Food and drink 12 comments

How to Drink Coffee Like the French


Doesn’t it just seem like literally every French person you meet is a coffee drinker? Whether you like the taste or not, coffee is built into the French lifestyle. Morning, afternoon, or evening in France, someone will suggest you grab a coffee (or 2).

Here are a few sips of information on how to drink your coffee like a proper Frenchie, what to eat with it, and some fancy French words to make you sound ever so très chic.

Your typical cup’o’joe doesn’t exactly exist on the european continent. But if you want something quite similar, go for a…

Café Americain or Café Allongé

An “americano,” as it’s known in the states, is what the French would (appropriately) call a café americain (kah-FAY ah-may-ree-KUHN) or café allongé (kah-FAY ah-lahn-JAY). That is, it’s a diluted version of their café that many americans expect when they order a simple, “coffee.”

Café or Café Express

You might call this an ‘espresso,’ but it’s what you’ll get in Paris if you order a coffee from the bistro bar. It’s highly concentrated and comes in a teeny tiny cup that makes you want to stick up your pinkies.


You can call it simply “un café” or “un café express” (kah-FAY ex-PRAY) which basically just means a quick coffee. The waiters in Paris are very efficient with their French and love to abbreviate, so you’ll occasionally hear it called just “un express” as well.

Some French will take their café with sugar (two raw sugar lumps come with every order), but cream or milk is a rarity, unless you order a…

Café au Lait

Usually people think this is spelled, “Café Olé!” because that’s how it sounds, but it is actually just the French words for “espresso with milk.” Once you know this, you suddenly want to order everything au lait because you sound like a matador.

“I’ll take my tea au lait, olé!”

In any case, a café au lait is usually just a café and a bunch of steamed milk in a cup or bowl. Voilà!

A variation on the café au lait is the café noisette (kay-FAY nwa-ZEHT). Although “noisette” means “hazelnut” in French – do not be fooled – this is not hazelnut flavored coffee.

Ordering a noisette means you want just a splash of milk in your espresso. The name comes from the rich hazelnutty color the espresso gets when mixed with just a little lait.

The ‘Don’ts’

When in doubt, just avoid these American coffee habits:

No blended coffee
No flavor supplements (eg. hazelnut, peppermint, vanilla)
No whipped cream (unless you’re having a chocolat chaud (hot chocolate), and even then…)

With Food

Some just drink a café at the counter without food, but my favorite French morning ritual is to grab a piece of croissant and dip it in my bowl of café au lait at home or in my little cup of café at a bistro bar. Baguettes also make good dipping devices.

Coffee in France also does its duty as a meal closer. You can drink it after dessert and after cheese, as the final note of the dining symphony. If you’re capping your dinner with a coffee, though, I do recommend you go décaf.

How do you take your coffee? Let us know in the comments below.


  1. Do the french add sugar to their coffee?

  2. Emily Grossman

    They do! Well, that is, sugar (sucre • SOO-kruh) is usually served with coffee – adding it is up to your preference. I’ve seen little brown raw sugar nuggets served with a café express or sometimes long cylindrical sugar “packets.” Some Parisians will take their café with sugar like this, but never anything processed or aspartame-y like sweet and low.

  3. I drink my café black or with a tsp of sugar. My mother is French though and I’ve picked up a lot of habits from her side of the family.

  4. André Moenaert

    D’habitude, je prends mon café noir avec deux tranches de baquette…Quelque fois j’ajoute un peu de sucre. Quand j’suis avec mon amie italienne c’est toujours un express!

  5. I went to L’avenue down the street and said, “bonjour, je voudrais un cafe au lait et un croissant si’l vous plait.” and it was delicious! Even better if you dip the croissant in the coffee thanks for the post!

  6. how about un cafe creme?

  7. Café Americain and Café Allongé are two different drinks, with much different flavor profiles. The Café Americain is a shot of espresso to which hot water is added after the shot is pulled (to approximate a brewed coffee), but a Café Allongé is a shot of espresso made as the machine is run longer, doubling the volume of the beverage in the cup.

  8. Est-ce que un café au lait ou café noisette sont très américain? In other words do ‘non-tourists’ in France drink it?

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  10. What is a “bunch of steamed milk”? I understand bunches of bananas or keys, but have you tried counting milk molecules to get bunches of them? Is that even the collective noun for molecules?

  11. Cafe creme is like café au lait. However Café crème is what you would order at the counter of a bar. The milk will warmed with expresso machine pipe/nozzle dedicated for milk.
    In Café au lait, you just pour ambiant temperature milk into your coffee.

  12. Why don’t french people have any milk in their tea?

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