Costa Flat White Vs McDonald’s – Clash of the Whiteans ;-). 2

So there’s this ace coffee drink called the Flat White, my favourite milky (I’m drinking one right now, in fact, I usually am) which was introduced to the UK by Costa Coffee? Erm, nope… Starbucks? Nope! McDonald’s, certainly nope, actually, McDonald’s were really late in on the flat white action in the UK, earlier this year (2018).

The truth is, that while these monoliths may be now doing their very best to plug into the obvious market for this popular coffee (and why not? Markets are there to be tapped into), Costa and Starbucks were actually about 5 years late to claim the title of the first to serve Flat White in the UK.

flat white soho

Flat White, Soho

The mighty flat white was introduced in the UK by a trio of Aussie and Kiwi coffee pioneers Cameron McClure, James Gurnsey and Peter Hall, who opened “Flat White Soho”, in Soho, funnily enough ;-), in 2005. It had been a popular coffee in Australia and New Zealand, and these fellas decided it was time to bring the “flattie” to the UK. Good on ’em.

It actually took Costa and Starbucks 5 years to catch on, with Costa being the first chain to launch the flat white nationwide. Starbucks did release their flat white in selected Starbucks cafes slightly ahead of Costa’s nationwide launch (as far as I’m aware, forgive me if I’m wrong) but Costa Coffee were the first UK chain to launch the flat white across all of their cafe’s, as far as I can tell. 

Then comes McDonald’s, at the beginning of 2018 – along with a very clever advert, created by a very well known advertising agency, Leo Burnett. This was another in a series of similar ads by McDonald’s which poke fun at the speciality coffee scene. 

A Flat White I Made Earlier.

Here’s a flat white I made earlier

While these ads to annoy me in a way, they do make me chuckle, and I think they’re very clever. They’re clearly designed to drive a wedge between the average coffee loving consumer, and the speciality coffee market which Maccy D’s obviously know is growing at a rate of knots.

In short, these ads are making the statement that speciality coffee shops are confusing, intimidating and expensive, so why not go to McDonald’s for the same coffees but with no nonsense, no confusion, and cheaper? 

The flat white commercial in particular appears to be designed to tell the viewer that, yes, there’s a coffee they will have heard of called a flat white, but if they go to a trendy speciality coffee shop, they’ll be humiliated by some hipster Barista, so they should go to McDonald’s instead. 

These ads are a caricature of the speciality coffee scene, so of course they’re exaggerated, but not just slightly exaggerated ;-), they’ve basically created a fantasy world where speciality coffee shops serve coffee upside down and offer matcha sprinkles, or serve deconstructed coffee in test tubes, and then charge you £9 for a coffee. 

I would think that most people reading this, would know that this isn’t at all a fair summary of the speciality coffee scene, it’s a gross over-exaggeration at the very least, more like a complete fabrication. To the vast majority of the everyday coffee drinking public, though, it probably seems legit, and I reckon these ads have probably been very effective for Maccy’s.

If someone had the budget to do so, a reaction commercial could be made as a caricature of McCaffe, where some kid in a hat stares at the customer who’s just asked for a flat white,  presses a button on a machine with one hand while squeezing a spot with their other hand, who then barks “You want fries with that?” before putting the coffee on the side, and faffing about for ten minutes while it goes cold, and eventually launching a paper cup of something which closely resembles lukewarm dishwater at the customer, which they glance at with confusion, before nervously beginning to weave their way through dozens of potty-mouthed youths, and finally take their life into their own hands while crossing the car park full of boy racers, who launch their McRubbish™ out of their windows while tear-arsing past. 

OK, the above would be a real stretch – but no more than McDonald’s have done with this spoof of the speciality coffee industry – two can play at that game! 😉

But of course, the indi coffee shops that these ads are aimed towards, don’t have the budget to retaliate with their own reaction commercial. But I’ll tell you who does have the ad budget to do that… Whitbread PLC (owners of Costa Coffee, for now, until the sale to Coca Cola goes through).

So, Costa reacts quite quickly with a radio ad campaign (they don’t really do TV ads) which serves to poke fun back at McDonald’s, insinuating that their offering is a machine made push button imitation, while the Costa Flat white is lovingly handcrafted by trained Baristas. 

More clever marketing here, this time by Costa, aiming to plant Costa in the minds of the average consumer, as being at the artisan end of the industry, while actually McDonald’s clearly weren’t targeting Costa when they created their commercial. 

While those of us who are into speciality coffee wouldn’t see Costa as a speciality coffee shop, we have to remember that the vast majority of every day coffee drinkers in the UK think that “speciality coffee” means more expensive instant, and many everyday coffee drinking consumers won’t see any distinction between Costa and the other big chains, and independent speciality coffee shops.

So I think Costa have been very smart here to use their reaction to the McDonald’s advert to raise the profile of their flat white in the eyes of the consumer.

So here’s the question. 

Which is the best, Costa Flat White or McDonald’s Flat White?

Costa flat white vs Mcdonald's flat white

I’m not talking about which is THE best flat white, by the way, as in my humble opinion it wouldn’t be either – I’m simply talking about which is best between these two options.

