cafe au lait

Are you a coffee connoisseur who loves to explore different coffee drinks? In this expert guide, we're comparing two classic coffee drinks - cafe au lait and latte. Get ready to learn about the milk used, brewing methods, and taste profiles of these two drinks. Which one will be your new favorite for a cozy morning or afternoon break? Let's dive in and find out!

Cafe au Lait and Latte: Differences and Overview


Cafe au lait and latte are two distinct and popular coffee beverages that are often compared due to their shared use of milk. However, they differ in their base component, brewing methods, and ratios of milk and coffee.

A cafe au lait, originating from France and literally meaning "coffee with milk" in French, is a drink made with brewed coffee and steamed milk, typically in equal proportions.

A latte, on the other hand, hails from Italy and is composed of espresso, steamed milk, and milk froth (thick, foamy, aerated milk). Lattes require more milk than cafe au laits, with a ratio of two parts milk to one part coffee.

Brewing Methods

The core difference between the two beverages lies in their base component: the coffee used. Cafe au lait utilizes brewed coffee, which can be prepared using various brewing methods like drip, French press, or pour-over.

In contrast, a latte employs bold espresso as its base, brewed using an espresso machine that forces hot water through finely ground coffee beans under high pressure.

Ratios and Flavor

Cafe au lait and latte differ in coffee-to-milk ratios, which impacts their flavor profiles. A cafe au lait generally has a 1:1 ratio, meaning an equal amount of brewed coffee and steamed milk. This gives it a stronger coffee flavor compared to a latte.

Lattes, with their 2:1 ratio of steamed milk to espresso, have a milder and creamier taste. The larger quantity of milk mellows the boldness of the espresso, making lattes a popular choice for those who enjoy beverages with a soft coffee flavor.

Milk Foam and Texture

Another distinguishing factor between cafe au lait and latte lies in their milk foam and texture. A latte features a layer of microfoam or milk froth on top, which is created by aerating the milk to form a thick, velvety layer. This adds texture and a creamy mouthfeel to the beverage.

Conversely, cafe au lait does not include a layer of milk foam or froth. It is simply a combination of brewed coffee and steamed milk, resulting in a smoother and less velvety texture.

History and Origins

Cafe au Lait

Cafe au Lait has its roots in 17th-century France. The name itself is derived from the French phrase "café au lait," which translates to "coffee with milk." As the beverage gained popularity, it became a staple in Parisian cafes during the 1800s. Cafe au Lait eventually spread across various regions and countries, with each adopting its unique twist on the traditional recipe.

In New Orleans, for example, the American version of Cafe au Lait is often prepared by adding chicory, a bitter and woody plant, to the coffee grounds. Chicory has been used in New Orleans coffee blends since the 19th century due to disruptions in coffee supplies caused by trade embargoes. The chicory adds a rich, dark flavor complementing the strength of the coffee, creating a distinct taste that remains popular today.


The history of the latte can be traced back to Italy. The word "latte" means milk in Italian, and the full term in Italian for the drink is "café latte", which means "milk coffee". The latte's origins are not as clear-cut as those of the Cafe au Lait, but it is thought to have been a common breakfast beverage in Italian homes before it gained popularity in cafes and coffee shops. Its prominence in the industry is primarily attributed to the widespread use of espresso machines in the early 20th century.

As the popularity of the latte grew, it began to spread throughout the European continent, eventually reaching the United States. American coffeehouses started introducing the latte to customers, initiating a wave of interest in various espresso-based concoctions.

In conclusion, while Cafe au Lait and latte share similarities in being coffee drinks featuring milk, their histories have distinctively different origins in France and Italy. The unique characteristics, such as the addition of chicory in New Orleans' Cafe au Lait or the varying milk-to-coffee ratios, continue to separate these two beverages in the world of coffee.

Taste Profiles and Variations

Café au Lait

Café au lait is a coffee beverage originating from France, made with equal parts of strong, hot coffee and steamed milk. Some regions may use scalded milk instead of steamed milk. Its taste can be described as robust and flavorful, combining the strength of brewed coffee with the creamy texture of milk. The use of strong coffee, often brewed with a French press, gives café au lait a pronounced coffee presence with a smooth finish. Café au laits typically aren't served with additional flavors, allowing the taste of the coffee to shine through.


