Espresso vs. Flat White: All The Differences Explained

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Some questions may feel embarrassing to ask. Yes, you like coffee, but you may have learned a term before fully understanding the meaning behind it. There’s no harm in that, and I am here to tell you there are no embarrassing questions when it comes to coffee.

Key Takeaways:

Espresso vs. Flat White

  • Espresso is made using espresso machines that force hot pressurized water to pass through finely-ground coffee quickly. Espresso is an aromatic caffeine-packed shot of coffee. However, a flat white is made with 1-2 shots of espresso, a small amount of steamed milk, and a thin layer of microfoam.
  • A standard 8 ounce serving of flat white typically has around 111 calories, whereas one shot of espresso has only 2.7 calories.
  • The espresso has a full-bodied, rich, intense, bittersweet, balanced carmalized taste of coffee.
  • Flat White has a strong espresso taste with the creamy mouthfeel of steamed milk and microfoam. 

So as you can see from the above statement, espresso is not just an excellent coffee but also serves as a base for making flat white and many other espresso-based drinks, which we will discuss later in this article.

But most importantly, this blog post will shed more light on the significant differences between espresso and flat white

What’s the difference between espresso and flat white?

Espresso is a concentrated form of coffee, and flat white is made with espresso and a small amount of milk. The differences don’t just end here. Here is a quick rundown of how espresso and flat white differ from each other when it comes to taste, preparation, caffeine, and more. Each of these differences is explained in much more detail in the rest of this article.


Ingredients: Coffee & water

Taste: Rich, strong, bold coffee taste.

Caffeine: One shot of espresso has 68mg of caffeine.

Calories: 2.7 calories/shot. Very low in calories.

Which is stronger?: Espresso is stronger than flat white.

Espresso vs Flat White
Flat White

Ingredients: Espresso, steamed milk, microfoam

Taste: Creamy, velvety texture with strong espresso taste.

Caffeine: It depends on how many shots of espresso are used.

Calories: 111 calories/serving. Most calories come from the added milk.

Which is stronger?:  Not as strong as espresso.

What is Espresso?

Espresso is a method of making concentrated coffee. An espresso machine forces hot water through finely-ground coffee using pressure (around nine bars) to make a small, concentrated amount of coffee. 

The espresso coffee drink that’s produced is called an espresso shot, and the process of making the drink is called “pulling a shot.”

One shot of espresso is typically 1 ounce in volume.

One of the espresso’s defining characteristics is a top layer of foam known as the crema, a by-product of the high-pressure extraction process. 

The crema traps a lot of aromatic compounds, so it dissipates quickly.

Espresso can be combined with milk, milk foam, and additional water to make other espresso-based drinks, such as a flat white, latte, cappuccino, macchiato, cortado, americano, and more.

What is Flat White?

The flat white is an espresso-based beverage consisting of 1-2 shots of espresso and micro-foamed milk. 

Its key characteristic is textured milk, a style adopted from Italian coffee. The way the milk is foamed ensures every sip is velvety smooth. 

A flat white is combined with micro-foamed milk, usually in a 2:1 ratio. 

The steamed milk partnered with the espresso produces a velvety, luxurious consistency while maintaining a strong coffee taste, very much keeping the espresso as the highlight of the drink.

There is some debate about whether the flat white originated in Australia or New Zealand. Either way, it has been around down under since the 1980s.

The flat white is usually served in a 5-6 ounce cup, though some coffee chains like to increase this size to around 8 ounces. 

Which has more caffeine, Espresso or Flat White?

The amount of caffeine in a flat white depends on the number of shots of espresso used.

All you have to remember is that one shot of espresso has about 68mg of caffeine.

So, a flat white made with two espresso shots will have 2 x 68 = 136mg of caffeine.

While espresso has the reputation of being high in caffeine, it all depends on how much you drink. 

Since the beverage tends to be served in smaller servings than most coffee drinks, it can sometimes have less caffeine than a standard serving of double shot flat white or latte. 

Double and triple shot drinks and mixed drinks can significantly increase the caffeine level of those coffee drinks.

Espresso vs. Flat White; Which has more calories?

