Café Au Lait is a hot French coffee drink made with filter coffee and hot milk. The direct translation into English is “coffee with milk” and it’s made with equal parts coffee and steamed milk and should not be confused with a “Latte” which is also a coffee with milk.
A Café Au Lait coffee can be particularly confusing because any coffee that is not black is a coffee with milk so we will explain exactly how you work out the difference between them all.
To make it even more confusing, if you are in France you will never be able to order a café au lait in a coffee shop.
Coffee shops in France don’t really serve filter coffee and its far more standard to order a “café crème” which is also a coffee with milk but it is made with espresso rather than filter coffee.
Café au lait in France is made mostly in the comfort of your own home as a breakfast drink and is combined with traditional French food such as a croissant.
Where there are very specific criteria for some coffee drinks such as cappuccino or latte or flat white or cortado and many others, with café au lait it is more open to interpretation with just a few basic rules that need to be followed.
How much milk is in a Café Au Lait?
The amount of milk you use is directly proportionate to the amount of coffee you use.
As a general guide aim for around 50% coffee and 50% milk but it isn’t an exact science.
The way I prefer to add the milk to get the perfect café au lait is to observe the colour of the coffee.
It’s about personal preference and I prefer my coffee quite strong so when I add the milk I am looking for a dark brown colour so that the milk doesn’t dilute the coffee flavour and make it too milky.
That’s my preference but if you drink a lot of lattes then you probably prefer it to be milder so add more milk until you get a lighter brown shade of coffee.
With a café au lait it’s not about creating a drink to an exact specification because there are plenty of other coffee drinks out there that are very precise.
It is a “coffee with milk” after all so make yourself exactly that. The main thing is to make it with hot steamed milk as opposed to cold milk.
Regardless of the type of coffee, I never make it with cold milk anyway.
All coffee tastes better with hot steamed milk so if you are not doing that at the moment then give it a try. Your coffee will instantly taste better.
You don’t even need to spend any money on any gadgets to heat your milk either. Just pop it in the microwave for 60 seconds to heat it up before adding it to your coffee.
For the best results you can use a milk frother because it will not only heat your milk it will ‘aerate” the milk.
Tiny air bubbles get added to the milk and make it creamier with more texture just like the way they heat the milk in a coffee shop.
You can find more information about the best milk frothers in this article:
A café au lait doesn’t get served with any milk froth so if any froth gets produced during the heating process put a spoon up against the lip of the jug so that only liquid milk gets poured into the cup and no froth.
How to make a café au lait
A Café au lait is made with filter coffee, not espresso and because you are adding a lot more milk than you normally would compared to if you were just making yourself a normal white coffee you should make your filter coffee stronger than normal.
The first thing you need to make an authentic café au lait is a filter coffee machine.
Filter coffee is without a doubt one of the most underrated methods for making a great tasting cup of coffee.
You get to use fresh coffee, its easy and entry level filter coffee machines are very cheap and affordable to everyone.
If you are used to drinking instant coffee then get a cheap filter coffee machine and you will notice a huge difference in flavour without having to invest a load of money in an expensive espresso machine.
Using the correct amount of coffee and water together in the correct ratio is important to get the right balance of flavour.
Normally we would suggest 60 grams of coffee to each litre of water so if you are making a couple of mugs for yourself at 250ml per mug then use 30 grams of coffee and 500ml of water.
For café au lait, make it a bit stronger than normal and use 70 grams of coffee per litre of water as it will dilute more with the addition of more milk than normal.
Here is a detailed article that explains the importance of using the right amount of water and coffee:
Here are some of the best value filter coffee machines for you to consider to make a great café au lait:
Once you have brewed your coffee then add milk as described above and enjoy!
A slight word of warning and something to be aware of is that if you have a Dolce Gusto coffee machine then you can buy “café au lait” capsules.
This is not something we would recommend as you will not get anything close to a café au lait flavour as the capsule contains powdered milk.
Always use fresh milk as it tastes miles better than powdered. If you do have a Dolce Gusto machine then use an espresso capsule and add your own fresh milk as described above.
Here is Dolce Gusto’s video for café au lait:
What’s the difference between a café au lait and all the other coffee with milk drinks?
With a café au lait you can tweak it to suit your taste with a stronger coffee for a fuller taste or more milk for a milder smoother flavour.
Other coffee drinks have more specific criteria for how they are made.
Here are some articles that go into detail on how to make some of the more popular drinks you can find in a coffee shop or make at home:
How much caffeine is in a Café Au Lait?
Filter coffee is naturally weaker than the likes of espresso so you can expect to have around 100mg of caffeine in a regular 200ml cup of filter coffee.
But because you are adding a lot more milk to a café au lait than you normally would to a regular cup of filter coffee we recommend brewing it stronger than normal and that will increase the caffeine content.
There a number of different things that can affect the caffeine content of coffee including coffee to water ratio and the type of beans you are using.
Using a medium to dark roast coffee brewed slightly stronger than normal you can expect around 125mg of caffeine in a cup of café au lait coffee which is comparable to the amount you would find in a double espresso.