A latte, in contrast to café au lait, is made predominantly with steamed milk—usually two parts steamed milk to one part espresso—resulting in a milder coffee flavor. The coffee and hot milk are combined and then topped with a thin layer of milk foam, adding a luscious texture to the beverage. Lattes can be made with various flavors, ranging from sweet to savory, offering a wider array of taste options for coffee enthusiasts. The espresso base provides a bold foundation for the latte, but the ample milk and added flavors create a smoother, less intense experience compared to café au lait.

In summary:

  • Café au lait:
    • Strong, hot coffee and steamed milk
    • Robust, flavorful taste
    • Smooth finish
    • No added flavors
    • Typically uses French press for brewing
  • Latte:
    • Espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam
    • Milder coffee flavor
    • Variety of flavor options
    • Smooth and creamy

Both café au lait and lattes offer different flavor profiles and experiences for coffee lovers. Café au lait presents a stronger, unadulterated coffee taste, while lattes feature a smoother, customizable experience with a wider array of flavors.

Caffeine Content and Nutrition

When comparing Café au Lait and Latte, one of the main aspects to consider is their caffeine content. While both drinks contain coffee and milk, the type of coffee used in each results in different amounts of caffeine.

A Café au Lait typically contains around 90 mg of caffeine per serving. This is due to the use of brewed coffee in its preparation. The caffeine content of Café au Lait may vary depending on the type of brewed coffee used, with some blends having between 80-120 mg of caffeine. In contrast, a Latte, which is made with espresso shots, steamed milk, and a small layer of foam, has an average caffeine content of 68 mg per cup.

Aside from caffeine content, another factor to consider when comparing Café au Lait and Latte is their nutritional value, specifically the calorie content. The number of calories in these drinks may vary based on the type of milk used or any additional flavorings or sweeteners. However, in general, a Café au Lait is lower in calories compared to a Latte due to the absence of milk foam and a lower milk ratio.

To summarize the caffeine content and nutritional value of both drinks:

  • Café au Lait:

    • Caffeine Content: 80-120 mg (average of 90 mg)
    • Calories: Varies based on the type of milk and flavorings used; generally lower than a Latte
  • Latte:

    • Caffeine Content: 68 mg
    • Calories: Varies based on the type of milk and flavorings used; generally higher than a Café au Lait due to the milk foam and a higher milk ratio

Making the perfect café au lait or latte requires not just the right coffee beans but also the right equipment. A lot hinges on the method of preparation and the tools used. While many might enjoy these beverages at their favorite coffee shops, businesses looking to serve their customers the most authentic café au lait or latte need the best machinery. If you're a business or an enthusiast aiming for coffee excellence, you might want to explore the Commercial espresso machine collection at Majesty Coffee. They offer a range of professional espresso makers for sale that can help you achieve that ideal balance of flavor and texture in every cup. Whether you're aiming to serve the best café au lait or a delectable latte, having a top-quality espresso machine is key.Popular Serving Styles

Café au Lait

Café au lait is a flavorful coffee beverage made by combining strong brewed coffee and steamed milk. Traditionally, café au lait is served in a wide-brimmed bowl. This distinctive style of serving originated in France and is still prevalent in many French homes and cafés today. The purpose of using a bowl is to allow the drinker to immerse themselves in the beverage, dipping pastries or bread into the rich, milky coffee mixture.

  • Cafe au Lait Serving Options:
    • Wide-brimmed bowl: This is the most traditional way of serving café au lait, providing an authentic French experience.
    • Cappuccino cup: Some cafes may serve café au lait in a cappuccino cup, making it visually similar to a cappuccino but with a stronger coffee flavor.


On the other hand, a latte is a popular espresso-based drink made by combining bold espresso with steamed milk and a layer of milk froth. Lattes are typically served in a tall glass, which highlights the layered effect of espresso, milk, and froth. The tall glass also allows the drinker to appreciate the smooth, mellow taste of the latte as they sip. Lattes are often customizable with added flavors like caramel, vanilla, or chocolate.

