If you walk into almost any coffee shop in the city and order a flat white, you'll most likely be steered towards ordering a latte instead. Sometimes, you'll be refused the flat white but offered a foam-less cappuccino to compensate. And while these may be acceptable (if even noticeable) substitutions for some, others may consider these sorry bastardizations of what they're really looking for: a lovely, creamy espresso-based drink smaller than a latte without the foaminess of a cappuccino. At Two Guns Espresso in Manhattan Beach, there is no need to settle for the next best thing: a flat white is a flat white is a flat white. The first choice is all yours.

Two Guns uses beans from Seattle's Caffe Vita, and pastries are from local bakeries. A giant poster of Dirty Harry graces the back wall of the cafe, presumably because Harry Callahan's Kiwi counterpart (Xena: Warrior Princess) doesn't strike quite the same chord with the surrounding Manhattan Beach neighborhood. Make no mistake, though: these details aside, this shop is a definite product of its Kiwi owners, Andrew “Stan” Stanisich and Craig Oram.

The long black is on the menu, for example, a Down Under drink akin to the Americano for those of us Stateside. And nestled quietly but distinctively between the cappuccino and the latte is that flat white. As with all the espresso-based drinks at Two Guns, the flat whites are made with triple shot ristrettos and Straus's barista-grade organic milk. Generally, the size of the flat white is smaller than an American latte, though exactly how much smaller depends on the café and the coffee.

“It's quite hard to find the right milk to coffee ratio,” Stanisich says, noting that several Australian and British cafes are trending towards a six-ounce flat white. For him, though, that's two ounces too small. His flat whites are eight ounces, or “just about the right balance of coffee and milk” to showcase both the nutty, chocolate boldness of the Caffe Vita coffee and the inherent sweetness of the milk.

Which brings us to the other critical component of the flat white: the milk. Stanisich explains that only the slightest bit of air is incorporated into the milk to create a layer of foam that is mere millimeters thin. In contrast, the milk for a cappuccino is “stretched” for about four seconds – almost twice as long as it takes for the flat white -which in part results in the cappuccino's characteristically luxuriously thick, soft layer of foam.

Though Two Guns opened only in December, the smooth, creamy flat white already has become one of the shop's most popular drinks. Indeed, it is reason enough to make a pit stop at Two Guns the next time you're passing through the South Bay, especially if you've been on the hunt for a proper flat white served somewhere considerably closer than Auckland. When you do drive up to the shop, “How about a cup of Joe?” will greet you, painted in tall letters on the shop's exterior wall. It's almost as if Dirty Harry himself was growling a challenge of sorts. Go ahead. Make your day.

LA Weekly