When ordering your coffee, you'll have to choose between cafe au lait and cafe latte, if you like lots of milk in your coffee.
But what are the differences between these two drinks ? Aren't they essentially the same, coffee with milk added to it ?
Well, yes. But also no.
There's some pretty big differences between these coffee drinks, and ordering a late when you mean a cafe au lait is going to net you a different drink. Let's see.
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Cafe au lait VS cafe latte
Both cafe au lait and cafe latte contain milk, but in different proportions and use different kinds of coffee.
Where a latte is mostly steamed milk, and then a shot of espresso, a cafe au lait is half brewed coffee and half warm milk.
Cafe latte uses espresso, cafe au lait uses filter coffee,and lattes tend to come in larger servings.
There are more differences between these two coffee drinks, and I've discussed them in detail below.
1. Latte has much more milk than cafe au lait
The first difference that comes to mind is the amount of milk used in cafe au lait and in a latte.
For a latte, the amount of steamed milk used is at least double the amount of the espresso, and then a thin layer of milk foam is added.
The layer of milk foam is much thinner than in a cappuccino, and the steamed milk drowns out much of the coffee taste. You can order your latte with a double shot of espresso, and that would make it stronger. But that's a cappuccino, so why not order that ?
For cafe au lait (or misto) the amount of milk is not set, but there is a ratio as well. It's usually 1:1 coffee to hot milk.
There is no steaming of the milk, there is no milk foam, or froth. The milk is just heated, brought almost to the boiling point. This means it won't cool your drink, which can be a welcome thing.
For latte though, the milk used most be steamed, and the milk foam is mandatory. even if it's in a small layer, it's still an iconic part of a latte.
As for the cafe au lait, he 1:1 coffee to milk ratio makes the coffee shine through much more. But there is the difference between an espresso and a cup of filter coffee to contend with.
While espresso is a strong drink, the amount of milk used in a latte will cover up lots of that taste. The filter coffee having just as much hot milk is going to taste much more strongly of coffee.
Read Also: Is Black Coffee Good For You ?
2. Cafe au lait is usually made with filter coffee, latte only uses espresso
Alright, what about the coffee used in these drinks ? Both of them use strong coffee, yes, but in different ways.
Usually cafe au lait will use filter coffee. This is possibly because it was first a staple of the masses, and filter coffee was the most common way to drink coffee.
But since black coffee is often too harsh for many people, and given the amount of liquid brewed, it needed to be toned down with milk. So, adding milk became a thing, along with sugar, very often.
Of course, the brewed coffee can also be made with a French press, if you want to be extra snazzy. This will give you a stronger-tasting coffee than the filter.
Or, you can use Turkish coffee, made with their very small and cozy ibric. All 3 coffee methods will yield a strong cup of coffee.
No matter how you make your cafe au lait, as long as it's 1:1 coffee to milk, you're good.
A latte will always, always use a shot of espresso. A latte made with any other kind of coffee is not a latte. The taste would be different, and the ratio would be off as well.
There is also the fact that espresso is the only coffee drink that produces crema, which is crucial when making latte art.
3. Latte is a standard drink, cafe au lait can be many things
The way latte is made is very specific, as in the way it uses only espresso, and only steamed milk, and only milk foam.
The order in which the elements are added into your cup matter as well. adding the espresso first and the milk after is going to give your latte a slightly different taste than adding the milk first and then the espresso.
There is an art to latte, and it's a beautiful one.
Cafe au lait is more freestyle. It's not as beautiful as a latte, since there is no latte art and no milk foam to play with.
Still, cafe au lait is anything you want it to be.
Now, this is how I've had my coffee after starting college. After drinking it black, as an espresso at home, in college I found myself with an ibric and making Turkish coffee, to which I decided I needed to add milk and sugar.
In Europe cafe au lait is pretty much the standard for home-made coffee, now that I think about it. Some people do have their espresso machines, but most use a simple filter machine. Brew a cup, add a whole lot of milk, and possibly sugar.
That's my cafe au lait, and it's as valid as a French cafe au lait, or a German cafe au lait.
Cafe au lait means "coffee with milk", and really that's all there is to it. Some people choose to go heavy on the milk and it turns into a sort of flat white.
Others still only add a few drops of milk and it would still be called cafe au lait.
Think of this drink as the most basic, humble, and homely kind of coffee drink there is. It's the drink everyone's grandma knows, and what she expects when she asks for a coffee (for the most part).
