What is a flat red coffee & where did it come from?
In many coffee shops around the world, more and more baristas are developing new and innovative drinks. These beverages can help a coffee business to stand out, as well as creating new sensory experiences for consumers.
One example is the flat red, an espresso-based drink which includes steamed pomegranate and orange juice. The beverage originated in Ukraine, where it continues to remain popular.
To learn more about the flat red – and whether there is potential for a wider market – I spoke to Vadym Granovskiy, owner of Coffee in Action, and Valeriy Siverchuk, owner of Black Cat & White Cat coffee shop. Read on for more of their insight.
You may also like our article on the flat white and where it came from.
Who invented the flat red?
Combining coffee with fruit juice is common in many parts of the world, especially in certain Asian countries. However, the flat red is somewhat of a distinctive beverage with a unique history.
Vadym tells me that he had been serving the flat red at his coffee shops – as well as some local festivals in Ukraine – for some time. Sadly, Vadym had to temporarily close Coffee in Action following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and is now focusing on supplying Ukrainian soldiers with coffee brewing kits.
“I had been playing with the flat red recipe, and experimenting with the base of the drink, for quite a few years,” he says.
In 2016, interest in the drink began to grow after Vadym had finished competing in several UK and Ukrainian Coffee Championships. He tells me that Japanese automobile manufacturer Lexus reached out to him to collaborate on developing a premium coffee service setup for the launch of its new car range in Ukraine.
Inspiration for the flat red
As part of the collaboration, Vadym created a signature drink to represent each car, but he says the Lexus NX was particularly inspiring to him. Vadym tells me that the juxtaposition of the car’s white exterior and deep red interior prompted him to create the flat red – a play on the flat white.
“I wanted to create a new type of beverage because I didn’t want to include milk,” he says. “Essentially, the flat red is a double espresso with freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juice, but the juices are mixed together and steamed as you would with milk.”
In an effort to replicate the Lexus NX’s interior colour, Vadym says he initially used Sicilian blood oranges, but eventually added pomegranate juice. When a customer would order the drink, the barista would have to freshly squeeze the juice using a hand press.
“Customers were filming the baristas, and taking pictures of the drink and posting them on social media,” he says. “It became a marketing tool, and we didn’t have to do much to promote it ourselves.”
How to prepare a flat red
In order to prepare a flat red, Vadym combines a double espresso with 110ml of orange and pomegranate juice, which he says roughly results in a 160ml drink. To produce a high-quality beverage, Vadym explains that both fruits are freshly squeezed using a hand press.
“We source oranges from Azerbaijan, Turkey, India, Israel, or Spain,” he says. “We focus heavily on sourcing the best ingredients which are always in season.”
When it comes to the coffee, Vadym tells me that over the years, he has switched between three to four single origin Ethiopian coffees for the flat red. However, he adds that because of seasonal variations, he now uses Brazilian, Kenyan, Tanzanian, and Rwandan coffee, too.
The recipe for the flat red is as follows:
- Pull a double espresso shot (around 50ml depending on the recipe)
- Steam 110ml of orange and pomegranate juice mix to 55°C (131°F)
- Pour the drink into a Duralex Picardie clear glass tumbler
“[Because it’s served at this temperature], you can instantly drink a flat red,” Vadym explains. “However, before taking a sip, it’s important to inhale the beverage’s aromas.
“It’s a complex and pleasant drink, particularly during colder seasons,” he adds. “It’s similar to mulled wine in a way.”
Why has the drink become more popular?
In Ukraine, the flat red is a popular beverage among consumers. Vadym says that at one point, one out of every four drinks ordered at Coffee in Action was a flat red. Moreover, at festivals or events in the country, he would often sell up to 300 flat reds per day.
“Extracting the juice is part of the drink’s appeal,” he tells me. “When people order the drink, they watch the barista choose, wash, cut, and prepare the fruit by hand.
“Although we make the drink quickly, it still takes a few minutes,” he adds. “Customers appreciate the craft and labour behind it.”
Furthermore, he says that no two flat reds taste the same – mainly because the flavour of the oranges and pomegranates changes slightly according to the season. In turn, Vadym occasionally changes the ratio of orange to pomegranate juice, sometimes using a larger volume of orange juice for a sweeter drink.
On a similar note, because of its natural sweetness, Vadym says the drink is best enjoyed without milk or sugar. He believes this helps to increase the appeal of the flat red among specialty coffee drinkers.
Popularity among tourists and locals
Vadym says the uniqueness of the flat red proved popular for tourists in Ukraine.
”People would order it and post it on their social media, or post a review on our TripAdvisor page,” he tells me. “The more reviews we got, the more people came to try it.
“People who enjoy discovering local Ukrainian cuisine also enjoy the flat red,” he adds. “Some people tried it just for the experience, even if it wasn’t something that they would drink every day.”
Prior to the war, former soldier Valeriy ran Black Cat & White Cat, a coffee shop in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. He says that after receiving specialty coffee training from Vadym, he started to serve his own version of the flat red in his café.
“[When I first tried] the combination of espresso with pomegranate and orange juice, it was a real taste experience,” he says. “What’s more, the flat red’s unusual appearance and preparation method impressed me.
“I named my version of the drink ‘kava po-granovsky’ after Vadym,” Valerity adds. “A lot of people who try the drink ask me about its unusual name, and some were so interested in it that they travelled to Kyiv to taste the original version and compare it with mine.
“Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I returned to the army,” he continues. “But I look forward to when I can return to my café and serve the flat red again.”
Is there a wider market for it?
There’s no denying that the flat red is immensely popular in Ukraine, but is there potential for this to grow in other markets?
Vadym says that prior to the pandemic, interest in the flat red was growing outside of Ukraine. However, during the pandemic, he explains that limited support from the government meant many coffee shops had to temporarily close their doors.
“Some businesses closed permanently, but we managed to keep one coffee shop open,” he explains.
Impact of the war
Despite the loosening of Covid-19 restrictions, many businesses in Ukraine were sadly also impacted by the Russian invasion in February 2022. Since then, Coffee in Action has ceased most of its operations, but a small team of volunteers still work in Kyiv.
“We roast coffee and sell metal cups, portable burners, and cezves,” Vadym explains. “All of our products are sent to Ukrainian soldiers fighting in the war.
“When customers buy a bag of our coffee, another bag is sent to the front line,” he adds.
Ultimately, although interest has dipped in the beverage following the pandemic and the war, Vadym says he uses the flat red as a way of spreading awareness of the issues in Ukraine.
“I host a number of coffee talks and workshops at embassies and events in the UK, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, and Turkey,” he says. “Right now, for me, talking about coffee is the best way to keep Ukraine in the news.”
It’s fair to say that events over the past two years have hindered the growth of the flat red. However, as the war continues in Ukraine, Vadym believes that it is much more than just a drink.
“With the flat red, I can tell the story of Ukraine’s resistance and fight for freedom,” he concludes. “It’s become somewhat of a diplomatic tool to connect with people and gauge their interest in what’s happening in Ukraine right now.”
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on signature coffee drinks in China.
Photo credits: Julia Kochetova, Serhiy Lysenko, Ukraine House Davos, Press Office General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Oleksii Zubenko
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