When it comes to coffee, there are many different options to choose from. You can get regular coffee, espresso, cappuccino, latte, and more.
But what’s the difference between café au lait and latte? And which one should you order?
Let’s get started.
What is a Café au Lait?
It is always important to understand the different names and types of coffee, so when you order in a coffee shop or café you know what you will get. For example, if you order a white coffee you will get a cup of black coffee to which some cold milk has been added. If you order a Café au Lait you will get something slightly different.
Café au Lait translates from French as coffee with milk and has been traditionally made with a base of drip coffee or French Press coffee to which is added an equal amount of steamed or heated milk, without foam. In France, it is usually served in a bowl and served in this way in some coffee shops in other countries.
Of course, nothing is quite that basic and there are variations of this drink in different cafes and different regions. Keep reading to learn more about this simple and popular drink.
Café au Lait Variations
As I said above, Café au Lait is traditionally made with a drip or French Press coffee, but with the development of the espresso machine and its popularity in cafes around the world, the drink is often made with a shot of espresso to which is added an equal amount of steamed milk without foam.
One interesting variation is found in New Orlean’s French Quarter where it is made with a blend of coffee and chicory and known as an American Café au Lait.
Chicory is the roasted, ground root of the chicory plant which has a similar taste to coffee, and traditionally it was mixed with real coffee during the American Civil War when there was a shortage of coffee beans and is still served today.
In Starbucks stores, Café au Lait is called a Caffe Misto and is made with 50/50 fresh brewed coffee and steamed milk.
What is a Latte?
You might think that Café Latte is the Italian version of Café au Lait, and you are probably right. But while the name translates as the same “coffee with milk” it differs in the way it is made.
A latte is always espresso-based, with one or two shots of espresso to which is added a layer of steamed milk and a small layer of milk foam. It is similar to a cappuccino but with more milk and less foam.
Whereas a Café au Lait is traditionally served in a bowl, a latte is traditionally served in a glass, like a whisky tumbler, although just to be confusing, some cafes also serve latte in a bowl.
Café au Lait vs Latte: Which is Stronger?
When Café au Lait is made with a drip or French Press it is quite a strong coffee with a 1:1 coffee/milk ratio, and double the amount of coffee to a Latte.
Latte is usually one-third coffee to two-thirds milk and milk foam so it is a more mellow, milkier drink. Also being espresso-based the coffee content is not as strong as a drip coffee.
Café au Lait vs Latte: Caffeine
Since the two drinks are made with different types and amounts of coffee, the amount of caffeine is also different.
Café au Lait is served with a larger volume of coffee and the coffee is made using drip or press, which extracts more caffeine from the coffee grounds over a longer time, over several minutes.
In the average serving of Café au Lait, there are around 90 milligrams of caffeine.
The extraction time for a shot of espresso if around 25 to 30 seconds so less caffeine is extracted from the grounds and the average amount of caffeine in a serving is 68 mg.
Café au Lait vs Latte: Calories
Calories in coffee come from the fat and lactose sugar in the milk. On that basis, black espresso coffee is the lowest in calories at an average of 3 calories in a single shot.
Café au Lait with equal proportions of coffee and milk has around 70 calories in the average serving.
A Café Latte has the highest proportion of milk to coffee and as a result has the highest calorie level, at around 110 calories per serve.
So if you are trying to lose weight, keep it black!
Café au Lait vs Latte: Which tastes better?
When it comes to coffee, the flavor and taste are dictated by the original bean and how it is roasted. With coffee made by different methods and different ingredients, provided they use the same coffee grounds, it is not possible to say that one has a better taste than another.
It’s like asking which tastes better, an apple or an orange? It just depends on which flavor you prefer.
A Latte has a milder, milkier flavor with the smoothness of the espresso as a base. A Café au Lait has a stronger flavor with a higher coffee ratio and the strength of brewed coffee.
Final thoughts on Café au Lait vs Latte
Today’s world of coffee can be confusing but also very enjoyable for a coffee lover, with so many different varieties to try.
But as this article shows, you need to learn about the drinks and how they are made, so you always know what you are ordering.
So, the next time you are in a Starbucks or café and pondering whether to order a Café au Lait or Latte, now you know the difference.