Cafe au Lait vs Latte: Unveiling The Key Differences

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Have you ever caught yourself in a cozy little café, your gaze bouncing back and forth between ‘café au lait’ and ‘latte’ on the menu?

If so, rest assured you’re not alone.

That befuddled look as we all try to decipher these coffee cousins is more common than you might think.

But fear not! We’ve done the legwork for us curious coffee lovers by diving into the intriguing backstories and specific traits that separate these two creamy delights.

By the time you finish this article, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to order like a pro – maybe even throw in a coffee fact or two to share with your favorite barista while you’re at it!

Key Takeaways

  • Café au lait is a French drink made with equal parts brewed coffee and hot milk, served in a big cup or bowl without foam.
  • Lattes are Italian and have more milk than café au lait, including a shot of espresso topped with steamed milk and a layer of frothed milk foam for latte art.
  • The brewing method differs; café au lait uses drip coffee or French press, while lattes use espresso as the base.
  • Milk is key to both drinks: café au laits have hot milk mixed in, while lattes have more steamed milk plus frothy foam on top.
  • Your choice of whole, skimmed, or plant-based milk affects the calorie and caffeine content of both café au lait and lattes.

Origins and History

Let’s look at the storied pasts of these beloved beverages where French flair meets Italian tradition.

From elegant Parisian mornings to bustling Milanese afternoons, café au lait and latte have brewed their way through history, becoming integral parts of coffee cultures around the world.

The French Roots Of Café au Lait

We know café au lait as a cozy morning friend.

It has strong French roots that take us back to the 18th century Parisian cafés.

Imagine the streets of France filled with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee; that’s where our beloved white coffee comes from.

Its name, which means “coffee with milk,” captures its simplicity and charm.

This classic French drink started out in European coffee culture long ago.

It mixes good old brewed coffee with warm, steamed milk.

People in France often enjoy it in a large bowl or cup, soaking up the start of their day with every sip.

Café au lait remains a timeless choice for those who love their coffee rich yet smooth.

The Italian Heritage Of Latte

Latte has its roots deep in Italian culture.

This rich beverage evolved into the caffè latte we adore today.

Italians cherish their espresso-based drinks, and a latte is no exception.

It mixes strong espresso with warm, creamy milk to create a comforting cup.

In Italy, coffee is more than just a drink; it’s part of daily life.

Baristas craft each latte with precision using an espresso machine and steam wand.

They pour steamed milk over a perfectly pulled shot of espresso, then top it with smooth microfoam.

This technique not only makes lattes delicious but also perfect for creating beautiful latte art on top.

Key Differences

While they may seem similar at first glance, each boasts distinct characteristics in their preparation, ingredients, and even cultural significance that set them apart.

What Are They?

Café au lait is a coffee drink that blends brewed coffee and hot milk in equal parts.

You don’t see foam on top, making it smooth and creamy.

People often enjoy it in a large bowl or cup to savor the gentle mix of flavors.

A latte goes differently with its layers – an espresso shot at the base followed by more steamed milk and finally topped with a light layer of foamy milk.

This structure creates the perfect canvas for what many baristas turn into art – patterns swirled into the foam known as latte art.

It’s served tall which makes room for all that delicious milk and espresso comfort.

Key Differences In Preparation And Ingredients

Café au lait and lattes have their own unique ways of mixing coffee and milk.

While we prepare café au laits with a higher coffee to milk ratio, a latte involves more milk and less coffee.

We use strong brewed coffee for the café au lait, sometimes even chicory-infused like in New Orleans.

For lattes, espresso is the base which gives it a bolder taste.

The texture of the drinks also stands out because of how we handle the milk.

In café au lait, hot milk is gently poured into the brewed coffee.

But for a latte, we steam and froth the milk until it’s creamy before adding it to espresso.

This process creates that smooth layer of foam on top that makes room for beautiful latte art – something you won’t find with a café au lait.

Overview Of Café au Lait

This classic French drink marries the robust taste of brewed coffee with the creaminess of steamed milk, presenting a soothing experience that’s cherished by coffee aficionados globally.

Made With Equal Parts Brewed Coffee And Steamed Milk

We love the simplicity of café au lait.

It’s a cozy drink made with one part strong brewed coffee and one part steamed milk.

To get that rich taste, we often use a French press for the coffee.

Then we steam the milk until it’s hot but not frothy like in a latte.

This creates a smooth blend that warms you up without overwhelming your taste buds.

Pouring the brewed coffee and steamed milk together at equal measures results in this classic drink.

We serve café au lait in big bowls or cups to enjoy its warmth and comforting flavor fully.