  • Latte Serving Options:
    • Tall glass: This is the standard way of serving a latte and showcases the drink's visual appeal.
    • Cappuccino cup: Some establishments may use a cappuccino cup for serving smaller-sized lattes, creating a more compact presentation.

In summary, the café au lait and latte are two distinctive coffee beverages that differ not only in taste and ingredients but also in presentation. The wide-brimmed bowl of the café au lait offers an immersive experience, while the tall glass for a latte allows drinkers to enjoy the smooth, mellow flavor. In both drinks, the choice of serving vessel plays an essential role in the overall experience and appreciation of these popular coffee beverages.

Latte Art and Presentation

Latte art is an essential aspect of presenting a visually appealing and enjoyable latte. It typically involves creating intricate designs or patterns on the surface of the latte using the microfoam created during the steaming process. Skilled baristas can create a variety of shapes, such as hearts, flowers, or even animals, which adds a personal touch to each latte and showcases their expertise.

Microfoam is crucial in the art of latte presentation. It is the result of steaming milk to create a creamy, velvety texture, with tiny, consistent bubbles. The quality of the microfoam is determined by the milk's temperature, steam pressure, and the barista's technique. When done correctly, the microfoam will seamlessly blend with the espresso, forming a balanced and harmonious flavor.

Lattes are usually served in tall glasses or cups, which allows for a clear display of the various layers formed by the steamed milk, espresso, and microfoam. To create an inviting presentation, the barista can manipulate the milk's pour to form various patterns on the latte's surface. This requires precision, practice, and an understanding of how the microfoam interacts with the espresso.

In conclusion, latte art and presentation are important aspects of the overall latte experience. Mastering the creation of microfoam and utilizing it to create beautiful designs elevates the visual appeal and establishes a connection between the barista and the customer. By incorporating these elements, both the barista and the customer can appreciate the artistry and dedication that goes into crafting a perfect latte.

Cafe au Lait and Latte Alternatives

In this section, we will explore various alternatives to Café au Lait and Lattes, and provide details about each of these delicious coffee beverages.

Cappuccino and Macchiato

A Cappuccino is an espresso-based drink, similar to a latte, but with a different ratio of espresso, steamed milk, and foam. Cappuccinos typically have equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and thick foam, creating a balanced drink with a stronger coffee taste.

On the other hand, a Macchiato is an espresso drink with a small amount of milk foam on top. It offers a more intense coffee flavor than a latte or café au lait, as the primary focus is on the espresso with just a hint of milk foam for contrast.

Flat White

A Flat White is an espresso drink that's made with steamed milk, like a latte. However, flat whites typically have less foam and more microfoam, resulting in a creamier texture. The coffee flavor is still prominent, as it uses a double shot of espresso, while the milk helps to create a smooth drinking experience.


A Mocha is a delightful combination of espresso, steamed milk, and chocolate flavoring, often topped with whipped cream. The chocolate addition gives it a sweeter taste compared to other espresso-based beverages, making it a popular choice for those who want a more dessert-like experience.


An Americano is made by diluting espresso with hot water, creating a drink that's similar in strength and taste to brewed coffee. It's an excellent option for those who prefer a milder coffee flavor while still enjoying the rich qualities of espresso.

Cortado and Breve

Finally, a Cortado is an espresso drink made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk. The milk, however, is not frothy, resulting in a less voluminous beverage compared to a cappuccino, latte, or cafe au lait. This makes it a popular choice for those who prefer a more concentrated and less diluted coffee experience.

A Breve is another espresso-based drink, similar to a latte but using half-and-half instead of milk. This creates a much richer and creamier texture, making it ideal for those looking for a more indulgent coffee experience.

LatteLatte information
Tony Barlow

Tony Barlow

Majesty Coffee Technical Sales Expert - Meet the Team

Tony Barlow, with over a decade of experience in the coffee industry, is the go-to technical sales expert at Majesty Coffee. He's passionate about helping businesses find the right espresso equipment for their needs.

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