Is it a coffee separated into its component parts, or a harbinger of humanity’s last days?
A “deconstructed flat white” consisting of espresso coffee, milk and hot water served separately in three beakers on a wooden plank has provoked an outpouring of rage in Australia.
Writer Jamila Rizvi was served the coffee at a Melbourne cafe and posted a photo of it to Facebook, complaining that “hipsterism has gone too far”.
“I wanted a coffee. Not a science experiment. I prefer to drink my beverages out of crockery and not beakers,” she wrote.
At last count, her rant had 15,000 likes and 5,000 comments. Most of Australia’s major news websites have now attempted to deconstruct the deconstruction – one went so far as to claim serving coffee in such a manner would “destroy us once and for all”.
Many Australians pride themselves on their love of coffee, and Melbourne’s cafes, which embody so-called third-wave coffee culture, are justifiably famous throughout the world.
Australia’s second-largest city is the kind of place where your barista won’t blink if you ask for your small-batch single-origin beans to be extracted through a classic wood-necked Chemex drip filter.
So why is it that the deconstructed flat white has people blowing steam out of their ears?
Barista Nolan Hirte owns Proud Mary, an award-winning Melbourne cafe that is expanding to Portland in the US.
He thinks consumers have become cynical in an overcrowded market, where it’s tempting for cafe owners to search for a gimmick to get people through the door.
“What frustrates me is that what we do here is real and it’s incredible, and I get tagged with ‘hipster’ and ‘cool kids’,” he says.
“I think everyone’s just fed up because there is a lot of noise in Melbourne right now and there isn’t much substance.
“There aren’t really many people doing something from a place where they understand why.”
Mr Hirte, who sources beans from families in Honduras, is deadly serious about crafting the perfect cup of coffee and he doesn’t see the point of a deconstructed flat white.
“I don’t think it highlights or showcases the coffee any better,” he says.
“Deconstructed coffee” is not Australian. Nor is it particularly new.
Slate Coffee Roasters in Seattle serves a deconstructed latte in three glasses – one contains milk, one contains coffee, and the other is a traditional latte.
And the French have long reserved the option to have their steamed milk served in a pitcher on the side when ordering a café au lait.
‘Easy to have an opinion’
Ms Rizvi says a sense of bewilderment inspired her original rant.
“More than anything, it was not quite knowing what I was supposed to do,” she told the BBC. “It makes you feel silly if you can’t figure out how to drink it.”
She became increasingly bemused as her Facebook post took on a life of its own, spawning multiple stories and requests for interviews.
“For most people who are coffee drinkers it is a daily if not several-times-daily habit, so it’s easy to have an opinion on,” she says.
But Ms Rizvi refuses to divulge the name of the coffee shop in question and wants to clarify something – the coffee tasted great.
“It was an excellent coffee. But it was probably a stronger milk-to-coffee ratio than I’d normally have.”
She pauses and reflects for a split second, then adds: “I feel so ridiculous saying this.”