Sometimes at work I indulge in a little treat: a white coffee made with instant coffee and hot milk. No water just the hot milk, stirred and heated for one minute 30, then stirred and heated for a last 30 seconds in the microwave. It's how I remember it from home, from Ireland. A one time regular on tea shop menus and a posher version could be obtained from Bewleys. It was the most popular drink at this famous coffee house establishment - a one shot espresso in steamed milk.
Somehow 'white coffee'doesn't muster the same thing in the UK. Here it is simply regular coffee with some cold milk. Which got me thinking about the different options of 'white coffee' on cafes' lists: cafe au lait, latte, cafe con leche, flat whites. Surely they all mean the same thing and some precocious marketer just used them as names for different combinations of coffee and milk just to sell more cups. Seems this is wrong. Even in the country of orgin a cafe au lait is not the same as caffe latte (a grand creme if you please).
So off we go on a quick world tour of white coffee. First stop is France where we'll have a cafe au lait. Strong or regular coffee served with hot milk usually in a bowl or a cup. Step across the border to Spain and if you order a cafe con leche you'll get coffee with scalded milk (ie just below boiling) in a coffee milk ratio of 1:1. Definitely not as creamy tasting but I like it. A little further west and Portugal's cafe con leite is coffee in a tea cup with more milk than coffee. (It's the same in Brazil where they look at you funny if you order it after 9am).
Fly to Belgium or Luxembourg and ask for a lait russe (known as a cafe renverse in Switzerland). This is a latte but made backwards. Instead of adding the steamed milk to the espresso, shots of espresso are added to the glass of steamed milk, forming a two or three tier coloured effect. This is also known as Latte macchiato in Italy where a cafe con latte is stronger - more coffee less foam.
I will avoid Austria, the land where a smooth blend of filter coffee first tempted me onto coffee back in 1995. Only because when I go I am faced with the most amazing menu of coffees that I just wile away my mornings working through them.
Where else do white coffee conjure up happiness? Mugs of strong filter in Nordic countries topped up with cold milk and I love the white coffee in Singapore - tar like coffee made with condensed milk. Love it especially with kaya toast for breakfast. Flat white in its home country New Zealand (like a cappuccino but milk is less foamy and more velvety and more coffee than milk). Simply not the same anywhere else.
Come USA and Canada I do love a good percolated coffee with milk ( so much so I have even bought a stove top one for home). My aunt used to make me white coffee with a mix of coffee and chicory (a New Orleans staple I think so must visit one day). So I think I have come to the end of my tour.
You can keep your espressos, mochas and cream. I like coffee with milk. Percolated, filter or french press; simply brewed. And yes, I like a latte but so few do it right. On that note, I am off now for a good skinny latte at Harris and Hoole (www.harrisandhoole.co.uk).