Now, in the U.S. things are a bit different. I know there is a very specific custom in New Orleans where powdered chicory root is added to cafe au lait.
This is a remnant of the times when times were tough and coffee was scarce. Everything was scarce, really. It was the Civil War period. Chicory was often used in place of coffee to make the drink more bitter and resemble a cup of coffee.
Aside from chicory, I think every state has its own, informal way of making cafe au lait, without even talking about it.
Again, this is the simplest form of coffee, and one of the oldest. If you've ever visited relatives 3 states away and they offered you home-made coffee, to which you added quite a bit of milk, that's a cafe au lait right there.
Europe just decided to make things a bit more fancy by adding it to a restaurant menu, despite being one of the most basic coffee drinks.
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4. Serving sizes differ wildly for caffe au lait
Alright, now for serving sizes. Cafe latte (or just latte) is going to be a certain serving size.
It's normally about 10 oz/300 ml total, counting the espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. You're not going to get a smaller one, unless you specifically ask the barista to make it smaller, and thus use a short espresso shot.
This is true for pretty much every latte across the world, since the standard espresso shot is 3 oz/88 ml and everything is based off that.
For cafe au lait, things get a little wild.
There will be coffee shops where you only get a 6 oz/177 ml cafe au lait, coffee and milk already added. There will be places where you can get a 12 oz/354 ml cafe au lait, and it would still be alright.
It very much depends on what brewing method was used to make the coffee. Filter coffee will usually be a larger serving, while Turkish coffee will be a smaller serving, simply because the coffee pot is so tiny.
For my own cafe au lait, it usually reaches 10 oz/300 ml, with about 70% coffee and 30% milk. It's the coffee I drink in the morning, and I serve it alongside a small breakfast.
5. Latte has the famous latte art, cafe au lait has no such thing
The famous latte art, everyone seems to be in love with it. And for a very good reason too, since it's beautiful to look at, and a hard skill to master.
There can be no latte art without the milk foam, and this is a signature of lattes across the world. Cappuccino also has this beautiful mark, possibly more intricate since the milk foam is thicker.
Cafe au lait hs no such thing, as it's a much simpler drink. Fairly plain to look at, but still delicious in its own right.
This doesn't mean you can't add milk foam to a cafe au lait. Since the definition of this drink seems to be so flexible, I think a bit of milk foam isn't unheard of.
Latte art would be much harder to make on such a cup of coffee though, as it has no crema to contrast the milk foam.
What is latte/ caffe latte, and how to make one at home
Okay, those were the main differences. How about making one at home though ? Easy enough, so let's get to it.
A latte, or cafe latte, is a shot of espresso with a whole lot of steamed milk and milk foam on top. This means you can't make it with anything but espresso, so you best have on at hand.
Be wary of asking for a latte in any Latin country (like Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Brasil, Mexico, and so on) since the root word for milk is always a variation on latte or leche, and you'll find a glass on plain milk in front of you instead of coffee with milk.
To make a latte at home you'll need:
- 3 oz/88 ml of espresso
- 6 oz/88 ml of steamed milk
- 1 oz/30 ml of milk foam
You can start by making the espresso, and adding the milk foam, and finally the steamed milk. Or, you can add the steamed milk and milk foam first, and add the espresso last. This will color the latte art very differently.
What is cafe au lait, and how to make one at home
As for cafe au lait, this is simple enough to make at home if you've got a filter machine, a small coffee pot, or French press. Most people have at least one of these.
To make cafe au lait you'll need equal parts brewed coffee, and hot milk. The total amount is up to you, as long as the ratio is roughly 1:1 coffee to milk.
Brew you cup of coffee as usual, and heat up the milk separately. Stop heating before it reaches the boiling point. Once the coffee is done and is poured into your cup, add your milk and mix.
Add sugar to taste if you wish.
Adding a bit of milk foam is alright, and lightly frothing your milk altogether is another version of making cafe au lait, though take into account it will occupy more space in the cup, since the bubbles will expand it.
When making any kind of coffee drink it's important to know the main differences between them, but we should also feel free to tweak them a bit if we like.
This is very true for those of us who drink our coffee at home, and would like to drink it just the way we like it.
When we do have coffee somewhere else though, it's crucial to know the way each drink is made, so you can order the exact one you like. I don't know about you but I would be very upset if I ordered a mocha and ended up with a macchiato instead.
Same with latte and cafe au lait. They're different, despite being essentially the same.
If you want to know more about coffee or tea, feel free to check the related articles below. Who knows what else you might find ?