s time to froth the milk. It’s a lot easier to eyeball and steam the milk correctly if you know what you’re going for. The ideal microfoam is more velvety than fluffy. If you have a thermometer, which I don’t, the ideal flat white milk is steamed to about 70-80º C or 150-170º F. You should notice tiny bubbles in the texture of the microfoam.

To get the steam going, submerge the tip of the steaming wand into the half pitcher of milk and release the steam knob by turning it to the left. You’ll hear it spout off. I would only fill the pitcher a bit past halfway, because steam milk expands, although it shouldn’t as much for a flat white in comparison to a latte.

If you’re familiar with a Spanish café con leche, the milk is somewhat similar, although a flat white will have a more airy microfoam.

Thing I Learned #2– What’s the big deal with the milk foam and does this stuff really matter? In the grand scheme of life, it doesn’t, but if you want to have coffee snob discussions, sure! The idea that steaming milk to a lower temperature compared to lattes or cappuccinos retains more fats and proteins that give milk a slightly sweet flavor. This sweetness is intended to blend well with the flavor of the cappuccino.

If you remember my review of the Delonghi, I noted that mine had a malfunction where the steaming wand kept retracting itself. This became a nuisance at times because I’d have to swivel the whole machine to get the French Press out in time, leaving me with no hands free to shut the steam knob and rotate the machine simultaneously. Hopefully yours doesn’t have this problem because even though it didn’t ruin the coffee, it did make a literal hot mess.

3) Pour and hang tight

 

Go ahead now and make the espresso shot. The espresso shot should go into the mug first, or just be made right in the mug that will be used to serve the flat white. Then in goes the microfoam. No latte art… this is not the time and the place. The flat white crema is supposed to form a uniform meniscus at the top.

In fact, you don’t exactly want to serve the flat white hot. Give it a chance to sit so the meniscus can thicken. From that point, each sip will leave tide marks in the meniscus, eating away at the top layer of the foam, giving each sip a very slight bit of uniqueness.

Salted Carmel Latte

Ingredients

1 cup sugar
3 3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon of corn syrup or honey
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoon of espresso grounds
1/2 steaming pitcher of milk

Tools

Delonghi EC155 Espresso Maker
Steaming Pitcher (Or a makeshift device)
Coffee bean grinder
A wooden spoon

 

I decided to go the extra mile with this project and try making a latte… by making my own flavor syrup. The Delonghi looked like it could make just about everything I needed, but the one thing that was missing was the syrup used to bring a little extra flavor. I decided to give this a shot and see how it contrasted with the flat white.

The latte was the first coffee drink I truly fell in love with. When I graduated from high school to college, I also graduated from the desserty drink of white chocolate mochas at Starbucks to an independent coffee shop with all sorts of flavored lattes, honey, agave, caramel, gingerbread. I ordered a different one until I had tried them all, and then I did it again and again, putting them all on a rotation.

Years later, the latte has been demystified as espresso and frothy milk with some flavor, but it is still delicious. If I could only figure out the syrup, then I should be able to make my own.

1) Make Salted Caramel Syrup

In my whiskey cocktails recipe I note that a simple syrup is one part sugar and one part water. Sugar and water are also the two ingredients of caramel. The difference is the ratio, and the fact that for this recipe, I was supposed to use corn syrup to keep the consistency right. I didn’t have corn syrup and since I hardly use corn syrup, I stuck with honey as a decent substitute.

I combined 1/4 cup of the water with the honey and all of the sugar and stirred over a low heat until the sugar all dissolved.

Once that happened, I yanked up the heat and covered the pot for about three minutes when the thing started to boil. Then I stirred until the caramel cooked itself into a light amber color. The next step was to pour in 1/2 cup of water, which was a precarious process as the caramel liked to splatter. The vanilla and salt also went in.

Some of the caramel ended up hardening and becoming candy. Once a little bit of that had happened, I knew it was time to stop. I poured the syrup into a jar to let it cool. I actually did this process the night prior and kept the results in the fridge. I ended up taking the candy pieces and dropping them back into the jar to let them further infuse the syrup.

Thing I Learned #3 – Salted caramel has been all the rage the past couple of years. The science behind why sweet and salty is such a stellar combo is that our body has a need for nutrients that generally follow a sweet flavor, like vitamins, and the body also needs salt for regulation. Getting these two things in one tends to double down on the pleasantness of the experience, but this also depends heavily on getting the ratio right.

2) Froth the Milk, Froth it Up

I got the Delonghi full of water and warmed up. Just like with the flat white, it was time to put the pitcher of milk under the steam wand.  The more you use the steam wand, the more you get a feel for how to stir and move the nozzle in a way that gets milk more or less frothy. It’s an easier process to learn by feel than by description. For a latte, you’ll want the milk to be fairly frothy, almost doubling in size to fill the pitcher.

3) Espresso, Etc.

Like a flat white, I’d like to make the espresso right in the mug and have it be the first thing that goes in. Next is when I’d put in some of the syrup, about 1-2 tablespoons worth depending on how you like your sweetness.

In layers, you’ll want the creamy steamed milk in the middle and the foamy stuff at the very top. I like to spoon in the foam and pour the milk around it, but a lot of personal preference is shaped around how you like to do latte art. I definitely do not know how to do latte art so I didn’t even bother.

Serving this Sucker

With the flat white… keep it pure, let be simple. You’ll want a ceramic cup so the liquid can be sipped cleanly. The flat white tends to be a drink of purists who refuse to destroy a good meniscus with spoon contact or adding sugar. It’s a coffee snob’s beverage, with all the fun coming from the interplay of coffee and microfoam.

With a latte, there’s a lot of freedom. There’s also a lot of room for getting ritzy with latte art if that’s your thing.

In the Future

Honestly, I liked the flat white, and I had a pretty easy time with the milk, so I would likely do it again just the way I did it this time. For the lattes, I’d also like to try making some more flavored syrups. Perhaps something fruit infused? I’m guessing that most of the variation would be done by flavor extracts, but I look forward to seeing how that could be developed.

And for as long as I have the Delonghi, I might as well continue to mess around with various espresso drinks. I could put more of the salted caramel syrup to use in a macchiato. Or I could flashback to my mixology lesson with an Irish Coffee. I’d particularly like to try a hand at one of my favorite items, the ridiculously sweet Vietnamese coffee.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s