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Cafe au Lait: A Delicious French Coffee You Need to Try

cafe au lait in white mug on black table

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If you confuse the cafe au lait with a latte, you’re not alone. This beverage combines equal parts brewed coffee and steamed milk, resulting in a creamy flavor that’s perfect for any time of day. And no, it’s not the same as a cafe latte.

Café au lait has a long history, dating back to France in the 19th century. It quickly became a staple in French cafes and is now enjoyed worldwide. While the traditional recipe calls for brewed coffee, some variations use espresso instead for a more robust flavor.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes this coffee beverage unique.

What is a Cafe au Lait?

The name Cafe au Lait means “coffee with milk.” This French coffee drink is one of the most popular coffee beverages in the world, combining brewed coffee and steamed milk.

In Europe, it is made by adding steamed milk to a shot of espresso in a 1:1 ratio. The drink is topped with little or no foam. In the US, however, it is often prepared by adding steamed milk to concentrated filter coffee. The ratio of coffee to milk can vary depending on your preference.

Cafe au Lait is traditionally served in a large mug or bowl to allow for easy pastry dunking. The taste of Cafe au Lait is smooth and mild, making it a perfect drink for those who prefer a less bitter coffee taste. It can be served hot or cold; flash brew the coffee or simply add ice cubes if you want to enjoy it cold.

Fellow Clara French press in black

History of the Cafe au Lait

The origins of the Cafe au Lait can be traced back to the French cafes of the 19th century. At that time, coffee was becoming increasingly popular, and cafe owners sought ways to make it stand out. They added milk to their coffee, creating the Cafe au Lait.

The Cafe au Lait quickly became a popular drink in France and soon spread to other parts of the world. Today, you can find Cafe au Lait in cafes and coffee shops around the globe.

One exciting thing about the Cafe au Lait is its many names and variations. In some countries, it’s made with dark coffee and heated milk; in others, it’s made with espresso and steamed milk. The Dutch version of the drink is called koffie verkeerd, which translates to “wrong coffee,” as the Dutch typically drink coffee with very little milk.

Technivorm Moccamaster coffee maker

How to Make a Cafe au Lait

Ingredients

To make a cafe au lait, you’ll need the following components:

  • Strong brewed coffee
  • Whole milk

Procedure

  • Brew a strong cup of coffee using your preferred coffee maker. You can use any coffee, but a dark roast will give you the best flavor.
  • Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it’s hot but not boiling. You can also use a microwave-safe container to heat the milk in the microwave for 30-60 seconds or gently steam the milk.
  • Pour the hot milk into a large mug, filling it halfway. Then pour the brewed coffee over the milk, filling the mug to the top.
  • Stir the coffee and milk together until well combined. You can add sugar or sweetener to taste if you prefer a sweeter drink.

Enjoy your delicious and comforting cafe au lait!

Remember, the key to a great cafe au lait is equal parts of coffee and milk. You can adjust the ratio to your liking, but we prefer the OG preparation.

cafe au lait with two cookies on wooden table

Variations of the Cafe au Lait

French Style

The original French version of Cafe au Lait is made with robust dark-roasted coffee and hot milk. The French typically use a bowl-shaped cup instead of a mug, which allows them to dip their croissants or other pastries into the drink. The French also use dark-roasted coffee to give the drink a rich, bold flavor. Some variations of the French-style Cafe au Lait include adding a touch of cinnamon or vanilla to the mix.

cafe du monde table scape with menu, cafe au lait, and beignets

New Orleans Style

The New Orleans version of Cafe au Lait differs slightly from the French version. It’s made with strong coffee and chicory, giving it a unique, nutty flavor. Chicory is a root often used as a coffee substitute, and it’s been a staple of New Orleans coffee culture for decades.

The coffee and chicory are mixed with hot milk to create a creamy, smooth drink. The New Orleans-style Cafe au Lait is traditionally served in a large mug with beignets, a French pastry made famous in the region alongside the cafe au lait by Café Du Monde.

Cafe au Lait Around the World

Cafe au lait may be found worldwide, but it might have a slightly different name (and/or preparation) depending on where you are. Here are some common variations:

bowl of beignets

United States

In North America, cafe au lait is sometimes called a cafe misto (thank you, Starbucks, for confusing everyone) and is typically made with brewed coffee and steamed milk. It is often served in a smaller cup and can be found on the menu of most coffee shops.

