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Starbucks serves up 'flat whites,' tries to prove it can still be different

New espresso drinks don't typically arrive alongside a wave of eager explainer articles. But the U.S. launch on Tuesday of Starbucks's flat white has generated confusion since news of the drink broke last week. Hardly anyone in America seems to knows what it is—and that might just be the point. Starbucks is betting big on the flat white, skipping the limited-time offer test and adding it to the regular U.S. menu in a bid to distinguish itself from caffeine-slinging rivals. It will also give the brand some additional cred among espresso drinkers.

Starbucks adopted the flat white from its Australian market before largely abandoning its operations there to a licensee, and the drink has also been served at British stores. If you want a celebrity characterization, here's how Australian actor Hugh Jackman explains the flat white: “A latte with a little less milk and more espresso.” In terms of the coffee-milk-foam ratio, a flat white’s somewhere between an espresso macchiato and a cappuccino. Made with two shots of espresso with a thin layer of steamed whole milk topped with foam, it has more milk than a macchiato (which is simply topped with foam) but less milk than a cappuccino. The drink's signature “latte art” is a single coffee-colored dot.

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