A standard 8 ounce serving of flat white typically has around 111 calories, whereas one shot of espresso has only 2.7 calories.

Almost all the calories in a flat white come from the added milk. 

The whole milk present in flat white may lend a richer texture, but it’s also adding more than 90 calories to your cup and extra fat to your frame.

Swapping whole milk to skim milk will reduce the calories to 70 calories. 

Espresso & Flat White; What’s the difference in taste?

The espresso has a full-bodied, rich, intense, bittersweet, balanced carmalized taste of coffee. No other drink offers the same taste and sensation as a good shot of espresso.

A typical shot of espresso is dark brown, nearly black, with a layer of golden-brown micro-foam crema on top of the coffee.

The crema adds to the rich flavor and lingering aftertaste of espresso. The intense aroma, full-body, and firm crema are essential for a good espresso.

Keep in mind that if espresso is too bitter and has a long, lingering aftertaste, it usually indicates that the coffee is over-extracted. At the same time, too much aggressive sour acidity is a sign of under-extraction.

Flat white tastes like a more delicious version of plain espresso. It has a strong espresso taste but with the creamy mouthfeel of steamed milk and the velvety texture of microfoam on top.

Which is stronger, espresso or flat white?

A shot of espresso is undoubtedly much stronger than flat white. Espresso is pure, concentrated form of coffee. In contrast, a flat white is larger and has a coffee to milk ratio of 1:2. 

The milk in the flat white is micro-foamed, giving a silky, slightly heavier mouthfeel.

The milk in flat white also cuts the bitterness and robust taste of espresso, giving it a creamy, smooth flavor.

A flat white combines the flavor and intensity of espresso with the rich mouthfeel of a dairy-based drink. 

How To Make Espresso

Espresso is especially loved in its home country of Italy, where it is frequently enjoyed plain, fresh out of the machine. Here’s what you’ll need to make espresso at home.

  • Espresso machine
  • Coffee beans
  • Grinder


Finely grind your coffee beans and fill up the portafilter.

Compress your beans by applying firm pressure with your tamp.

Once your portafilter is ready, you can twist the portafilter into the machine and select the right button for your desired espresso.

Place the espresso cup beneath the portafilter before pulling the shot.

Here’s a video to help you learn the intricacies of making your espresso shots at home.

How To Make Flat White

A flat white is a coffee drink with espresso, steamed milk, and a layer of foam on top. It’s similar to a latte and cappuccino but has a thinner layer of foam on top.

You’ll need:

  • Espresso machine
  • Coffee beans
  • Grinder
  • Milk


Grind coffee and use an espresso machine to extract two shots of espresso.

Steam milk.

Froth 4 ounces of milk with minimal aeration.

Pour steamed milk into espresso.

That’s it! Your flat white is ready to be served and enjoyed.

Check out this video tutorial with some great tips for making flat white at home.

Which is better, espresso or flat white?

Firstly I would always suggest trying both and seeing what you prefer, but if you can’t decide which of the two drinks you should try first, ask yourself these questions:

How strong do you like your coffee?

Do you care about mouthfeel and consistency?

The espresso tastes stronger and bolder, whereas the flat white feels more velvety and luxurious.

Enjoy the nuanced flavors of specialty coffee but want something dairy-based? – a flat white could be a better option than plain espresso. 

Because it has less milk, a flat white will allow you to experience the sensorial profile of the beans more fully. 

But is one better than the other? No. There are many ways to experience specialty coffee, and we each have a personal preference.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is flat white stronger than espresso?

No, an espresso is much stronger than flat white. Espresso is a concentrated form of coffee with a rich, bold, and robust taste. In contrast, a flat white is made by adding milk to espresso, which cuts down the authentic bitterness of the espresso.

Is flat white an espresso?

No, a flat white is not an espresso; instead, a flat white is made with espresso and steamed milk.

How many shots of espresso are in a flat white?

Typically, a flat white is made with two shots of espresso in most countries.


Written by:
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Amit Gupta

Hi, my name is Amit Gupta, and I am the owner and contributor at Cafeish. My obsession with coffee started when I received my first French press as a gift almost ten years ago. Since then, my love of coffee – and the number of coffee gadgets I own – has grown considerably.

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