Heady Latté: New Zealand’s Flat White

It sort of looks like a latté, except that the surface of the beverage is shinier rather than foamy. The flavor is strongly espresso-like, the milk seeming to play an almost minor role. This is New Zealand’s flat white, which my wife who appreciates milky coffee drinks became enamored of when she first tasted it in 2010. Although originally invented in Australia, it has become ubiquitous all over New Zealand, any coffee stand or shop offering it alongside other espresso beverages. Now, whenever we set foot on Middle Earth, my wife has to have a flat white at least once.

Regular coffee in New Zealand is dreadful. Why? Because it’s instant. Go to any market there and you’ll find the coffee aisle replete with instant coffees. There are no coffee filters for electric drip machines nor any vacuum-sealed tins of grounds. One small section will be devoted to whole beans, but the pre-ground packages are only for espresso machines or plunger pots. I sometimes forget this situation when I order regular coffee, only to be served instant. The only way to get a truly flavorful cup, as you might’ve guessed, is to order espresso drinks. That includes the flat white.

The volume of milk in a flat white is less than that of a latté or cappuccino in the U.S., which gives the beverage a more robust coffee flavor. It also is not as foamy, more appealing to me for the same reason that I don’t like a head of foam on my beers.

When you’re in New Zealand, give it a shot.

Starbucks Columbia Center Reaches Lofty Heights

A view from a Starbucks? Is the question even relevant? In August, our Segway tour guide in West Seattle gave us a tip. If we didn’t want to pay $12.50 for the pleasure of riding to the 73rd floor of Columbia Center for the view, purportedly better than the one from atop the Space Needle, you can look down 40 floors for free while sipping coffee at the Starbucks store there. You don’t get the panoramic view that you would at the top since there are windows only on two sides. If you look to your left out the northwest-facing window, you can get a good view of Elliott Bay, docked ferry boats and the Olympic Mountains.

view from starbucks columbia center

Before he bought Starbucks, the store used to be one of Howard Schultz’s Il Giornale coffee houses. Like a typical Italian caffé, customers would order coffee and stand at a bar to drink it, compatible with the hurried professionals who work in Columbia Center. It is now a more traditional Starbucks with places to sit down and admire the view, especially on clear days.

We enjoyed our breakfast here simply because of the setting. My daughter has long been on a harangue that Starbucks served the worst pastries of any coffee house in Seattle. Then, Starbucks purchased La Boulange in August to supply the coffee chain with high-quality pastries. As part of the seasonal offerings, we tried the pumpkin cheesecake croissant (☆☆). While it tasted of nutmeg, it was not in the least flaky as a good croissant should be. If it seems I’m dissing all Starbucks’ pastries, the double chocolate meringue cookie (☆☆☆½) I had at the Ballard store last week was really good.

Pumpkin cheesecake croissant

Pumpkin cheesecake croissant

Incidentally, it’s really easy to get here by bus. Many lines, including ours, stops right in front (4th Ave and Cherry stop).

Note: I didn’t realize this until later, but there is also a Clover machine here, only available in select stores. It makes short-order coffee using a vacuum-press technology. Depending on the coffee variety, the machine will digitally dispense hot water at an ideal temperature and steep the grounds for an optimal length of time. The coffee is then pulled into the cup by vacuum pressure through a micro-filter so fine that the usual oil rings produced by plunger pots are eliminated. I sampled a cup of Sulawesi at the Ballard store last week and found the brew to be smoother and better tasting than Starbucks’ traditional drip method.

Starbucks Columbia Center
4824 Rainier Ave S
Seattle, WA 98118