Typically Lacks Foam

Café au lait stands out because it doesn’t have the milk froth you find on a latte.

Instead of being topped with that fluffy layer, it’s all about the smooth blend of hot milk and rich coffee.

The steamed milk we pour into café au lait gives it a warm and comforting texture, but without creating any foam.

You’ll notice this difference right away when you get your drink in a bowl or cup.

Café au lait offers a more traditional coffee experience where the emphasis is on simplicity.

Served In A Wide-Brimmed Bowl Or A Cup

A café au lait stands out with its classic French flair.

As mentioned earlier, it’s typically served in a steaming wide-brimmed bowl waiting for you to wrap your hands around it, just like they do in France.

This isn’t just any coffee experience; it’s a nod to tradition that feels cozy and grand all at once.

If bowls aren’t your style, don’t worry!

The same delicious café au lait also comes in a white mug.

It marries half rich brewed coffee with half warmed milk, giving you a smooth sip every time.

Overview Of A Latte

In the world of coffee, a latte stands out for its harmonious blend of bold espresso and creamy milk, topped with a delicate foam that invites artistic expression.

This Italian staple has charmed coffee shops around the globe, beckoning connoisseurs to indulge in a beverage that’s as much a visual treat as it is a comforting sip.

Made With Espresso, Steamed Milk, And Milk Foam

We love how a latte brings together the rich taste of espresso and the creaminess of steamed milk.

This drink starts with a shot of strong espresso.

Then, we pour in 6 to 8 ounces of hot, steamed milk.

It creates a smooth and warm sip every time.

The final touch is that soft layer of frothed milk foam on top.

Served In A Tall Glass Or Cup

Lattes stand tall and proud in their signature glass or cup.

These drinks show off their beautiful layers for everyone to see.

The milk foam rests on top like a fluffy cloud, often decorated with artful designs.

This presentation turns your coffee break into a special moment.

You get the full experience of sipping through the creamy foam before you reach the rich espresso below.

Every café has those clear glasses lined up, ready to serve this Italian favorite.

It’s not just about taste; it’s a feast for the eyes too!

Known For Latte Art On The Foam

We love creating beautiful designs on our lattes.

This is where the magic of latte art comes in.

Baristas craft amazing patterns by pouring microfoam into espresso.

They make this foam by adding steam to milk and heating it quickly, changing its texture.

It takes skill and practice to create perfect hearts, leaves, or even animals in your cup!

A Barista will typically use the steamed frothy milk as a canvas for art that makes your drink special.

Not only does it look fantastic, but it also tells you that they’ve made your coffee with care and attention to every detail.

Brewing Methods

Our exploration of brewing techniques reveals the unique processes behind each drink’s creation, highlighting why espresso is a must for your latte while café au lait champions the use of simpler methods like drip coffee or French press.

Let’s look at how these distinct preparations define your cup’s character.

Brewing Methods For The Coffee Base In Each Drink

We use different brewing methods to get the coffee base just right for each drink.

For a latte, we rely on espresso that is brewed using high pressure and hot water.

This method extracts intense flavors and creates a strong foundation essential for mixing with lots of steamed milk.

For café au lait, we go for drip coffee or sometimes even French press.

Why do we use these particular brewing methods?

Well, these brewing methods produce a rich, robust flavor that perfectly complements the smoothness of steamed milk.

Drip coffee offers a consistent and controlled extraction, resulting in a clean and clear taste, while the French press allows for a fuller body and deeper coffee flavors due to its immersion brewing technique.

So, we brew regular coffee beans slowly to capture smoothness perfect for blending with an equal part of hot milk or your favorite dairy substitute.

Importance Of Espresso In A Latte

Espresso is the heart of a latte.

It gives this beloved coffee drink its distinctive rich flavor and robust strength.

Making a great latte starts with pulling the perfect espresso shot.

The high pressure of an espresso machine extracts the coffee’s oils, aroma, and flavor.

This creates a concentrated foundation that stands up to the sweetness and creaminess of steamed milk.

Our lattes wouldn’t pack that energizing punch without espresso’s caffeine kick.

A single shot can rev up your morning, while a double shot amps up the buzz for those who need an extra boost.

Lattes offer smoothness from milk balanced with espresso’s deep complexity—a harmony that has made them a favorite at cafes all around the world!

Use Of Drip Coffee Or French Press For Café au Lait

We often reach for a French press or drip coffee maker to brew the strong coffee base needed for café au lait.

These methods are perfect because they draw out the rich flavors from the coffee grounds, creating a robust taste that balances well with steamed milk.

A French press gives us control over brewing time and strength, which is great for crafting a personalized cup of café au lait.

