cafe au lait

Are you a coffee lover who wants to know the key differences between three classic coffee drinks - flat white, latte, and café au lait? In this comprehensive comparison, we're breaking down the milk, espresso, and foam used, the brewing methods, and the taste profiles of these three drinks. Get ready to discover your new favorite coffee drink and become an expert in coffee choices!

Understanding Coffee Drinks

When it comes to coffee drinks, there are several popular options that you might encounter at your local café, including the flat white, latte, and café au lait. These coffee drinks are all crafted using a combination of espresso or brewed coffee and milk, but there are some distinct differences in their preparation, taste, and texture.

A flat white originates from New Zealand and Australia and is primarily an espresso-based dairy beverage. In its preparation, a shot of espresso is combined with a small amount of steamed milk, followed by a thin layer of velvety, glossy microfoam. This results in a coffee-forward flavor that still retains a creamy texture without excessive froth.

Lattes, on the other hand, are crafted with a different milk to coffee ratio—typically 2:1, or two parts milk to one part espresso. The milk used can be of any type, and the result is a tall, frothy beverage with a milder coffee taste compared to the flat white. Lattes are traditionally served in a tall glass, and in Italy, they are referred to as "café latte" to avoid confusion with plain milk.

Lastly, let's consider the café au lait. Unlike the flat white and latte, this drink typically contains more brewed coffee content, resulting in a stronger flavor. The type of coffee used heavily influences the final taste, with some variations even made with chicory, which imparts a bitter note to the drink. A café au lait traditionally has equal parts brewed coffee and steamed milk, which lends a smoother texture compared to the velvety microfoam found in flat whites.

In summary, the differences in preparation and components that distinguish these three coffee drinks are:

  • Espresso vs. Brewed Coffee: Flat whites and lattes use espresso, while café au lait uses brewed coffee.
  • Milk Types: Flat whites require microfoam milk, lattes can use any milk type, and café au lait uses regular steamed milk.
  • Coffee-to-Milk Ratio: Flat whites have a higher coffee-to-milk ratio, lattes have a 2:1 milk-to-coffee ratio, and café au lait typically consists of equal parts coffee and milk.

Depending on your preferences for coffee strength, milk type, and texture, it's essential to understand the differences between these popular coffee drinks to find the best option for your taste buds. Additionally, the machine used plays a significant role in the flavor and quality of the beverage. If you're looking to replicate the barista-quality taste in your café or business, it's crucial to invest in the right equipment. Consider browsing our commercial espresso machine collection to explore a variety of top-notch options. Whether you're looking to purchase a commercial espresso maker or seeking a commercial quality espresso machine for sale, we have a curated selection to meet your needs. Investing in a professional espresso maker for sale ensures that every cup served meets high standards of taste and presentation.

Flat White

Origin and History

The flat white has its roots in Australia and New Zealand. It was developed in the 1970s as a unique blend of espresso and steamed milk, and quickly gained popularity in coffee shops across both countries. Today, it is a classic coffee drink that can be found globally, but it is still most associated with its places of origin.

Ingredients and Ratios

A flat white is typically made with espresso and microfoam milk. The standard ratio is approximately 1:2, one part coffee to two parts milk. This combination creates a smooth, velvety texture that distinguishes it from the frothier milk used in lattes.

Texture and Flavor

The primary difference between a flat white and latte is the milk used. Flat whites are made with microfoam milk, a steamed, aerated milk variant that achieves a thick, velvety texture. In comparison, lattes are often served with a less dense, more frothy milk. The result is a distinctively smooth and rich taste for flat whites, with a more concentrated espresso flavor.

Caffeine Content

As both flat whites and lattes use a similar quantity of espresso, their caffeine content is generally comparable. However, as flat whites are often served in smaller cups with less milk than lattes, the overall coffee-to-milk ratio results in a stronger coffee taste and potentially higher caffeine concentration.

Latte Art

Although latte art has become more popular in recent years, the microfoam milk used in flat whites lends itself particularly well to creating beautiful patterns atop the drink. The smoothness and consistency of the microfoam allows for intricate designs to be crafted, while the contrasting espresso base showcases the art to full effect. This has led to flat whites becoming a popular choice for baristas looking to show off their latte art skills.


Origin and History

The latte, also known as the "caffè latte," has its roots in Italy. The term "latte" is derived from the Italian words "caffè e latte," which means coffee and milk. It is said that Italian baristas began experimenting with adding steamed milk to espresso in the early 1900s, leading to the latte's creation.

Ingredients and Ratios

A latte is made with espresso, steamed milk, and a small amount of milk foam. The typical ratio for a latte is 1:2:1, with one part espresso, two parts steamed milk, and a thin layer of milk foam on top. This combination creates a balanced and mild coffee flavor.

