On the evidence, it seems as though they’ve a way to go yet to live up to their own standards.
From the first sip, the first thing you notice is the texture. There’s a miasma of espresso floated on a cloud of steamed milk that, in terms of its stiffness, falls somewhere between the velvety wetness of a typical cappucino and the airy, almost-toothy density of meringue topping. I should also emphasize that when I say “cloud,” I don’t mean wispy clouds, either. These aren’t the clouds in your coffee that Carly Simon sang about. We’re talking a cumulonimbus of foam. A hulking, milky thunderhead threatening the smallish pond of coffee underneath.
The next thing you notice is the taste. Starbucks promises a “new, bold coffee experience.” In theory, a flat white is supposed to feature a layer of microfoam that expertly blends the espresso with the foamed milk. In practice, the taste is… well, flat. Even by the standards of a cappucino or latte, where you’d expect some competition between the tastes of coffee and milk, the Flat White is bland. Blah, even. The taste of the beverage, far from being espresso-forward, is very dairy-forward, with the taste of the beans almost completely overwhelmed by the taste of whole milk. On the brighter side, the coffee didn’t have the burnt taste that seems to plague a lot of Starbucks’ coffee, but on the other hand, under the circumstances I’m not sure whether to chalk that up to the roast or to the fact that the coffee tries valiantly but fails to make its presence known over the milk; after a bite of a pecan tartlet, the coffee barely registered.