What is a Café au Lait: Complete Drink Guide

This caffeinated beverage is the go-to morning drink of many coffee lovers.

Still, some people don’t really know what cafè au lait actually is.

Furthermore, its sophisticated name is a bit intimidating to pronounce, which is the reason why many coffee shop customers avoid ordering one.

To be fair, the cafè au lait is a pretty simple coffee drink that you’ve probably had at least once in your life without knowing it.

In this drink guide, I will give you a definition of what it is and how it compares to a caffè latte or a caffè misto.

Furthermore, I will show you how to easily make a cafè au lait at home.

So without further ado, let’s dive in.

What is a Café Au Lait:The Definition

The café au lait has its roots in France and its name literally means “coffee with milk”.

The French usually have it as their morning drink along with their breakfast, such as a baguette or a croissant.

Now here’s what a cafè au lait is:
The café au lait is a hot coffee beverage made of brewed coffee (French press, Drip coffee, Moka pot coffee, etc.) and steamed milk.

It’s traditionally served in a 13 fl. oz. (380 ml.) bowl with no handles.

Unlike the caffè latte, the cafè au lait isn’t made with espresso and contains no milk foam.

Still, at some coffee shops, the cafè au lait is served topped off with a dollop of milk.

Author’s note: The cafè au lait is traditionally served in a porcelain coffee bowl.

The width of the bowl is convenient, as the French would often dip their baguette into their coffee with milk.

The lack of handles has another function – picking it up warms your hands and makes you feel cozy.

Nowadays, the cafè au lait isn’t often served in this type of coffee bowl, even in France.

Nevertheless, if you feel like you want this authentic cafè au lait experience, you can get one of the following porcelain bowls:

The cafè au lait is pretty much the same as the Italian caffè misto.

What sets these caffeinated beverages apart is the fact that the latter always consists of equal parts of coffee and milk.

The proportions of the two ingredients in a cafè au lait may vary from one coffee shop to another or depending on the requirements of the consumer.

Some people like it with a better-pronounced coffee flavor, while others – more diluted and milky.

This explains why there are two main types of Nescafe Dolce Gusto Cafe au Lait coffee pods : Intenso, and regular Cafe Au Lait Dolce Gusto pods. The Intenso pods contain less milk powder and more coffee compared to the regular cafe au lait Dolce Gusto pods.

At Starbucks, the cafè au lait is the same as the caffè misto, as it’s always prepared with the 1:1 brewed coffee to steamed milk ratio.

Adjusting the intensity of the coffee flavor can be done by adjusting the roast.

The darker the roast profile of the beans you choose – the bolder your Starbucks cafè au lait is going to be.

Author’s Note: There is a reason why in the world of coffee roasting the term ‘French roast’ exists.

The dark roast profile is the most widely spread in France.

Darkly roasted coffees are usually more bitter, oily, and with a heavier body.

This style works quite well in combination with milk, as the latter mellows the intense coffee flavor, which results in a pleasantly-balanced beverage.

Cafè au lait Pronunciation

Cafè au lait is pronounced ‘caf-fay-oh-lay’. Here’s a video that will make it even easier for you to confidently pronounce its name when you order this coffee beverage:

Fun Fact: the cafè au lait is so popular, that it’s often used to describe a color.

You may also hear a dog lover mention the cafè au lait poodle. The coffee beverage’s color is used to describe the hue of the dog’s fur.

Furthermore, you may also hear someone mentioning cafè au lait when describing birthmarks, spots, and skin patches. These are officially called cafè au lait macules (CALM).

Now that you know what a cafè au lait is and how to pronounce it, it’s time to move on to its recipe.

How to Make a Cafè au Lait at home: Recipe

Making an authentic cafè au lait at home is quite easy.

Preparing this beverage doesn’t really require solid barista skills or expensive equipment, such as an espresso machine.

Unlike other classic coffee beverages, such as latte, cappuccino, or flat white, the cafè au lait can be prepared with a variety of coffee-making devices.

You can use your drip coffee maker, AeroPress, French press, or Moka pot.

It doesn’t matter whether you use drip or filter-style brewer – it’s really up to you and your preferences.

My top recommendation is to stick to Moka pot coffee if you’re a fan of a more intense and bold coffee flavor.

So here’s how to make a cafè au lait at home:

  1. Prepare your coffee in your brewer of choice.
  2. Pour milk into a saucepan and place it over medium heat. The milk should be heated gently and slowly for about 3 minutes. The ideal milk temperature is within the 140°F to 150°F (60°C to 65°C) range.
  3. Pour your brewed coffee into a cup.
  4. Add the warm milk to taste.

For this cafè au lait recipe, I used a 1:1 coffee to steamed milk ratio. In other words, I prepared a caffè misto. With that being said, feel free to adjust the ratio according to your taste.

There are no strict rules when it comes to the preparation of a cafè au lait.

With that being said, at the bottom of this page, you can find a printable cafè au lait recipe card that you can use for basic guidelines.

Final words

I hope that you found my cafè au lait guide useful.

As you see, the only complicated thing about this coffee beverage is its name.

You can order it at a cafe or prepare it at home – you can’t really go wrong with this type of drink.

Furthermore, you can make an iced cafè au lait, by using cold milk. Just pour your coffee into a glass filled with ice cubes and add the desired amount of milk.

The iced cafè au lait can also be made with cold brew concentrate, which results in a nice refreshing drink that I’m sure you’d love.

Leave me a comment below to share your thoughts or ask me a question.

Café au lait

Café au lait

Simple French coffee drink, made with brewed coffee and steamed milk. It's traditionally served in a 13 fl. oz. (380 ml) porcelain bowl with no handles.

This caffeinated beverage is pretty much the same as the Caffè Misto. Nevertheless, there are no strict rules when it comes to the coffee-to-steamed milk ratio when you're making a Café au lait. This isn't the case with the Misto, as it's usually made with a 1:1 ratio.

For a more intense coffee flavor, I recommend using Moka pot coffee. Adding less milk will also result in a better-pronounced coffee aroma and taste.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 2 minutes
Total Time 2 minutes


  • 6 fl. oz. (180 ml.) of brewed coffee
  • 6 fl. oz. (180 ml.) of steamed milk


  1. Prepare coffee in a coffee maker of your choice.
  2. Pour milk into a saucepan and set over medium heat. The ideal milk temperature is within the following range: 140°F to 150°F (60°C to 65°C).
  3. Pour brewed coffee into a cup.
  4. Add warm milk (to taste).
  5. Add a dollop of milk foam on top (optional).

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