Explaining the Cafe Au Lait

The Café au lait is a popular caffeinated drink loved by coffee enthusiasts from all over the world. Its name is a direct translation for the French term “coffee with milk.” It’s often confused with white coffee, which uses cold milk while the Café au lait is made with hot milk. This type of coffee differs based on the country it is being served in. With so many variations, let us dive in more into this drink and see why it’s so favored globally.

What is Cafe au Lait?

It’s a caffeinated drink consisting of coffee mixed with steamed milk. The Café au lait (pronounced as cafe o le) is originally from France. It’s a French staple caffeinated drink that stems from the same continental tradition as the iconic “caffè latte” from Italy, “kawa biała” in Poland, “café con Leche” in Spain, “café com Leite” in Portugal, “Grosser Brauner” in Austria, and “Koffie Verkeerd” in the Netherlands in Europe. 


All these different names from different countries have the same meaning, which is “coffee with milk.” It’s made of strong or bold coffee (sometimes espresso) and hot (usually steamed) milk. This is not to be confused with standard white coffee, which is espresso with cold milk. You may wonder what is coffee, and why is this drink so popular across the world? It’s a versatile drink that can be made from anywhere in the world, and the Café au lait is no exception. 

The other popular variant of this drink is served at local coffee shops in New Orleans, where the recipe is altered by adding chicory to the beverage, which gives the drink a distinctive bitter and strong flavor. It’s traditionally served with powdered-sugar beignets to offset the drink’s bitterness. This classic New Orleans staple goes back to the American Civil War when there was a scarcity in the beloved drink. Thus, using chicory to pad out what coffee they had available.

At home, most Europeans prepare it using dark coffee and heated milk. But in cafés, it’s usually prepared using modern espresso machines which have become the staple ever since these handy machines became available back in the 1940s. It does not have a specific method of preparation. You can make it at the comfort of your home with the standard coffee pot or convenient coffee makers, make sure to check out the different coffee maker reviews to achieve the best cup of café au lait at home.

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What is the difference between a cafe latte and cafe au lait?

The traditional café latte is made using the basic ingredients of espresso-based drinks such as a shot of espresso, steamed milk, and topped off with a thin layer of foam. Lattes are the canvass of all coffee drinks; many baristas add art, which makes this drink loved by many. The Café au lait has more simple ingredients, consisting of brewed coffee and the scalded version of the dairy drink, and it has no foam on the top.

Café au Lait

The essential for this drink is thinning the strong coffee by adding a generous amount of creamy and warm milk.

  • Half brewed coffee.
  • Half warmed milk.
  • Little to no foam on top.


This beverage has more foam and has three distinctive layers instead of two, and art can be added to it because of the foam on top.

  • 2 to 3 hours of espresso.
  • Textured or steamed milk.
  • A thin layer of foam on top.

Lattes are conventionally served in a tall see-through glass while the cafe au lait is usually served in a standard ceramic coffee cup. However, both drinks can be found anywhere in the world. You can easily buy these beverages in any established coffee shop, or you can also make them at the comfort of your home with the use of a high-end coffee maker.

Cafe au lait recipe

The perfect café au lait is made of equal parts of steamed milk and strong hot coffee (sometimes espresso is also used as an alternative), creating the perfect mellow beverage that every coffee lover is familiar with. This drink has a simple and easy recipe that you can make at home and serve it alongside traditional French breakfast staples such as croissants.

The Recipe:

  • 1 part hot strong coffee or espresso (French roast)
  • 1 part scalded hot milk


  1. Choose the right coffee beans. If you want to have a fresh drink, you may grind a bold and full-flavored bean at home to get the best café au lait.
  2. Brew an extra cup of coffee. So, if you think the result of the drink is too weak, you can easily make adjustments.
  3. Warm 1 cup of milk. Ensure it will not produce foam and heat it evenly just right before the boiling point.
  4. Grab a large cup and pour equal parts of each ingredient; you can start with the strong coffee so the milk can effectively thin it out and reserve the foam.
  5. Stir the coffee mixture inside the cup.
  6. Spoon reserved foam on top or leave it be (depending on your preference).
  7. Serve hot.

You may alter the recipe by including freshly ground coffee if you want a more flavorful and fresh drink. You can also grind your coffee beans at home to achieve freshly roasted brews. You may use a commercial coffee grinder or a manual coffee grinder in grinding these beans.

How to make cafe au lait

Cafè au lait and latte are often compared with each other because they use a similar amount of milk, but the former is served without froth. The café au lait is made with one cup of strongly brewed coffee or espresso and 1 or 1 ½ cups of scalded milk.

To scald the dairy drink, whisk it over a medium flame in a saucepan. Once the milk is warm or steaming, it is immediately poured over the brewed coffee to thin it out. The milk and coffee layers will then combine. You can use the traditional method of making the drink using a pot and a stove or use a modern stainless steel coffee maker.

How do you drink cafe au lait?

Pour strong coffee and scalded milk at the same time in a large ceramic cup or bowl and mix accordingly. Follow the proper proportion, which is one-third coffee and two-third milk. Traditionally it’s served in a bowl. Hold the bowl with both of your hands and drink the beverage just like the French do.

Does Starbucks have cafe au lait?

Yes, but the café au lait is referred to as Caffè Misto on their menu. It’s made with normally drip-brewed coffee and steamed 2% milk. Starbucks has popularized the addition of flavored syrups to this conventional drink. They are offering a ton of sweet variations of it.

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Now that you know the history and art of the Cafe au Lait, you can try to brew yourself a cup at the comfort of your home. Remember to pour even proportions of the milk and coffee. To truly embrace the drink, you can follow tradition and serve it in a wide-brimmed bowl, just like the French did back in the day.