Across the globe, baristas in numerous coffee shop are crafting new and innovative concoctions that not only help their establishments stand out but also offer unique sensory delights to their patrons.
Take, for instance, the “flat red,” an imaginative espresso-based concoction that blends in the unexpected zest of steamed pomegranate and orange juice. This inventive beverage hails from Ukraine, where it has managed to captivate the local coffee aficionados and maintain its popularity.
Keen to delve deeper into the essence of the flat red, and to explore its potential to charm the wider market, I engaged in conversation with Vadym Granovskiy, the entrepreneurial spirit behind Coffee in Action, and Valeriy Siverchuk, the mastermind of the Black Cat & White Cat coffee shop. Their insights shed light on the promising journey of this unique drink. Continue reading to discover what they have to share.
WHO CRAFTED THE FLAT RED?
The fusion of coffee and fruit juice may be a familiar practice in various regions, particularly in parts of Asia, but the flat red stands out as a beverage with its own distinctive narrative.
Vadym recounts how the flat red had been a staple in his coffee shop and a highlight at local Ukrainian festivals for an extended period. Regrettably, the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine compelled Vadym to put a pause on Coffee in Action, shifting his focus to provide coffee brewing kits to Ukrainian troops.
“I had been refining the flat red’s recipe and tinkering with its foundational elements for a good number of years,” he shares.
The beverage started gaining traction in 2016, coinciding with Vadym’s participation in various coffee competitions in the UK and Ukraine. It was around this time that the automotive giant Lexus approached him to craft an upscale coffee experience for their new car range debut in Ukraine.
The Genesis of the Flat Red
In collaboration with Lexus, Vadym designed an exclusive drink to complement each model, yet it was the Lexus NX that truly sparked his creativity. The striking contrast between the car’s pristine white shell and its rich red interior led Vadym to conceive the flat red, his own twist on the classic flat white.
“I was driven to concoct a novel kind of drink because I wanted to steer clear of using milk,” he explains. “At its core, the flat red is a double shot of espresso with a blend of freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juice, which are then steamed together in the same manner as milk.”
To echo the opulent hue of the Lexus NX’s interior, Vadym initially chose Sicilian blood oranges, later enriching the mix with pomegranate juice. Upon ordering, customers would witness the barista freshly pressing the juice, an event that itself became a spectacle.
“Patrons began capturing the baristas in action, snapping photos of the beverage, and sharing them across their social networks,” he recalls. “The drink organically evolved into a marketing phenomenon, reducing our need to actively promote it.”
CRAFTING THE FLAT RED
To whip up a flat red, Vadym skillfully blends a double shot of espresso with 110ml of a vibrant concoction of orange and pomegranate juice, culminating in a drink that measures approximately 160ml. For optimum quality, he emphasizes the importance of using freshly squeezed fruits, executed manually with a hand press.
“Our oranges are carefully selected from the finest orchards in Azerbaijan, Turkey, India, Israel, or Spain,” he notes. “We place a great emphasis on procuring the freshest, in-season ingredients for the best possible flavor.”
As for the coffee component, Vadym mentions that his preference has evolved over time, initially favoring a rotation of single-origin Ethiopian coffees. Due to seasonal changes, he’s expanded his selection to include beans from Brazil, Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda as well.
Here’s how you can create the flat red:
Extract a double espresso shot (typically about 50ml, though this can vary based on your recipe)
Warm 110ml of mixed orange and pomegranate juice to precisely 55°C (131°F)
Serve the concoction in a clear Duralex Picardie glass tumbler
Vadym points out that because the flat red is served at a moderate temperature, it’s ready for immediate enjoyment. “But before you sip, make sure to savor the drink’s aromatic bouquet,” he advises.
He concludes, “It’s a sophisticated and delightful beverage, particularly suited to the chill of the colder months. In some respects, it shares a comforting warmth with mulled wine.”