Choosing between a French press and drip coffee depends on how much time we have and what texture we prefer.

A drip machine can make smooth coffee quickly, which is ideal for busy mornings.

However, if you love deeper flavor notes in your drink, using a French press might be better since it allows more oils and fine particles into the brew.

Milk: The Differentiator

When we delve into the heart of what sets café au lait apart from a latte, milk emerges as the true differentiator.

It’s not just about whether it steams or froths; it’s how this dairy element interacts with the coffee to create distinct textures and flavors unique to each beverage.

The Role Of Milk In Defining The Texture And Flavor

Milk makes a big difference in our coffee drinks.

It changes not just the taste but also how the drink feels in our mouths.

For café au lait, we use warmed milk that mixes with brewed coffee to create a creamy texture.

This gives it a rich and somewhat strong flavor.

On the other hand, steamed milk goes into making a latte, leading to that smooth and velvety feel we all love.

Since espresso is typically less bitter than brewed coffee, the latte ends up having a milder taste too.

We pay close attention to how we prepare our milk for these drinks because it’s key to getting them right.

Steaming milk for lattes creates microfoam which adds to that silky quality and allows us to make beautiful latte art on top of the drink.

Cafe au lait doesn’t have foam, but getting the right heat on the milk is still important for its signature creaminess.

Whether you want something bold or soft in flavor and texture depends on choosing between these two beloved milky coffees.

Steamed Milk vs Frothed milk

We know our coffee drinks make us feel cozy because of the milk we mix in.

Steamed milk makes your latte smooth and creamy.

It’s hot and a bit thinner than frothed milk.

We heat it with steam, making tiny bubbles that blend right into the liquid.

This way, you get that velvety feel in every sip.

Frothing milk is different; it’s all about the foam.

We whip air into it until it gets light and thick.

The foam sits on top of drinks like cappuccinos, giving them a fluffy cloud to dig through before reaching the delicious coffee below.

When you want a drink topped off with artful designs or just a warm blanket of milky froth, that’s when we reach for the frother instead of the steamer.

Flavor Profiles

When we sip on a café au lait or a latte, our taste buds are treated to distinct flavor profiles shaped by the unique balance of coffee and milk in each beverage.

The ratio of these ingredients not only defines their character but also influences how the subtle notes of coffee beans dance with the creaminess of milk on our palate.

Comparison Of Taste

Café au lait and latte both have rich, creamy milk mixed with coffee.

But they taste quite different.

Café au lait is stronger and a bit bitter because it has more coffee in it.

We make it with equal parts of brewed coffee and steamed milk, so you get a bold flavor.

Lattes are sweeter, especially if we add flavored syrup.

They’re made mostly with milk, which makes them creamy and smooth.

The espresso gives the latte a nice kick, but the extra steamed milk softens the bitterness of the coffee.

If you like your drink sweet and light, you might prefer a latte over café au lait.

How Milk Ratios Affect The Coffee Flavor

Milk ratios play a big role in the taste of our coffee drinks.

We’ve all noticed that café au lait and lattes don’t taste the same.

This difference comes down to how much milk and coffee each drink has.

Café au lait keeps things simple with equal parts brewed coffee and steamed milk, giving you a smooth flavor that’s not too strong or weak.

Lattes take it up a notch with more milk than coffee.

They usually have double the amount of steamed milk to espresso, creating a creamier and milder taste.

Plus, there’s that lovely layer of foam on top which adds silkiness and blends beautifully with every sip we take.

It’s no wonder why they’re so popular – the extra milk softens the bold espresso, making each latte rich yet balanced.

Serving Styles and Presentation

The way we serve café au lait and latte speaks volumes about their distinct cultural roots, with the French favoring a casual bowl for leisurely sipping and Italians opting for elegant glasses that showcase intricate foam art.

Whether it’s a breakfast accompaniment in Paris or a workday treat in Rome, these drinks charm us not just with flavor but also through their visual appeal, setting the stage for an immersive coffee experience.

Traditional Serving Styles For Each Drink

Café au lait brings a touch of French elegance to our mornings.

It is usually served in wide-brimmed bowls or white mugs, mixing brewed coffee with steamed milk in equal parts.

It’s a simple pleasure without the foam, focusing on the rich blend of milk and coffee.

Lattes show off Italian flair with their beautiful layers.

Typically a Barista will pour espresso into tall glasses or cups, add lots of steamed milk, and top it with a bit of froth.

Latte art makes each one special—swirls and shapes dance on the surface, turning our drink into a masterpiece.

The Cultural Significance Of Presentation

We know how much the look of our coffee matters.

