A simple drink with a French name, cafe au lait translates to “coffee with milk.” See how to make it at home and what it’s called at Starbucks.
What is a Cafe au Lait?
- “Cafe au lait” is French for “coffee with milk.” The drink originated in France and made with drip coffee (not espresso) and steamed milk.
- It’s usually made with equal parts coffee and milk but there isn’t a set rule with the ratio of coffee to milk.
- To order this drink at Starbucks, ask for a Caffè Misto.
- Cafe au laits are one of the simplest coffee shop drinks to make at home, since no espresso is required.
- A popular part of New Orleans culture, cafe au laits are sometimes made with chicory.
Difference Between Cafe au Lait and Latte
There’s more milk in a latte than in a cafe au lait. A 12 ounce latte would have 10 ounces of milk but a 12 ounce cafe au lait would have 6 ounces of milk.
Cafe au laits and lattes usually come in the same size cups, ranging from 8 ounces to 20 ounces.
Difference Between Cafe au Lait and Cappuccino
A cafe au lait is made with coffee from a drip coffee machine and a cappuccino is made with espresso.
The texture of the milk is important when it comes to making a Cappuccino but for a cafe au lait, it isn’t as important. As long as the milk is hot or steamed, it’ll work in a cafe au lait.
Cappuccinos are traditionally served in 6 ounce cups but there’s no set size for a cafe au lait. As long as there’s brewed coffee and milk, it’s a cafe au lait.
Cafe au laits can sometimes be made with chicory. Cappuccinos can sometimes be made with shaved or powdered chocolate.
Cafe au Lait at Starbucks
At Starbucks, the cafe au lait is called a Caffè Misto. It’s made with half brewed coffee and half steamed 2% milk.
Even if you don’t see cafe au lait or Caffè Misto on the menu, you can easily request one. It’s a simple drink most baristas will know how to make.
Since it’s half drip coffee, you can ask for it to be made with any of their brewed coffees like Pike Place Roast or Blonde Roast.
If you don’t specify the milk, they’ll make it with 2% steamed milk.
If you’re looking for a caffeinated drink with steamed milk but don’t want to pay for a pricy latte, get a a Caffè Misto since it’ll be about half the price.
What You’ll Need to Make a Cafe au Lait
Use your regular coffee machine and make coffee as usual. If you don’t have a coffee machine, you can brew coffee in a French press. Any kind of coffee can be used.
You can use any kind of milk you like.
Barista’s Tip: Brew coffee fresh for the best flavor.
How to Make Cafe au Lait at Home
Here’s a quick overview of the steps to make this drink. For full ingredients and instructions, scroll down to the recipe.
- Brew coffee.
Grind coffee (or use pre-ground coffee) and brew in a coffee machine.
- Froth milk
There are a few ways to froth milk at home if you don’t have an espresso machine. The two best ways are to use a French press or an electric milk frother. (See all frothing methods.)
- Pour coffee into a cup. Add frothed milk.
Notes & Tips
- There’s no one ratio for the perfect cafe au lait. The best way to figure out how much milk to add is by taste. Start with the one part milk to two parts coffee ratio. If you prefer more milk or more coffee, you can easily adjust.
- You want to choose a coffee that is low in acid for a cafe au lait. High-acid coffees, like from Ethiopia, might get lost in the milk. A coffee from Brazil is a good starting point.
- Coffee shops will have their own ratio of coffee to milk. If you’re unsure of how much milk or coffee your barista is using, feel free to ask.
- Some coffee shops use chicory to make “New Orleans” style drinks. If you see a New Orleans style cafe au lait, it’s probably made with chicory.
- You can use any type of milk for a cafe au lait.
Questions You May Have
No, cafe au laits and lattes are two different drinks. Cafe au laits are made with drip coffee as their base and lattes use espresso.
Yes. A drink with half and half is called a breve. If you want your cafe au lait with half and half, you can request a “breve cafe au lait.”
Some may confuse cafe au laits with white coffee—the difference is that the milk is steamed in a cafe au lait but it’s cold in a white coffee.
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How to Make a Cafe au Lait
- Brew coffee.Grind coffee (or use pre-ground coffee) and brew in a coffee machine.
- Froth milk.To froth milk using a French press, heat milk on the stovetop (simmer) or in a microwave then pour it into a French press. Use the plunger to pump warm milk until it doubles in volume. The quickest and best way to froth milk at home is to use an electric milk frother which heats and froths at the same time.
- Pour coffee into a cup. Add frothed milk.The drink is equal parts coffee and milk but you can adjust it to your taste.
The nutrition information is an estimate calculated using an online nutrition calculator.