THE RISING FAME OF THE FLAT RED
In Ukraine, the flat red has captured the hearts of coffee enthusiasts, with Vadym noting that at the height of its popularity, one in every four orders at Coffee in Action was for this distinctive drink. During festivals and special events, he could serve as many as 300 flat reds in a single day.
“The ritual of juice extraction is a spectacle in itself,” Vadym explains. “Customers are drawn to the sight of the barista meticulously selecting, cleansing, and slicing the fruit before pressing the juice by hand.”
While the preparation is swift, it does take a moment or two. “Patrons value the craftsmanship and effort that goes into each cup,” he observes.
Additionally, the ever-changing nature of the fruits means each flat red has its own subtle variations — the flavors shift with the seasons, prompting Vadym to fine-tune the balance of orange to pomegranate juice, at times enhancing the orange content for a sweeter profile.
Given its inherent sweetness, Vadym suggests that the flat red is most delightful without the addition of milk or sugar, a quality that further endears it to connoisseurs of specialty coffee.
A Local and Tourist Sensation
The flat red’s novelty has also made it a hit with tourists in Ukraine.
“People would order it, share their delight on social media, or leave a testimonial on our TripAdvisor page,” Vadym recounts. “The growing number of reviews sparked even more interest, drawing crowds eager to sample this unique offering.
“Those who seek out the authentic flavors of Ukrainian gastronomy find the flat red particularly intriguing,” he says. “For some, it’s an adventure in taste, indulged in for the sheer experience, even if it isn’t their everyday preference.”
Before the conflict, Valeriy, a former soldier and proprietor of Black Cat & White Cat in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, began serving his take on the flat red after training with Vadym.
“The pairing of espresso with pomegranate and orange juice was a revelation in flavor,” he recalls. “And the flat red’s striking presentation and preparation left a lasting impression on me.
“I called my interpretation ‘kava po-granovsky’ as a nod to Vadym,” Valeriy shares. “The name piqued curiosity, with some patrons so captivated by its story that they journeyed to Kyiv to compare my version with Vadym’s original.
“With the war’s outbreak, I rejoined the military,” he continues. “However, I’m eager for the day I can return to my café and once again serve the flat red.”
EXPANDING THE REACH OF THE FLAT RED
The flat red’s acclaim in Ukraine is undeniable, but what about its prospects beyond these borders?
Vadym acknowledges that before the global health crisis, the flat red was starting to captivate coffee aficionados internationally. However, the pandemic brought significant challenges, with minimal governmental support leading to the temporary shutdown of many cafes.
“We faced tough decisions; some establishments were unfortunately lost for good, yet we managed to sustain one of our own through the crisis,” Vadym recounts.
War’s Toll on Business
Even as the world began to recover from the pandemic, Ukraine’s business landscape suffered a new blow with the onset of the Russian invasion in February 2022. In the wake of this conflict, Coffee in Action has scaled back substantially, with a dedicated group of volunteers continuing operations in Kyiv.
“Our focus now includes roasting coffee and distributing essential items like metal cups, portable stoves, and cezves,” Vadym says. “These products are all destined for the courageous Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines.
“With every coffee purchase, we match it by sending a bag to our troops,” he adds.
Despite a wane in the flat red’s popularity due to recent events, Vadym leverages the drink as a tool to bring attention to Ukraine’s plight.
“I’ve been conducting coffee talks and workshops at embassies and events across the UK, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, and Turkey,” he shares. “For me, currently, engaging in dialogue about coffee serves as an effective means to keep Ukraine’s story alive in the global narrative.”
The trajectory of the flat red’s popularity has undoubtedly been impacted by recent tumultuous events, yet its significance transcends its status as a mere beverage. As the conflict persists in Ukraine, Vadym views the flat red as a symbol with considerable weight.
“The flat red has evolved into a narrative vessel, through which I can share the resilient spirit of Ukraine’s struggle for sovereignty,” he reflects. “It serves as an emblematic ambassador, fostering connections and sparking conversations about Ukraine’s current state of affairs.”