Ingredient Ratio
Espresso 1x
Steamed milk 2x
Milk foam 1x

Texture and Flavor

The latte is known for its creamy and smooth texture, due to the high proportion of steamed milk mixed with espresso. The flavor is typically mellow and not too strong, making it a popular choice for those who prefer a less intense coffee experience. Lattes can be customized with flavored syrups like vanilla or caramel, adding a touch of sweetness.

Latte Art

Latte art is a creative component of the latte-making process. Baristas use the milk foam to create intricate designs and patterns on the surface of the drink. This is achieved by carefully pouring the steamed milk and foam over the espresso while manipulating the stream to create shapes like hearts, leaves, or even complex scenes. Latte art not only adds a visual appeal but also showcases the skill and expertise of the barista.

Caffeine Content

The caffeine content of a latte varies depending on the number of espresso shots used. On average, a 12-ounce latte contains one shot of espresso, which has approximately 63 mg of caffeine. However, some lattes may have a double shot, increasing the caffeine content to around 126 mg. It's important to note that the caffeine content can also vary depending on the type of coffee beans and brewing method used for the espresso.


Origin and History

Café au lait, meaning 'coffee with milk' in French, is a popular coffee beverage that has origins in Europe, particularly France. This traditional coffee drink gained popularity in the United States, especially in New Orleans, where it is often mixed with chicory, adding a unique and distinctive flavor.

Ingredients and Ratios

The primary ingredients in café au lait include drip coffee or brewed coffee and hot milk. Typically, the ratio used is one part coffee to one part hot milk. However, variations can be found depending on personal preferences or regional styles.

Texture and Flavor

Café au lait is known for its smooth and creamy texture, owing to the use of hot milk. The milk helps to create a slightly mellow, yet still strong coffee flavor. In the case of the New Orleans-style café au lait, the chicory adds a slightly bitter, earthy taste, enhancing the overall flavor profile.

Caffeine Content

The caffeine content of café au lait depends on the type and amount of coffee beans used in the brewing process. Generally, it has a moderate caffeine level, which can vary based on factors such as bean type, roast level, and brewing method.

Preparing with French Press

A French press is a popular method for preparing café au lait. Follow these steps to make an excellent cup:

  1. Measure your desired amount of coffee beans and grind them to a medium coarseness.
  2. Pour the ground coffee into the French press.
  3. Boil water, then let it cool slightly before pouring over the coffee grounds.
  4. Stir the coffee and water mixture gently, then put the lid onto the French press.
  5. Allow the coffee to steep for 3-4 minutes, depending on your preferred strength.
  6. Press the plunger down slowly to separate the coffee grounds from the liquid.
  7. Heat the milk in a separate container, either on the stovetop or in a microwave, until it is hot, but not boiling.
  8. Pour equal parts coffee and hot milk into a cup, gently stirring to mix them evenly.

Overall, café au lait is a rich and creamy coffee beverage, with origins in Europe and variations in flavor and preparation methods.

Comparing Flat White, Latte, and Cafe-au-Lait

Differences in Preparation

When it comes to preparation, a flat white is made using espresso shots, microfoam milk, and typically has less milk than a latte. Microfoam milk is steamed and aerated to create a thick and velvety texture. A latte is also made with espresso shots, but it uses more steamed milk and has a layer of milk foam on top. The ratio is usually 2:1, or two parts milk, one part coffee. Lastly, a cafe-au-lait is made with brewed coffee instead of espresso shots, and it's mixed with steamed milk in a 1:1 ratio.

Flavor Profiles

A flat white has a strong, rich coffee flavor due to the smaller amount of milk used, while a latte has a creamier and milder taste because of the larger milk ratio. Cafe-au-lait tends to have a more subtle coffee taste compared to the other two since it is made with brewed coffee instead of espresso, making it a good choice for people who prefer a lighter coffee flavor.

Caffeine Content

Caffeine content varies depending on the type and quantity of coffee used in each drink. Flat whites and lattes, both made with espresso shots, typically have higher caffeine content compared to cafe-au-lait, which is made with brewed coffee. The exact caffeine content, however, will depend on the number of espresso shots used and the strength of the brewed coffee for the cafe-au-lait.

Texture and Mouthfeel

The texture and mouthfeel of these beverages differ mainly due to the type of milk used. Flat whites have a velvety texture and smooth mouthfeel because of the microfoam milk. Lattes also have a smooth mouthfeel, but their texture is a bit lighter due to the larger milk ratio and presence of milk foam. Cafe-au-lait typically has the thinnest texture among the three, as it uses steamed milk but without the added foam.