Spain

In Spain, cafe au lait is known as cafe con leche. It is made with equal parts of espresso and steamed milk and is often served with breakfast or as an afternoon pick-me-up. The use of espresso differs from the original brewed coffee version. It’s less popular in Spain than, say, the cortado, but is still readily available in most places.

Ascaso steel duo pid v2 in black
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Italy

In Italy, cafe au lait is known as cafe latte. Most people are familiar with this popular espresso beverage and may often confuse it with the cafe au lait due to the similarities in their names. It is made with espresso and steamed milk, versus brewed coffee and warm milk, and is typically served in a smaller cup than the traditional French cafe au lait.

Portugal

In Portugal, cafe au lait is known as galao. Like the latte, the galao is made with espresso and steamed milk and is typically served in a tall glass.

Fellow Stagg EKG Kettle
Fellow Stagg EKG Kettle

Brazil

In Brazil, cafe au lait is known as cafe com leite. It is made with brewed coffee and steamed milk and is often served with bread or other breakfast items.

Whether you prefer the traditional French version or one of the many variations worldwide, cafe au lait is a delicious and comforting way to start your day.

Cafe au Lait vs. Other Coffee Drinks

Cafe au Lait vs Latte

While the Cafe au Lait and the latte both contain coffee and milk, they differ in the type of coffee used and the ratio of coffee to milk. Cafe au Lait is made with brewed coffee and steamed milk in a 1:1 ratio, while a latte is made with espresso and steamed milk in a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio.

Bialetti Moka Pot
Bialetti 9-Cup Moka Pot

Cafe au Lait vs Cappuccino

Cappuccino is another popular milk-based coffee drink often compared to Cafe au Lait. Cappuccino is made with equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, while Cafe au Lait is made with brewed coffee and steamed milk. Cappuccino has a more robust coffee flavor and a thicker foam layer than Cafe au Lait.

Cafe au Lait vs Macchiato

Macchiato is an espresso-based coffee drink similar to a latte but with less milk and more foam. Cafe au Lait, on the other hand, is made with brewed coffee and steamed milk. This means the Macchiato has a more robust coffee flavor and less milk than Cafe au Lait.

Cafe au Lait vs Mocha

A mocha is a chocolate-flavored coffee drink made with espresso, milk, and chocolate syrup or powder. Cafe au Lait, on the other hand, is made with brewed coffee and steamed milk. A mocha has a sweeter and richer flavor than a Cafe au Lait.

dark roast coffee beans close up

Choosing the Right Beans for Cafe au Lait

The type of coffee beans you use will significantly impact the flavor and aroma of your Cafe au Lait. Here are some tips to help you choose the right beans:

1. Choose Darker Roast Beans

Dark-roasted coffee beans are perfect for making Cafe au Lait. They have a rich, bold flavor that can stand up to adding milk without losing their taste. Dark roast beans also have a lower acidity level, which makes them less bitter and more enjoyable to drink.

Airscape vacuum coffee canister in matte black
Airscape Stainless Steel Coffee Canister

2. Consider the Roast Date

When choosing coffee beans for your Cafe au Lait, it’s essential to consider the roast date. Freshly roasted beans will have a more robust flavor and aroma than beans sitting on the shelf for a while. So, make sure to choose beans that have been recently roasted for the best flavor.

3. Choose Beans with a Bold Flavor

Since Cafe au Lait is made with equal parts coffee and milk, choosing beans with a bold flavor that can stand up to adding milk is vital. Colombian coffee beans are an excellent choice for Cafe au Lait as they have a rich, bold flavor and low acidity. They are also versatile, making them a perfect choice for various brewing methods.

Phillips 4300 series fully automatic espresso machine with LatteGo
Philips 4300 Fully Automatic Espresso Machine w/LatteGo

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the calories in café au lait?

The number of calories in café au lait depends on the type of milk used and any added sugar or flavorings. A typical 12 oz café au lait made with whole milk and no added sugar has around 120-140 calories.

Is café au lait just coffee and milk?

Yep, it really is exactly as it sounds. A café au lait is made with brewed coffee and steamed milk in equal parts. Some variations may add sugar or flavorings like vanilla or cinnamon.

What does café au lait taste like?

Café au lait has a milder coffee flavor than espresso-based drinks like lattes or cappuccinos. The taste of café au lait depends on the type of coffee used, the roast level, and the milk used.

Where can I find café au lait near me?

Café au lait is a popular coffee drink in most cafes. You can also make café au lait at home using a coffee maker and milk frother.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather Calatrello

Heather Calatrello owner of ShedLight Coffee Roasters