Just like a fine meal, the presentation of café au lait and lattes tells a story of tradition and artistry.

Sipping on these drinks connects us to places like Parisian streets or Italian cafes.

In New Orleans, café au lait paired with beignets has become iconic; it’s a daily ritual that shows off the city’s love for its French roots.

Coffee shops around the world pour effort into making lattes look beautiful.

A skillful barista can make your latte a canvas for incredible milk art – from hearts to complex landscapes.

Nutritional Content

When we dive into the nutritional content of café au lait and latte, we’re looking at two key factors: calorie count and caffeine kick.

The choice of milk—be it whole, skimmed, or a plant-based alternative like soy milk—can significantly sway these numbers, making your delightful cup as indulgent or light as you prefer.

Comparison Of Calorie And Caffeine Content

Café au lait has fewer calories compared to a latte.

This is because it contains less milk.

A standard café au lait might have about half the calories of a large latte from your favorite coffee shop.

Remember, the main calorie culprits are milk and sweet add-ins.

Now let’s talk caffeine!

A latte is made with espresso, which is concentrated and contains a higher amount of caffeine per ounce.

However, because lattes typically contain only one or two shots of espresso diluted with a significant amount of steamed milk, the overall caffeine content can be moderate.

On the other hand, café au lait is prepared with equal parts of brewed coffee and steamed milk.

Brewed coffee, especially when made with a French press or drip method, has a lower concentration of caffeine per ounce compared to espresso but is used in larger quantities in café au lait.

Consequently, the total caffeine content in a café au lait can be similar to or slightly higher than that of a latte, depending on the specific amounts and brewing strength of the coffee used.

A standard shot of espresso (about 1 ounce or 30 milliliters) contains approximately 63 milligrams of caffeine.

Lattes usually contain one or two shots of espresso, making the caffeine content range from 63 to 126 milligrams per serving, depending on the number of shots used.

A Café au Lait will typically contain around 90 Milligrams of caffeine making it slightly a slightly more caffeinated option.

Impact Of Milk Choice On Nutritional Value

We know choosing different types of milk for our café au lait or latte changes the drink’s nutritional value.

If we go for dairy milk, we’re looking at more calories and protein.

This means a creamier taste but also more energy intake.

Plant-based milks like almond or soy often have fewer calories and can be a good choice if we’re watching our diet.

Let’s say we make a latte with skim milk; it will have less fat and fewer calories than one made with whole milk.

The type of milk impacts how rich our coffee feels and what nutrients we get from it.

We enjoy the flavor while also getting the benefits that fit our lifestyle best.

How Café au Lait And Latte Differ Around The World

Coffee is a universal language, but like any language, it has its dialects.

Café au lait and latte have traveled across continents and, in doing so, have taken on new characteristics.

Let’s explore how different cultures have put their unique spin on these classics.

Café au Lait Around the Globe


In its homeland, café au lait is traditionally served in a wide bowl, which makes it perfect for dipping croissants into.

It’s a simple yet elegant drink, made with equal parts of French press coffee and steamed milk.

New Orleans, USA

Here, café au lait gets a local twist with the addition of chicory to the coffee.

The chicory lends a slightly bitter, earthy flavor that pairs beautifully with the sweetness of the milk.

It’s often enjoyed with a beignet, offering a taste of French heritage mixed with Southern charm.


Known as “café con leche,” this version is similar to the French café au lait but often uses espresso instead of brewed coffee.

It’s a breakfast staple, enjoyed with sweet pastries or a simple piece of toast.

Latte’s International Journey


The birthplace of the latte serves it in its purest form: a shot of bold espresso topped with steamed milk and a bit of foam.

It’s less about the art and more about the perfect balance of coffee and milk.

United States

The American latte has evolved into a canvas for creativity, not just with the stunning latte art but also with the variety of flavors added.

From vanilla and caramel to pumpkin spice, the latte has become a customizable drink that caters to all tastes.

Australia and New Zealand

In these coffee-loving nations, the flat white reigns supreme.

It’s similar to a latte but with a higher ratio of coffee to milk and a focus on the quality of the espresso.

The milk is velvety and smooth, creating a rich and satisfying cup.

Embracing Diversity

What’s fascinating about café au lait and latte is how they reflect the culture and preferences of their drinkers.

In France, the café au lait remains a testament to the country’s love for leisurely breakfasts and simplicity.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, it symbolizes the blend of cultures that defines the city.

The latte, with its endless variations, showcases the innovation and individuality of coffee culture around the world.

Making at Home: Brew Your Own Café au Lait and Latte

Creating your favorite coffee drinks at home can be a delightful and rewarding experience.

