Starbucks recently introduced a new variation on the classic Latte to American and Canadian Audiences. The “flat white” was advertised in an article for the New York times the week before it was released. It was advertised as “new,” “without description,” and “simple.” In truth, the flat white was invented no later than the 1980s in Australia. Like many cultural products, it condenses all of the cultural and political contradictions of the time.
The “flat white” is the ideology of our time.
The flat white offers the emerging intelligentsia (largely hipsters) a sense of humility: the ‘flat white’ is a “latte for everybody.” It has the sense of being depthless, flat, and lacking in complexity. The new American Joe is not “black,” it is “flat” and it is “white.” Those who really know such things are quick to point out that the “flat white” is difficult to make: it requires differing temperatures for milk steaming, different stretching techniques, and a consequent smooth, velvety micro-foam.
The “flat white” is for everybody and yet those who claim that it is for everybody are the first to demonstrate that they are the only ones who truly know how difficult it is to produce. One rarely visits a cafe these days without hearing one coffee snob inform another about the significance of the flat white. Those who truly know are capable of explaining to the lay person the full complexity of the new drink.
This is the profound irony of the drink. The flat white, like belief today, feigns simplicity all the more to renew a sense of urgent entitlement, complexity, and knowledge. In reality, there is nothing simple or depthless about the “flat white.” It is false surface. Today’s “post-modern” ideology is also false surface.