Café au Lait

The Ultimate Guide to Café au Lait: History, Recipes, and Modern Twist

Café au lait is more than just a simple coffee drink. It’s a blend of strong coffee and steamed milk that embodies both elegance and simplicity. This guide will delve into its rich history, provide step-by-step recipes, explore regional variations, and offer tips on creating your perfect cup at home. Whether you’re a seasoned coffee lover or new to the world of café au lait, this article will have you savoring every sip.

What is Café au Lait?

What is Café au Lait

Café au lait, translating to "coffee with milk" in French, is a classic coffee drink made with equal parts of strong hot coffee and steamed milk. Unlike a latte, which uses espresso, café au lait typically uses brewed coffee, making it less intense and more approachable for those who prefer a milder coffee experience.

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Historical Background

Historical Background

The origins of café au lait date back to France, where it became a staple of traditional French breakfasts. It was commonly enjoyed with croissants or other pastries, offering a comforting balance to the morning routine. The drink’s simplicity and elegance quickly spread, becoming a favorite in various cultures around the world.

In New Orleans, the café au lait took on a unique twist by incorporating chicory root, which was used to extend coffee supplies during the American Civil War. This gave the drink a distinctive nutty flavor that has become a hallmark of New Orleans coffee culture.

How to Make Classic French Café au Lait

How to Make Classic French Café au Lait

Creating a perfect café au lait at home is easier than you might think. Here’s a detailed recipe to help you get started.


  • 1 cup strong brewed coffee (preferably French roast)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Sugar (optional, to taste)


  1. Brew the Coffee: Use a French press, Moka pot, or drip coffee maker to brew a strong cup of coffee. The coffee should be robust enough to stand up to the milk.
  2. Steam the Milk: Heat the milk until it’s steaming but not boiling. If you don’t have a milk steamer, you can heat the milk in a saucepan and whisk vigorously to create foam.
  3. Combine: Pour equal parts of coffee and steamed milk into a large cup. Stir gently to mix.
  4. Serve: Optionally, add sugar to taste and enjoy with a croissant or your favorite pastry.

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New Orleans-Style Café au Lait

New Orleans-Style Café au Lait

The New Orleans variation of café au lait is known for its use of chicory root, which imparts a unique, slightly bitter flavor to the coffee.


  • 1 cup strong coffee brewed with chicory
  • 1 cup scalded milk (milk heated to just below boiling)
  • Sugar (optional, to taste)


  1. Brew the Coffee: Use a blend of coffee and roasted chicory to brew a strong cup. Traditional brands like Café du Monde are perfect for this recipe.
  2. Scald the Milk: Heat the milk until it’s just below boiling. This method is different from steaming and gives the milk a slightly sweeter taste.
  3. Combine: Mix equal parts of coffee and scalded milk in a large mug. Stir gently.
  4. Serve: Optionally, add sugar to taste and pair with beignets for an authentic New Orleans experience.

Café au Lait Around the World

Café au Lait Around the World

Café au lait is enjoyed in various forms across the globe, each culture adding its unique twist.

Spain: Café con Leche

In Spain, café au lait is known as café con leche. It is typically made with espresso and steamed milk, served in equal parts. It’s a common breakfast drink, often enjoyed with churros or other pastries.

Italy: Caffè Latte

Although similar in name, a caffè latte in Italy is made with espresso and steamed milk in a 1:3 ratio, making it creamier and less intense than café au lait.

Portugal: Galão

In Portugal, galão is a popular coffee drink made with espresso and foamed milk, served in a tall glass. It’s usually enjoyed as an afternoon pick-me-up.

Brazil: Café com Leite

In Brazil, café com leite is made with brewed coffee and steamed milk, similar to the traditional French café au lait. It’s often served with bread or other breakfast items.

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Café au Lait vs. Other Coffee Drinks

Café au Lait vs. Other Coffee Drinks

Understanding the differences between café au lait and other popular coffee drinks can help you appreciate its unique characteristics.

Café au Lait vs. Latte

  • Coffee Type: Café au lait uses brewed coffee, while a latte uses espresso.
  • Milk Ratio: Café au lait typically has a 1:1 ratio of coffee to milk, while a latte has a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio.
  • Flavor Profile: Café au lait is milder and less intense, making it more suitable for those who prefer a balanced coffee flavor.

Café au Lait vs. Cappuccino

  • Milk and Foam: A cappuccino is made with equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, giving it a frothier texture and stronger coffee flavor.
  • Serving Style: Cappuccinos are often served in smaller cups and topped with a thick layer of foam, while café au lait is typically served in larger mugs with less foam.

