Flat Red Coffee's Ukrainian Origins

It's been a long time since coffee was just coffee. Since the rise of the coffee house and the explosion of coffee culture, it seems like every java vendor — from the corner drive thru joint to Starbucks — is trying to push the envelope and develop the next new drink. We've seen things like Frappuccinos, cold brews, steamers, and flat whites skyrocket to popularity, but one drink that no one seems to be talking about is the flat red. Never heard of it? You're not alone. 

Outside of its home country of Ukraine, flat red is a drink that very few people are familiar with. In fact, the way it's made is initially shocking to those who come across it as it is made with some very unconventional ingredients for a coffee drink. And, if you describe it to your regular barista, they may not be willing to recreate it. But with any luck, the flat red will make its way around social media and create a demand for it in the United States because it's just way too intriguing not to try.

What is a flat red?

You've heard of the flat white, which is espresso, steamed milk, and a layer of microfoam. It's rich and creamy and still has a prominent flavor of strong coffee, which makes it a favorite even among those who don't normally put milk in their joe. Meanwhile, despite its similar name, the flat red is nothing like it. To make one, make two espresso shots. Then, combine freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juices, steam them as you would steam milk, and combine the juices with the espresso. You read that right, a flat red is espresso and fruit juice.

The man credited with inventing the flat red, Ukraine's Vadym Granovskiy, owner of Coffee in Action, tells Perfect Daily Grind that the drink is particularly popular in the colder months, perhaps because it is similar to the concept of mulled wine. He also acknowledges that the drink's flavor is not truly consistent simply because of the use of fresh fruits whose flavor can change depending on their country of origin and the season. And, even though the flat red is a coffee drink, he advises those who partake not to add milk or sugar.

The story behind the flat red

After finishing a whirlwind of coffee competitions and championships in Europe and Ukraine in 2016, Granovskiy was approached by Japanese car company Lexus about a possible collaboration. As he recalled to Perfect Daily Grind, they wanted him to create signature coffee drinks to represent the new line of cars they were introducing to the Ukrainian market. Particularly drawn to the Lexus NX with its white exterior and dark red interior, Granovskiy came up with the idea of the flat red. Wanting it to be truly unique and interesting, he chose not to include milk in the beverage. He naturally brought the idea to his own coffee shop where it was an instant hit. Just as he was beginning to see a rise in interest outside of Ukraine in 2020, the COVID pandemic hit the world and halted both his business and the spread of the flat red.

But far be it from Granovskiy to just walk away from his business. Instead, some of his team members volunteered to work in the city of Kyiv, donating coffee and supplies to Ukrainian soldiers. He travels around Europe hosting coffee workshops and discussions and uses his creation of the flat red to raise awareness of the war-torn country and the Ukrainians battle for freedom. 

These circumstances have caused Granovskiy to consider the possibility that the creation of the flat red was much more than inventing a new coffee drink, but that it is part of something much bigger.