Size and Presentation

Flat whites are usually served in smaller cups compared to lattes and cafe-au-lait. The smaller size allows the coffee flavor to be more prominent, given the reduced milk content. Lattes are traditionally served in tall glasses and have a layer of milk foam on top, making them visually distinct. Cafe-au-lait is typically served in a larger cup or bowl, with an even mixture of brewed coffee and steamed milk, and without foam.

Popular Variations

Starbucks Flat White and Latte

Starbucks, a well-known coffee chain, offers both flat white and latte on their menu. The flat white at Starbucks generally involves a double ristretto shot, which is a more concentrated, bolder espresso shot, combined with a smaller amount of steamed milk. In comparison, their latte consists of a standard espresso shot, mixed with a larger quantity of steamed milk, and topped with a thin layer of foam. The flat white, therefore, has a stronger coffee taste, while the latte is milkier with a more subdued coffee flavor.

Regional Variations

Different countries and regions around the world have their unique interpretations of flat whites, lattes, and café au laits. In Europe, particularly France, a café au lait is made by blending equal parts of brewed coffee, usually using a French press, and hot milk. This preparation results in a stronger, more robust flavor compared to a latte, which has a higher milk-to-coffee ratio.

On the other hand, flat whites and lattes are both popular in the US and Australia, with slightly different preparation methods. In Australia, a flat white typically consists of a single or double espresso shot, followed by a smaller volume of steamed milk, resulting in a more intense coffee flavor than a latte. Meanwhile, in the US, the focus is usually on the size of the drink, with lattes serving larger portions and an overall milkier taste.

At-Home Preparation

Preparing a flat white, latte, or café au lait at home can be an enjoyable experience, giving you the freedom to tailor the drink to your personal taste. Here's a quick guide to making each drink at home:

  • Flat White: Brew an espresso using a moka pot or an espresso machine. Gently heat and steam a small amount of milk, without creating too much foam. Pour the milk over the espresso to achieve a creamy, velvety texture.

  • Latte: Prepare an espresso as you would for a flat white. Steam a larger quantity of milk and create a thick foam by aerating it. Pour the milk over the espresso, ensuring a 2:1 ratio of milk to coffee. Finish off with a dollop of foam on top.

  • Café au Lait: Brew a strong coffee using a French press or a drip coffee maker. Heat an equal amount of milk in a saucepan or a microwave. Combine the coffee and milk, adjusting the ratio to suit your desired strength and taste.

Remember, practice makes perfect when crafting these popular coffee variations. Experiment with different brewing methods, milk-to-coffee ratios, and even types of milk to find your perfect cup.

Flat White vs Latte vs Café au Lait: Understanding the Differences

Flat white, latte, and café au lait may seem like similar coffee drinks, but they have some key differences that set them apart. In this article, we will delve into the specifics of these popular beverages, comparing aspects like the milk used, serving volumes, taste, and strength to help you understand what each drink offers.

Milk Type and Texture

The primary distinction between flat white and latte lies in the type of milk used. A flat white is made with microfoam milk, which is steamed milk that has been aerated to create a thick, velvety texture. On the other hand, lattes can be made with any type of milk, including regular steamed milk or even non-dairy options.

Serving Volume and Ratios

Another difference is the serving volume. Lattes are generally served in larger volumes, with a typical serving size around 240ml. In contrast, flat whites tend to be served in smaller volumes. The milk-to-coffee ratio also varies between these drinks, with lattes using a 2:1 ratio (two parts milk, one part coffee), whereas flat whites use a higher concentration of coffee, making it a stronger coffee drink.

Café au lait also differs in its coffee-to-milk proportion. This beverage comprises equal amounts of coffee and milk, which gives café au lait a unique and balanced taste.

Taste and Strength

When it comes to taste and strength, the flat white packs a stronger coffee flavor compared to the latte due to its higher coffee concentration. A latte, with its higher milk content, offers a mellow yet creamy taste.

Café au lait is considered stronger in flavor than a latte because it uses double the amount of brewed coffee and less milk. Note that café au lait is made with different types of strong coffee, whereas flat white requires an espresso base.


In conclusion, flat white, latte, and café au lait are distinct coffee beverages despite their apparent similarities. To summarize:

  • Flat white uses microfoam milk, while lattes can use any milk type.
  • Flat white typically has a stronger coffee taste due to its higher coffee concentration.
  • Lattes feature a 2:1 milk-to-coffee ratio, resulting in a creamier, mellower flavor.
  • Café au lait contains equal parts coffee and milk and uses different types of strong coffee.

By understanding these differences, coffee enthusiasts can better appreciate the nuance and unique characteristics of each drink, allowing them to choose their ideal beverage based on personal preferences.

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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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