Whether you’re a fan of the comforting café au lait or the creamy latte, you don’t need to be a barista to enjoy these classics from the comfort of your kitchen.

Let’s dive into some simple tips and the basic equipment you’ll need to start brewing.

Café au Lait

Tips for Perfecting Your Home Brew

  • Choose Your Coffee Wisely: Since café au lait is half coffee, the brew you choose will significantly impact the flavor. Opt for a medium to dark roast for a rich, full-bodied taste. If you’re aiming for authenticity, try using a French press, which is known for extracting deep flavors from the coffee grounds.
  • Get the Milk Right: Warm your milk without letting it boil to keep the comforting texture of café au lait intact. You can use a small saucepan and heat the milk gently, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching.
  • The Perfect Ratio: Remember, café au lait is all about balance. Aim for a 1:1 ratio of coffee to milk. This ensures that neither the coffee nor the milk overwhelms the other, creating a harmonious blend.

Equipment Needed

  • A French press or drip coffee maker for brewing the coffee.
  • A saucepan or microwave-safe container for warming the milk.


Tips for a Luscious Latte

  • Espresso is Key: The foundation of a great latte is a strong shot (or two) of espresso. If you don’t have an espresso machine, a stovetop espresso maker (like a Moka pot) can be a great alternative.
  • Milk Matters: The silky texture of a latte comes from perfectly steamed milk. If you don’t have a steamer, you can heat the milk gently and then use a whisk or a milk frother to create that velvety smooth texture.
  • Practice Your Pour: Pouring the steamed milk over your espresso is an art. Start from a height and then bring the pitcher closer to the surface as the cup fills. With a bit of practice, you might even start creating simple latte art!

Equipment Needed

  • An espresso machine or a Moka pot for brewing espresso.
  • A milk frother or a small whisk to create that creamy texture.

Cafe au Lait vs Latte: Which One Should You Choose?

FeatureCafé au LaitLatte
BaseBrewed coffeeEspresso
MilkEqual part steamed milk, no foamMore steamed milk, with foam
FlavorCoffee-forwardMilder, creamier
SweetnessNot inherently sweetCan be sweeter due to the milk
StrengthDepends on coffee brewDepends on espresso shots
Serving StyleOften in a bowl or cupTypically in a tall glass or cup
Milk FoamNoneYes, on top
Caffeine ContentAround 90 mgAround 63 mg
Cultural OriginFranceItaly

Now you know the unique traits of café au lait and lattes.

Each drink offers a distinct taste and experience for coffee lovers.

Choose café au lait for a bold coffee flavor or pick a latte if you prefer something smoother with artistic flair.

No matter your preference, enjoying these drinks is about savoring the rich traditions they bring to every sip.

Go ahead and explore both to find your favorite creamy delight!


Is café au lait stronger than latte?

Yes and no.

Café au lait tends to have a more pronounced coffee flavor than a latte because it uses a 1:1 ratio of coffee to milk, and the coffee is usually brewed, which can be stronger than the espresso-to-milk ratio in a latte.

However, in terms of caffeine content, a latte might have more caffeine if it contains more shots of espresso.

Is café au lait sweet?

By default, café au lait is not sweetened; it’s simply brewed coffee mixed with warm milk.

However, you can add sugar or sweeteners according to your taste preferences.

The natural sweetness will depend on the type of coffee and milk used.

Is café au lait the same as a flat white?

No, café au lait and flat white are different.

A flat white is an espresso-based drink with a higher ratio of coffee to milk than a latte, and it’s topped with a thin layer of microform.

Café au lait, on the other hand, is made with brewed coffee and warm milk, without the microfoam.

What does Starbucks call a café au lait?

Starbucks refers to a café au lait as a “Caffè Misto.”

The Caffè Misto at Starbucks is made with half brewed coffee and half steamed milk, closely resembling the traditional café au lait.

Why do lattes taste better than coffee?

Many people find lattes more appealing because the steamed milk adds a creamy texture and can soften the bitterness of espresso, making it smoother and sometimes sweeter to the palate.

The art of perfectly steamed milk combined with espresso can create a harmonious blend that appeals to those who prefer a less intense coffee flavor.

Which has more milk, café au lait or latte?

A latte has more milk than a café au lait.

In a latte, the volume of milk is typically two to three times the amount of espresso, not including the additional milk foam on top.

Café au lait, however, maintains a 1:1 ratio of coffee to milk, making it less milky in comparison.

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Jacob Harris

Jacob is a coffee enthusiast who turned his passion into a career. As the owner and editor of Karma Coffee Cafe, he shares his extensive knowledge and recommendations, captivating fellow coffee lovers.

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