And of course I can’t tell you which one is actually the best, as that’s a subjective thing, taste them both and see which you prefer. But what I can tell you is which I find to be best for my liking, just my personal opinion, which is that Costa wins hands down, for me.

The Costa flat white, to me, tastes like a flat white. OK it may not be quite as satisfying as a flat white I’ll get in Takk, Pot Kettle Black, Grindsmiths, or any other speciality coffee shop, but I can tell it’s a flat white by the taste and texture. 

To me, personally, the McDonald’s flat white tastes like a latte, it may be slightly stronger than their latte, but not strong enough for my liking, and the texture also isn’t quite what I’d look for in a flat white. Their “no-nonsense” approach to flat white, in my opinion, has resulted in them producing their own take on a flat white, which is a shorter, slightly stronger latte, but this isn’t what a flat white is, as far as I’m concerned.

To me, a flat white has to pack a punch, it’s a double shot, and a 6-8oz drink, it should really hit the spot – and the milk texture is important, you need velvety microfoam. I don’t think McDonald’s have the milk texture right, I don’t think they’re strong enough, and I don’t enjoy the taste very much, personally.

McDonald’s aren’t the only coffee shop who I personally think have their own take on a flat white which isn’t quite what I would class as a true flat white. I’ve been in various cafe’s that have had flat white on the menu, which appear to be either a smaller latte’, or a cappuccino simply sold as a flat white. 

This is just my personal opinion, you might love their take on a flat white, and if so – you’re lucky, as they’re cheap! 😉 Last time I checked, the McDonald’s flat white is 81p cheaper than the Costa flat white, and probably about a quid or so less than I’d expect to pay for a great flat white in a speciality coffee shop. 

I’m not saying any of this to be anti McDonald’s by the way, I’ve said in a previous post that I’m quite impressed with their black filter coffee. If I was wanting a black coffee (which is what I usually drink other than flat white) I would go for a McDonald’s flat white, personally vs. a Costa Americano, as I prefer the taste of the Mcaffe’ black coffee.

This is, of course, only if there wasn’t an independent speciality coffee shop nearby, because if there was I’d be straight in there. This isn’t about being a coffee snob, either – but let’s face it, when you’ve been in one chain cafe’ or restaurant, you’ve been in them all! What’s so great, to me, about indi coffee shops, is they’re all so different, and they usually serve great coffee too, of course. 

By the way, talking about hitting the spot, if you’re really craving a kick from a coffee but you don’t want to go all the way to a neat Espresso – try a Cortado (or Piccolo, almost the same but usually made from Ristretto) or Machiatto if it’s on the menu. Make sure the Barista knows you mean a macchiato, or Espresso macchiato, though, and not a latte macchiato. Macchiato is an espresso with just a tiny blob of foam, while “Latte Machiatto” is a latte with the espresso poured on top of the milk resulting in a band of espresso, usually served in a glass so you can see the pretty pattern ;-).

Machine made Vs barista made.

The other thing to say about this is that Costa have the same level of commercial, hand operated coffee machines that you’ll find in speciality coffee shops, and baristas who have been trained to use them. McDonald’s (and others) use bean to cup machines, where it’s all down to the coffee machine, press a button and wait.

In my humble opinion, any there’s always potential for better coffee with barista made vs. machine made. I say potential, because obviously it depends on the skill of the Barista, but actually, I’ve been in many Costa coffee shops over the years, and I’ve usually been impressed by the skills of their baristas. 

I’m not a huge fan of coffee vending machines, as I’ve said in earlier posts, because apart from anything else, I don’t like the thought of old milk going sour in the tubes & nozzles etc. I’ve been told in the past by various companies that their machines are very hygienic, but it’s just a personal thing, the thought of off milk turns my stomach thanks to an experience where I didn’t realised I’d poured very off milk into my coffee at a firm I used to work for, and drank it, the taste was something I’ll never forget, it knocked me sick, and I’ve had a bit of an “off milk phobia” ever since. 

With that said, there’s potential for unhygienic coffee from Baristas and not just bean to cup machines, but most Baristas are almost religious about purging and wiping the steam wand, keeping the milk jug clean, using different cloths for cleaning different surfaces etc. I say most, not all – I went to a coffee shop inside a large shopping centre in Manchester a while ago, who appeared to have a white steam wand – on closer inspection I noticed it wasn’t white, it was thick with dried milk, yuck!  Needless to say, I would never go back to this particular coffee shop.

So anyway, there we go, just my take on the difference between the McDonald’s and Costa flat whites, which I prefer, and lots of pointless waffle, thanks for reading ;-).

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2 thoughts on “Costa Flat White Vs McDonald’s – Clash of the Whiteans ;-).

  • John Maddock

    Thanks, Kev. Enjoyable article. We are spoiled for choice here in Nottingham with a range of chain and independent coffee shops and although I use Costa for pure convenience, I try to frequent the independent coffee shops as much as possible as they generally take more care and are more knowledgeable. The Coffee House in Hurt’s Yard in the city centre is amazing and is run by a Brazilian couple who really know their stuff. Highly recommended if anyone is visiting the city.