Café au Lait vs. Flat White

  • Milk Texture: Flat whites have a velvety texture due to microfoam, while café au lait uses simple steamed milk.
  • Proportions: Flat whites use a smaller amount of milk compared to café au lait, emphasizing the espresso’s bold flavor.

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Choosing the Best Coffee Beans and Milk

Choosing the Best Coffee Beans and Milk

The quality of your café au lait depends greatly on the beans and milk you use.

Best Coffee Beans

  • Single-Origin Beans: For a distinct and unique flavor, choose single-origin beans. They offer a range of flavors depending on the region, from fruity and floral to earthy and spicy.
  • Blend Beans: Blends combine beans from different locations to create a balanced and consistent flavor. They are perfect for those who prefer a harmonious taste.
  • Roast Level: Light roasts provide a more acidic and complex flavor, while dark roasts offer a bolder, more robust taste. Choose a roast level that complements the type of milk you use.

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Best Milk Options

  • Whole Milk: Offers the ideal richness and foams well when steamed, making it perfect for café au lait.
  • 2% Milk: Provides a good balance of flavor and lower fat content, suitable for a lighter café au lait.
  • Plant-Based Milk: Almond, soy, and oat milk are excellent alternatives for a vegan café au lait. Each type adds a unique flavor and texture to the drink.

Curious about how cappuccino compares to café au lait? Find out why everyone loves cappuccino! ☕

DIY Café au Lait: Tips and Tricks

DIY Café au Lait: Tips and Tricks

Making café au lait at home can be a delightful experience with these pro tips:

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Brew Strong Coffee: Use a French press, Moka pot, or drip coffee maker to brew a robust cup of coffee.
  2. Steam the Milk: Heat the milk until it’s steaming, either using a steamer or a saucepan and whisk.
  3. Combine and Stir: Mix equal parts of coffee and steamed milk in a large cup. Stir gently to blend.
  4. Enhance the Flavor: Add flavored syrups, such as vanilla or caramel, to customize your café au lait. Experiment with different sweeteners like honey or agave syrup for a unique twist.

Tools and Equipment

  • French Press: Ideal for brewing strong coffee with rich flavors.
  • Moka Pot: Provides a concentrated coffee similar to espresso, perfect for café au lait.
  • Milk Frother: Handy for creating steamed milk with a smooth texture.

Quick Reference Guide to Café au Lait

Aspect Description
Origin France
Traditional Ingredients Strong brewed coffee, steamed milk
Common Variations New Orleans (with chicory), Spanish café con leche, Italian caffè latte
Milk-to-Coffee Ratio Typically 1:1
Best Coffee Beans Single-origin or blend, preferably dark roast
Serving Suggestions Croissants, beignets, dark chocolate
Popular Equipment French press, Moka pot, milk frother
Vegan Options Almond milk, soy milk, oat milk
Key Differences from Latte Uses brewed coffee instead of espresso, different milk-to-coffee ratio (1:1 vs. 1:3)
Health Trends Low-calorie options, use of plant-based milks


Café au Lait in Modern Culture

Café au Lait in Modern Culture

Café au lait has maintained its popularity by adapting to modern trends and preferences.

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Popularity in Cafés

Many modern coffee shops have embraced café au lait, offering it as a staple on their menus. Its simplicity and versatility make it a favorite among customers looking for a comforting and balanced coffee drink.

Influence of Social Media

Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have played a significant role in popularizing café au lait. Beautifully crafted café au lait cups with latte art and creative presentations have made the drink a social media darling.

Health Trends

The rise of vegan and low-calorie diets has led to the creation of café au lait variations using plant-based milks and alternative sweeteners. These adaptations cater to health-conscious consumers while retaining the drink’s classic appeal.


Café au lait is a timeless coffee drink that continues to captivate coffee lovers around the world. Its rich history, versatility, and comforting flavor make it a beloved choice for any coffee enthusiast. Whether you enjoy it the traditional French way or with a modern twist, there’s no denying the charm of a well-made café au lait. So grab your favorite mug, brew a strong cup of coffee, steam some milk, and enjoy this delightful beverage at home.

By following this comprehensive guide, you’ll be able to create the perfect café au lait and explore its various forms. Enjoy experimenting with different beans, milks, and flavors to find your ideal cup. Cheers to savoring the simple elegance of café au lait!

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