The café au lait is made using brewed coffee and steamed milk, in a typical ratio of one part coffee to one part steamed milk with no froth or foam on top (coffee shops will sometimes add it though). The coffee base is usually made with a French press or a drip, the milk must always be steamed. The café au lait is not the same as white coffee which is brewed coffee with cold milk or powdered whitener added.
What does ‘café au lait’ mean?
Café au lait hails from France and simply translates to ‘coffee with milk’. The term ‘au lait’ means to prepare with milk. It’s usually prepared with half coffee and half heated milk, making it the perfect coffee to sip slowly.
The beverage goes back a long way and references to the drink are even found in the letters of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, the Marquise de Sévigné in the early to mid-17th century. Today the coffee is still enjoyed across France, traditionally served in an oversized mug or bowl for dunking pastries during breakfast.
Interestingly, the café au lait has many variations around the world. In Poland it’s known as the ‘kawa biala’, in Germany as ‘milchkaffee’, in Hungary as ‘tejeskávé’, in Dutch it’s a ‘koffie verkeerd’ and in Brazil ‘café com leite’. One of the most interesting distinct versions of the Café au Lait is found in New Orleans where the coffee is combined with chicory for a strong, bitter flavour that’s also thicker in consistency. This variation dates back to the American Civil War when coffee was scarce, mixed with chicory to make it last longer.
The café au lait is often confused with the latte as they are both milky coffees, but they are quite different. The latte is milkier, made with two distinct, thicker layers of steamed and foamed milk. The Café au Lait tends to be made with regular brewed coffee (from a French Press or drip), whereas the latte is always made with an espresso base.
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