A delicious café au lait is perfect to start the day. (Photo credit: Yann Cognieux)
A delicious café au lait is perfect to start the day. (Photo Credit: Yann Cognieux)

Sitting in the sun at the terrace of a café in France, you are ready to have an authentic French breakfast – a  café au lait served with fresh croissants. Stop right there before you look like a fool ordering it. There is no question about it: café au lait remains a favorite of French people to start their day, but strictly in the intimacy of their homes.

A Little Milk in Your Coffee?

Coffee arrived in Europe from the Orient. The Arab word qahwah became kahve in Turkey, kawa in Polish, koffie in Dutch, kawe in Hungarian. The word café was born. Coffee first appeared in France in XVII century and transformed the food landscape of this era. Travelers, merchants, traders, vessels’ captains knowledgeable of the ways of the East became the initiators of this new drink in Europe and of its practice, importing the coffee beans as well as the utencils necessary to its making. It first landed in Marseille, a major French port, then made its way to Paris and to the French court.

In 1671, the first café opened its doors in Marseille. In 1723, 380 cafés were listed in the «Dictionnaire Universel de Commerce» from Jacques Savary in Paris. Private consumption came later. The passion for coffee had taken over France. By the XVIII century, the French adapted the taste of coffee to reduce the strength and concentration of the beverage. Quickly, they added water, milk, and sugar. The café au lait turned into an absolute rage. Everyone wanted a cup of café au lait for breakfast. The gourmet would warm up half a liter milk then add 40 grams of coffee powder, boil it for half an hour, then let it set for ten hours. You’d better be patient! Before serving, it was heated up in a bain-marie. At the start of the XIX century, coffee with added milk was essential and its usage widely spread in France. In Paris, the smooth and rich scent of coffee invaded every corner of the French capital.

For an authentic Café au Lait, the ingredients are simple. (Photo Credit: Yann Cognieux)
For an authentic Café au Lait, the ingredients are simple. (Photo Credit: Yann Cognieux)

To Enjoy Café au Lait, You Might Want to Know These Simple Facts:

  • Forget about ordering a café au lait in a French Café. A café crème or Grand café crème is the closest you can get.
  • A café au lait is made with dark brewed coffee and hot milk. Don’t mistake it for a cappuccino.
  • Make a strong coffee using a filtered coffee machine, warm up the whole milk, pour the milk and coffee at the same time in a large cup or bowl.
  • The proper proportion is one third coffee, two third milk.
  • It is served in a bol or bowl.
  • Hold the bowl with both hands to drink it just like the French do.
  • It is traditionally drunk for breakfast.
  • Add ice cubes for a café au lait glacé.
  • In New Orleans, a café au lait Nouvelle-Orleans is a beverage with half coffee and half chicory and hot milk – a créole version, made famous by the Café du Monde served with beignets in the French quarter since 1862.
Pour the hot milk over freshly brewed coffee for a creamy café au lait. (Photo credit: Yann Cognieux)
Pour the hot milk over freshly brewed coffee for a creamy café au lait. (Photo Credit: Yann Cognieux)

Café au Lait or Café Latte?

  • I won’t say it enough: café au lait is not a cappuccino or a café latte.
  • Café crème is an espresso with steamed milk. For a double, order a Grand café crème. It is the closest to café au lait.
  • A café noisette (nut coffee) is an espresso with a spot of cream, much like a macchiato in Italy. Its name comes from the word noisette meaning hazelnut due to its lovely color.
  • A café latte is an espresso with added hot milk.
  • A cappuccino is an espresso with milk heated until it becomes an unctuous foam served in a large cup.

The rage over coffee around the world is not finished. Many trends are taking over the social media channels: tumeric latte, golden coffee, coffee in a cone, nitro coffee. What will be yours? A salted caramel café au lait, may be?

Un café s’il vous plait!

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About Christine Cognieux

Christine is a life enthusiast, attracted to happiness, creativity and beauty in everything. It is not because she is French that she loves Fashion but she does. Photographing her food is becoming a habit of hers!

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9 Responses to "How To Drink: Café au Lait"

  1. Sheena  31/03/2017

    I’m not a coffee person but your blog is making me want one now 😉 (in those gorgeous bols). Thank you for the great read!

    Reply
  2. Obligatory Traveler  01/04/2017

    I enjoyed the cafe au laits in New Orleans when I visited there. Great information in this post. I love anything caffeine related.

    Reply
  3. sherianne  01/04/2017

    You had me at ‘Sitting in the sun at the terrace of a café in France’… the café au lait served and croissants makes this sound like heaven!

    Reply
  4. Sheena  02/04/2017

    Ahhh I have always wondered if a cafe au lait was just another name for a cafe latte… now i know better! 🙂

    Reply
  5. Stephanie Frias  04/04/2017

    Yummm, this looks and sounds delicious! I have heard the fuss about this Coffe Around the World, I will have to go and look it up now! Thanks 🙂

    Reply
  6. Priya  04/04/2017

    I just feel like drinking coffee right now…. nice post. Tempting to drink coffee right away 🙂

    Reply
  7. Priya&Praveen  04/04/2017

    I just feel like drinking coffee right now…. nice post. Tempting to drink coffee right away 🙂

    Reply
  8. John  04/04/2017

    I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but cafe au lait is great! I had it in New Orleans a few years ago. Now I want a cafe au lait and some good beignets too!

    Reply
  9. Pingback: Food Postcard: Move over French Toast, Torrijas Is in Town | Travel Gluttons

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