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The Café au Lait is a drink that’s been around for centuries, but it’s one that’s not necessarily been so popular on the boards of coffeehouses in the UK until recently. If you’ve spotted this exotic sounding coffee cropping up in your favourite coffee shop, you’ll likely be wondering “what is a café au lait?” and how does it differ to other coffee types?

What is a Café au Lait?

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 (sometimes certain coffee shops will add it though). The coffee base is usually made with a French press or a drip and 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 in.

What does Café au Lait mean?

The Café au Lait hails from France and in its home country the phrase literally translates to ‘coffee with milk’. The term au lait, means prepare with milk. Café au lait is usually prepared with half coffee and half heated milk, making it the perfect coffee to sip slowly.

Café Au lait and Croissant

Café au Lait origins

The beverage dates back a long way and references to the Café au Lait is 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 and it’s traditionally served in an oversized mug or bowl for the drinker to dunk pastries in during breakfast.

Cup of Café Au Lait

Variations of the Café au Lait

Interestingly, the Café au Lait has many variations in countries across the world, in Poland it’s known as the ‘Kawa Biala’, Germany ‘Milchkaffee’, Hungary ‘Tejeskávé’, Dutch ‘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 very strong, intense and bitter flavour that’s also thicker in consistency. This variation dates back to the American Civil War when coffee was very scarce so it was mixed with chicory to make it last longer.

Glasses Of Café Au Lait And Latte

What’s the difference between a Café au Lait and a Latte?

The Café au Lait is often confused with the Latte as it’s another milky coffee, however they are rather different. For a start, the latte is milkier as it’s made with two distinct and thicker layers of steamed and foamed milk. The Café au Lait also tends to be made with regular brewed coffee (from a French Press or drip), whereas the Latte is always made with an espresso base.

Now you know what Café au Lait coffee is! Want to learn more about different coffee types? Find out what a Cappuccino is, next.

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